The short answer is three, plus a fiddle and a pile of CDs, a few instrument stands, change of clothes, toothbrush, etc. But let’s go back to what this was all about and how it came to be:
Some time last fall I got a phone call from Tim Osmond, director of Home Routes, the Canadian nonprofit organization that sends musicians into rural communities all over Canada throughout the winter time to provide live music in the form of house concerts in places where live music wouldn’t otherwise be commonly found. The energy and commitment of the hundreds of volunteers who make this all work is so inspiring. (Ben and I did our first Home Routes tour in Manitoba two years ago and got to know Tim when we played at his house in Winnipeg at the end of the tour.) Our conversation went something like this:
Tim: Hey Aaron, are you and Ben free in February?
AJL: Let me check… (inspects watchless wrist) Yeah, I think so. What’s up?
Tim: Do you guys want to do a Home Routes tour in the Yukon the first half of the month?
AJL: …Uh, yeah? (Like, is a tree made out of wood?)
Tim: That’s great! I’ll send you the itinerary when it’s ready. Start looking for flights. You’re going to have the best time.
AJL: OK, I’ll just double check that Ben’s free and get back to you, ok?
Tim: OK great! Talk to you soon.
So I called Ben right away and the conversation went something like this:
AJL: Hey Ben, Tim from Home Routes asked if we wanted to do the Yukon tour in February and I said yes, I’ll just double check with you. Can you do it? First two weeks in February?
BB: …Uh, yeah? (Like, is a tree made out of wood?)
AJL: OK great, I guess we’ll just have to think about how to get there. Driving is probably not an option but if we fly how will we get all our instruments out there? [We drove to Manitoba for our last Home Routes tour and brought five banjos, three fiddles, a guitar and a mandolin.]
BB: Yeah… I don’t know. Maybe we can borrow a guitar from someone out there.
AJL: That’s a good idea. And I’ll bet we can just bring minimal luggage and bring two instruments each for our carry on items.
BB: Yeah, we can bring the two Senoritas to play our classic banjo repertoire, and a bluegrass banjo and a fiddle for everything else. Plus that guitar we’re going to borrow.
AJL: All right. I’ll find us some plane tickets. We’re doing this!
Note: The thought that it would be too cold or too remote or too anything never crossed our minds until we started telling people we were doing this. It didn’t seem extreme, it just seemed like an incredible opportunity to see a very special place and meet some people we wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet. I got our plane tickets from Toronto to Whitehorse and rented a car and started contacting our hosts once I had the itinerary. And every time Ben and I talked we couldn’t get over how excited we were for this trip.
Before the tour officially started Ben came to Detroit to rehearse with me for a couple days and then we drove to Toronto to stay with the Debbie and Peter, Toronto’s patron saints of wandering old time musicians, and play a show at The Local. We made the drive in a car that didn’t have heat, which I thought would be no big deal, but as it turned out it was the coldest day in 11 years. So we made a few stops for hot liquids and just wore all our clothes and put those little hot packs things in our boots. Crossing the border was tough, since the border guards wanted to open everything up and it was literally freezing just to take your gloves off for a minute. I had to get out of the car to pay the toll since the window was frozen shut. But we made it past the border and the instruments survived. And here begins the tour journal (Cliff’s notes):
Day -1 (Jan 30): Ben and I fly from Toronto to Edmonton to Vancouver to Whitehorse. In the end we make it to Whitehorse only a couple hours late, around 1:30am, with only one of our bags lost. Sarah, Whitehorse’s patron saint of doughnuts and fiddling, met us at the airport after having been up since 4am that day herself, making doughnuts all day and then selling them. We get back to her place and meet Bob, her dad, who loans us a sweet rebuilt Harmony guitar for the tour.
Day 0 (Jan 31): I teach a fiddle workshop at Bob’s music shop but first we go and check out the start of the Yukon Quest dogsled race. It’s very cold outside and very exciting. We learned later on that that hardest part at the start of the race is keeping the dogs from running off too soon. They are just ready to go and you have to anchor the sled to keep it from going too soon. And then once they start running they will not stop for anything, you have to throw some hooks out to catch the ground and force them to stop or else they’ll run themselves to death, apparently. After all that we went to the CBC studio and had a nice interview with Dave White, and then we went out for our first sushi in the Yukon. The temperature was -40. (About the same in C or F.) We also saw a sundog!
