Now I’m back in Opelika, Alabama, where Ben lives. Why did we spend 48 hours in Birmingham? The honest answer is that Ben’s wife, Annie Campbell, is a ceramic sculpture artist and professor at Auburn