Day 1 (Feb 1): Our first concert, in Whitehorse. Our first taste of amazing salmon. Our first hosts, Fia and Joel and their lovely daughters Ava and Lily. A good show with a nice crowd and we started improving our sets. We learn about engine block heaters — All the cars have a little plug dangling out the front of the hood and you’re supposed to plug that in at night when it’s especially cold so the car will start in the morning. It worked for us!
Day 2 (Feb 2): Crag Lake with Greg, Krystal and a 14-year-old Oscar. We had our own cabin down the hill from the house where we played and it even had heat. Saw more stars than ever. Also saw some Aurora borealis.
Days 3-4 (Feb 3-4): Atlin, BC (should be YT) with Chris and Stuart. Really good show, more amazing sockeye salmon, lunch with remote-nurse Leanne and her delightful salad and oh those butter tarts! and her picturesque cabin with the view all obscured by falling snow, visiting John the hoarder and his house of marvels, getting to know him a bit and try to understand what it’s like to be a multi-dimensional creature, playing at the rec room on our day off and having jams both nights, meeting a local 90-year-old fiddler and hearing him play a tune on my fiddle and hear some of his stories, the views of the lake, more butter tarts, and we are sad to leave this place.
Day 5 (Feb 5): Marsh Lake with Shirley and Gerald and their big black dog, kicksledding to the lake and I’m somehow the one who is supposed to know what to do with the can of bear spray should we need it.
Day 6 (Feb 6): Haines Junction with Ryan and Meghann, Margaret (age 6) and Benji (age 3). Such beautiful scenery, the mountains, the light. Seeing the sun go down around 5pm and rise at 10am, the pink light on the snowy mountains, Margaret playing her fiddle for us, another great show with an all-ages audience, eating bison steaks Ryan harvested himself. Apparently this area has an overpopulation of bison. Also, one of them will feed a family of four for a year, with extra for guests.
Day 7 (Feb 7): Whitehorse again. Eileen, Ruth’s sister hosts us, along with Sohil and Rohit. Lacey, Ruth’s daughter made delicious salmon for us. After the show we went out with new friends Ellorie and Aly to the Old 98 for Fiddle Night. This Yukon fiddler has been playing at this place every Thursday for the last 40 years. We met his guitar player, Paul, two nights before in Marsh Lake and we saw him there. Also saw Ollie (sp?) who was at the fiddle workshop the week before. Roughly half the people in the room were fiddle players. The music was great. I saw people jigging to Red River Jig in a casual, nonperformative manner, which I suppose I’d never seen before.
Day 8 (Feb 8): Got up early to teach a fiddle lesson to Ellorie and Aly before heading to Lisa and Vince’s in Faro, our first long drive of the tour. Vince welcomed us in and shared his tasty homebrew with us. Small turnout that night but a good feeling.
Day 9 (Feb 9): Mayo. Big group effort from the local committee. Communicated with one person leading up to it, got let in to the church where we played (our first house concert not in a house) by another person, had dinner at another person’s house and slept at a guest house. They’d been heating the church up since that morning with the wood burning stove and it was almost warm enough to feel my toes. Still, good turnout and a great time.
Day 10-11 (Feb 10-11): Dawson City with Peter. I taught a fiddle workshop in the school Sunday before the concert with a few kids and grownups, learned a little bit about Yukon fiddling and the effort to bring it back (much like what was done in Cape Breton by the likes of Buddy McMaster a generation or two ago). Played at Alex & Misha’s house, who turns out to be a friend of a friend. The next day, Monday off, we spend two hours with 5th- and 6th-graders playing our music for them, taking their questions, and eventually making music to silent movie clips in real time. Later on we treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the El Dorado and then we go to the Downtown for the World Famous Sourtoe Cocktail. After that we tried to play at the Tavern with encouragement from our Captain Katie but it was too late so we went back to Peter’s house. He was sitting at the kitchen table working on Midnight On The Water so we messed around with DDAD for a little bit and went to bed to catch an early flight to Inuvik the next day.
Day 12-13 (Feb 12-13): Inuvik, Northwest Territories (Arctic!) with Sue, son Arlo (age 19) and husband Peter. We flew first to Old Crow, which we’d heard so much about but we didn’t stay. In Inuvik Sue met us at the airport, took us into town the back way on the ice road (i.e. frozen river) with Ben buried under all the instruments since the back of the truck wasn’t heated. What an amazing place. We’re in the Arctic. Arlo took us Skidooing over to their camp a few kilometers up the river. I sat in deep snow and saw and heard crows and ravens call and flap their wings very close by in perfect silence, which Arlo and Ben Skidooed around the frozen lake. (A Skidoo is also known as a snowmobile.) Caribou steaks and moose meatballs for dinner, also remarkable sourdough bread. It was perfect Skidoo weather, like -5 and sunny. The next day was more like normal, around -30 and windy. We took Jane, the youngest dog, around frozen Boot Lake. For dinner Peter grilled char (the Arctic kind, duh) for dinner. The concert at Mark and Berta’s was our best turnout and best performance and best CD sales of the whole tour. Amazing people. Hung out for a while after but eventually I went to bed. Ben went out to the Trapper and that’s another story. Good thing this was our last concert of the tour, but was it?
Day 14 (Feb 14): Peter took us to the grocery store and to see inside the igloo church before taking us to the airport. Flight into Dawson from the north was so beautiful, I really got inspired to revisit landscape art, e.g. Sounds of Mount Desert Island. Soon as we land we jump in the car and drive straight to Whitehorse (about 5 1/2 hours) for our final show. We made it in good time, saw Sarah again and gave her back Bob’s guitar he so graciously loaned us, and saw Leanne again and returned her ‘rescue bag’ she so graciously loaned us. (She was surprised no one else had made sure we were prepared and insisted we take a couple sleeping bags and some candles from her in case anything goes wrong with the car and we have to wait for help in the freezing cold.) Negotiating the details of this final gig was the worst and so unnecessarily stressful but the show itself went great.
Day 15 (Feb 15): Got up at 3am to prepare for 6am flight and get to the airport in time to find out it’s delayed. Somehow miraculously made it back to Toronto by way of Vancouver and Winnipeg but not in time to check out the square dance. Ate all the doughnuts Sarah gave us right there in the airport before boarding. Only one banjo case was seriously damaged in transit. Back in Toronto we picked up the things we left at Peter & Debbie’s and moved over to Conny and Rachel’s place. They are also patron saints of wandering musicians. The next day Ben flew to L.A. and I played a solo show at The Local and then picked up Billy at the airport (he was on the same flight I’d been on the day before) and took him to Kitchener, where I played the following day. Billy has been working in the Arctic and working closely with indigenous people there for some years now and he told me some interesting things he’s learned about the ancient Inuit lifestyle. But that’s for another time…
And here are some photos from the trip!
That’s a sundog (or sun dog).
CBC Studios, Whitehorse
Hamilton & Son Guitar Works, Whitehorse
Marsh Lake selfie and kicksleds
I’m not including a photo of the gnarly toe but I do have photos.
That’s it for photos my website would let me upload. For more you’ll just have to ask me in person or come over to my house and look at the SourToe Club certificate hanging on my wall.
I got back from the remote Hawaiian island of Kauai a few days ago (with a truly excellent stop over in Toronto on my way home – see previous post from April, 2017, “I Heart Canada”) and when I stepped outside from the train from the airport in Toronto and breathed in that cool winter air I felt like I was home again. So I’m finally back for more than a day or two and I’ll catch you up on everything:
– Highlights from Kauai
– Highlights from Banjo Gathering
– Highlights from Lovestruck Balladeers Tour
– New Videos
– Upcoming Stuff
– Book Report
HIGHLIGHTS FROM KAUAI
So, Kauai. It’s an interesting place. In terms of the landscape and plant life it was sort of an Alice in Wonderland experience for me. Dramatically beautiful views everywhere you look, avocado, mango, citrus, passionfruit (“lilikoi” in Hawaiian), coconut, papaya, and even more kinds of fruit trees growing everywhere, no predators or fearsome creatures anywhere unless you count the ubiquitous roosters. (I heard about these giant venomous centipedes but luckily never saw one.) So it was delightful and disconcerting at the same time.
The festival was a blast. I got to hang and play with my Foghorn Stringband pals as well as Austin and Courtney Derryberry, Cajun Country Revival, and a number of other good friends, and I got to meet a bunch of great new friends as well. Hearing some traditional Hawaiian music in person for the first time was fantastic. And playing Mauna Loa, Joe Morley’s banjo tribute to Hawaiian music, during a solo set at the festival was a particular honor and a treat for me.
After the festival I stuck around for another week and got to meet some more local musicians and hear some great music, especially Doug & Sandy McMaster’s traditional slack key guitar concert. I did some busking at the Hanapepe Art Night, had a jam at the uke shop, spent Thanksgiving on an organic farm with amazing new friends and incredible food, ate lots and lots of amazing foods, and oh yeah I even tried surfing one day! I got a lot of inspiration from this visit and hope to return to Kauai some day.
I just have to say something about the Banjo Gathering, which took place in Bristol, VA/TN, at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum just before I went to Hawaii. It was a small gathering of banjo fanatics who got together mainly for show and tell with their awesome banjo collections and for semi-academic style presentations on a range of banjo-related topics.
Michael Wright presented on the topic of Influence of the 5-String Banjo on Early Hawaiian Music, which I found especially interesting as I was about to go to Hawaii. The ukulele is Hawaii’s instrument but it is not particularly ancient, and the case can be made that the 5-string banjo played a part in the development of the uke. Many mysteries there, but very fun to think about. Also, early Hawaiian string band music is amazing!
I also liked a presentation by Christian Stanfield (of the Side Street Steppers) called Late 19th Century Banjo Antecedents in Early 20th Century Popular Music, in which he demonstrated, using a pair of Gramophones and a beautiful collection of original 78’s, the influence of early fingerstyle, or “classic” style banjo in early recordings of country and old time music, including recordings of Uncle Dave Macon and Dock Boggs playing in the older “classic” style of fingerpicking as opposed to the more “primitive” or “down-home” or “old timey” styles they were known for, showing that, as professionals, they played whatever the public or the record companies told them to play, but as musicians they were capable of much more.
Speaking of Uncle Dave, his great-grandson was there and gave two presentations about his life and times in support of the newly published biography he’d written. It’s on my list of books to read!
There were so many wonderful presentations as well as a concert which I was so honored to be a part of, and I won’t go on to describe all of them. But the most impressive had to have been Kristina Gaddy’s work in Suriname on the mind-blowing possible origin of the word Banjo and its meaning. I won’t go into it all here but it is truly fascinating, and her presentation with her partner banjo maker Pete Ross was a thrilling detective adventure story. I hope she is able to continue her research and get it all down in book form (or graphic novel, or documentary film, or whatever form) for the rest of us to enjoy again and again.
Have I gushed enough about this band already? I don’t know if I have. Touring with them was such a dream come true and I feel that we are destined for great things. It’s so rare to find a group of musicians who are all on the same page the way I feel that this group is. The music we are playing is at times sublimely beautiful, challenging, and wild fun. We’re planning to record our first album in the spring and we should have some live videos from our tour ready to share in the next month or so. Stay tuned!
There’s been a deluge of new videos since I last wrote but I will list them all here anyway.
Here’s my new solo show promo video — Send it on to any venues where you’d want to see me play.
And here are a few banjo pieces recorded in Ann Arbor at the studio of my friend Jay Lapp:
I have a couple weeks at home, finally! I’m going to practice music every day and not think too much about anything else. I’m working on Joe Morley banjo pieces and basic violin technique, scales, etudes, Lovestruck Balladeers repertoire, as well as random music I need to learn for some Christmas gigs. Ah, see below!
Saturday, Dec 15 – PRISM’s 2018 Winter Concert, at the Royal Oak Music Theater. PreGlow at 6:30, curtain at 7:30.
Sunday, Dec 16 – St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Utica, 5:30pm Christmas concert including small orchestra, choir, and handbell choir!!
And then I don’t have anything going on until 2019, when my first gig will be a
Detroit Square Dance Society SQUARE DANCE at the Gaelic Leage featuring special guest caller Sean Fen and special guest fiddler/banjer Caleb Powers, both from Ohio. Kyle Rhodes on guitar and Rachel Pearson on bass. Yours Truly on fiddle and banjo. Potluck 6:30, dance 7-10. No partner needed, all dances taught, $10 suggested donation, All are welcome. Here’s the FB event.
Saturday, Jan 19 – I play duo with Caleb Powers for the Appalachian Acoustic Music Weekend at the Mohican Lodge and Conference Center in Perrysburg, OH.
Wednesday, Jan 30 – Corn Potato Duo (Lewis/Belcher) at The Local in Toronto, 9-12
Feb 1-14 – Home Routes Tour in Yukon with Corn Potato Duo (Lewis/Belcher)
Thursday, Feb 21 – Ida, MI, Blues 2019: An Evening with Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton wsg Aaron Jonah Lewis – I’m opening for the incredible Mr. Paxton, well worth the drive anywhere in MI! 7-9pm, FREE
March 22-23 – Baltimore Old Time Festival w/Corn Potato String Band
and then in late March and early April I’ll be with Lovestruck Balladeers again, rehearsing, recording and playing a few shows including
Saturday, Apr 6 – Brooklyn Folk Festival w/Lovestruck Balladeers
Many more exciting things are in the works but I’m going to wait until they’re confirmed to report them to you. You can always stay on top of my schedule by checking my website calendar. Hope to see you out there somewhere soon!
I always forget about which books I’ve read as soon as I’ve read them. But I did finish reading Aku-Aku, by Thor Heyerdahl, and I enjoyed it immensely. Mysteries of Easter Island revealed! And that’s about all the books I’ve finished, so that was kind of a fake book report. Sorry.
I hope you are having a wonderful start to your winter time. Enjoy the cold while you can!
During the layover in Iceland on my way home from UK tour I was very excited to visit the duty-free shop and buy lots of Icelandic licorice (or liquorice, as it is sometimes written). As I sat at the gate happily munching away I recalled how complete disgusted I was by the stuff when I was a child, and reflected on how it’s now one of my favorite candies. Did the change happen suddenly or gradually? It doesn’t matter. The point is, people change, tastes change, you change, sometimes suddenly and sometimes so slowly you don’t notice it’s happening until years after it’s happened.
– Highlights from UK Tour
I was just driving home from a gig in Detroit and thinking I’d like to see a bumper sticker that says SAFE DRIVING IS SEXY. (Drivers in Detroit are insane.)
And then I started thinking what other boring, obvious things could be said to be sexy on a bumper sticker — KINDNESS IS SEXY, GOOD DENTAL HYGIENE IS SEXY, REDUCING YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT IS SEXY, RESPECT IS SEXY — and then I start getting into what wouldn’t work at all — JUSTICE IS SEXY, MASHED POTATOES IS SEXY, KITTENS IS SEXY, FRIENDSHIP IS SEXY — and the borderline misogynistic — WASHING THE DISHES IS SEXY, LOOKING GOOD IS SEXY — although those aren’t really sex-specific, and, well, what can I say, I’m sorry. I just thought of this and maybe it made you smile. Maybe you have your own ridiculous ideas for …IS SEXY bumper stickers. If you do, please send them my way.
And that’s how I’m starting this month’s post. I promise to ramble further at the end of this message with some more serious thoughts (or funnier, possibly, depending on your perspective) so just scroll down if that’s all you’re after. But first I will share with you my
– Upcoming Tour Dates, Including Incomplete Listing of UK Tour Dates
– Book Project and How You Can Participate
– Recommended Listening/Viewing (aka Media I’ve Ingested Since Last We Spoke and Friends I’ve Seen Recently Whose Music I Think Is Great)
– Book Report
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
I dont have a lot of gigs of my own in the immediate future but I will tell you about a couple things that are coming up soon that I’m excited about as well as the gigs I do have this summer.
First, I AM GOING TO SEE THE GEORGE CLINTON AND P-FUNK this Friday in Kalamazoo!! Not a big deal for some, I know, but honestly, P-Funk is one of the most important musical influences in my life and I haven’t been to one of their shows in probably twenty years.
The weekend after that, here in Detroit is the Crash Detroit Brass Band Festival, with over a dozen wonderful human party machines coming in to play for free all over the city. I’m hosting up to ten of these crazy musicians for the weekend because I can and I love hosting people. That’s what my house is for.
Then I’m going to Augusta Old Time Week/Blues & Swing Week in Elkins, WV, where I will be on staff, providing music for classes and teaching my own “Swing Fiddle for Old Time Fiddlers” class, plus 1-2 one-off workshops that are TBA.
And then there’s Clifftop followed by Galax, my personal Mecca. (See you there! You know who you are.)
And now I can give you an incomplete list of our Corn Potato String Band UK tour dates, since there are more than a few that are TBC —
17 August – London – Green Note
18 August – Purbeck Valley Folk Festival (aka PVFF. It’s fun to say. Try it.)
19 August – Barry, Wales – Hang Fire Southern Kitchen
21 August – Pembrokeshire, Wales – Burnett’s Hill Chapel
22 August – Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire – The West Barn
23-24 – TBC
25 August – Meltham nr. Huddersfield, Yorkshire – The Carlile Institute
26-28 – TBC
29 August – Towersey, Oxfordshire – Musically Monstrous at the Three Horseshoes
30 August – TBC
31 August – Birmingham – Moseley Folk Festival
1 September – Didmarton Bluegrass Festival
2-4 September – TBC
And then we have more Corn Potato gigs in the US as soon as we get back —
Sep 7-9 Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, MI
Sep 9 – The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI
Sep 12 – TBC in Kent, OH, or Buffalo, NY
Sep 13 – House Concert in Binghamton, NY
Sep 14 – House Concert in Manhattan, NY
Sep 15 – TBC somewhere in the northeast
Sep 16 – House Concert in Albany, NY
Sep 18 – TBC
Sep 19 – Naples, NY
Sep 20 – Fort Hunter Barn – Harrisburg, PA
Sep 21 – ArtYard – Frenchtown, NJ
Sep 22 – Wanakena Town Gazebo, Wanakena NY
Sep 23 – Rocky Top Concert Series, Sprakers, NY
Sep 24 – TBC
Sep 28 – Thunder Bay Folk Festival in Alpena, MI, with Emergency Bluegrass System
Sep 30 – West Bloomfield Public Library, West Bloomfield, MI, with Kyle Rhodes and Hannah Lewis
When we get into October I go to Chicago to start a Midwestern tour with Lovestruck Balladeers — Tour dates TBA so stay tuned. Definitely got some great music coming your way!
BOOK PROJECT AND HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE
Since February I’ve been working sporadically on an instructional fiddle book tentatively titled Classic Nashville Honky Tonk Fiddle. I’m not going to tell you everything that’s in it but it will include a lot of transcriptions. I have consulted with some experts but before I call my transcribing duties finished I’d like to know if you have any great recorded examples of Classic Nashville Honky Tonk Fiddling that you think ought to be included. If you can think of something, like the name of an artist and a song, maybe even a link or an mp3 attachment, please send me your suggestions.
I went out to see my friend’s reggae band at El Club last Wednesday (yes, that’s how I celebrated my 4th of July) and they were SO GOOD. I’m going to see them again tomorrow. They’re called King Mellow & Mellow Runnings. They are the real thing. So talented. So positive. Do you ever remember how great reggae music is and then feel sad for a second because you know you forgot for a minute? Remember. Reggae is so good. Especially a full band with backup singers who dance, a super-charismatic and talented lead singer and a fun, tight backing band.
They were opening for well-established blast-from-the-past dancehall deejay King Yellowman, who was incredible, honestly, like nothing else I’d ever seen. SO MUCH ENERGY it was almost frightening and the vibe was fun, positive, beautiful.
On the last tour with Roochie Toochie in St. Louis after a gig I went to my friend Ethan Leinwand’s late-night gig and sat in with him, which was such a treat. His piano blues playing will knock your socks off, and everyone who plays with him is wonderful as well. Check out his online stuff and go see him if you’re in St. Louis. He plays most every night.
Before the tour I went to visit my friends at Earful of Fiddle music camp in Michigan and spent some time with my pals Betse Ellis and Clarke Wyatt, aka Betse & Clarke. They make GREAT fiddle and banjo music together, and they also just started a band with my friends Ryan and Kelly, aka The Aching Hearts, so now you can see this video they made of their song Beware, Oh Take Care and know to watch out for their Short Round String Band.
I can’t remember what I read. I read and immediately forget. It’s 2 in the morning and my neighbors are blasting Banda music across the street so that isn’t helping either.
BONUS THOUGHT RAMBLES
Two unrelated thoughts for you this time.
The English language is so vast and conglomerative that it’s likely you will say one sentence every day that has never been spoken before in history. Or so I read somewhere once. Anyway, I sometimes think about that when I’m going to the grocery store to get a very random selection of items. Has anyone in the world ever gone into a store to buy celery, marshmallows, corn starch, laundry detergent, and nothing else? Who cares, it doesn’t matter.
I had the same thought tonight while I was playing. Naturally, the language of music is even more vast and conglomerative than English (See this fun and comprehensive video to learn more about the near-infinite variety available in music — Will We Ever Run Out of New Music?), and the same can be said of visual arts, other forms of performance as well as athletics, including chess, and I suppose it applies to most human interactions as well, except perhaps in some totalitarian societies.
But that’s not my point. This near-infinite variety isn’t the reason I care so much about music but it doesn’t hurt. I don’t usually think about it at all, the way I don’t usually think about how funny it is that each person or each football game is unique. I just thought it was a fun thought to share and it led me to think about how even simple mathematical functions can produce infinite variety (see this Wikipedia article on cellular automata) and how these functions along with fractal geometry make it possible for the blueprints for a giant oak to be contained within a little acorn.
Okay, that’s one thought. Here’s another:
As a player of old music I end up in a lot of situations where I’m surrounded by other players of old music, and I always have to wonder how so many people will painstakingly recreate the sound of an old recording (I certainly do sometimes) and then stop there. That’s an excellent first step but what I’m really interested in is not recreating the sound of an old recording but exploring and trying to relive the impulse behind the making of that recording.
For example, you could listen to a great field recording of a long-dead fiddler from Kentucky, and think about the fact that the recording captured one performance of the tune. That fiddler would play the tune a little different if they played it again the next day. That sense of freedom and innovation is at the core of old American music, and maybe more. As I’ve heard some folks say, if nobody ever made up new tunes we wouldn’t have any tunes to play at all! So where does that creativity come from? Where is the tradition, the community that informs that creativity, i.e., the creativity to do more than reenact old recordings? Where is it now? I have a few answers of my own but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Almost two weeks ago I subbed in on plectrum banjo with a world-class 13-piece Ragtime ensemble called the River Rasin Ragtime Revue. It was an honor and a privilege to play some pure, beautiful, exquisite and simply fun Ragtime music with this group.
In some ways that’s what I’m all about. Drawing attention to the treasures of our cultural past, buried just below the surface without any markers to draw attention. On the other hand, the steamroller of culture is always moving forward and some things will be forgotten no matter what. In any case, try and live in the moment because nobody knows what tomorrow may bring!
All right, are you still with me? Welcome to my world of email world. In this email I will mainly tell you about the upcoming tour dates, one very special new video, some new records I’ve been enjoying, and a hearty book report. Let’s begin!
I am so excited to share with you this album of material I made almost ten years ago. it’s taken me this long to work up the courage to release it as it’s so different from anything I’ve released in the past. It could be the start of a new branch on the tree of my public musical life, or it could be a one-time folly. Time will tell. In any case, I hope you enjoy it: HERE IT IS — The whole album is a FREE DOWNLOAD so please download for better playback quality, and share with anyone you know who may be interested.
I just got home from New York City, where I had the best time working with this exciting new project, Lovestruck Balladeers. I also got to play with Thomas Bailey and Max Johnson, with whom I have a project called Wild Hog, and I got to play with my dear friend Tamar Korn and with my blues hero Blind Boy Paxton. What an amazing trip.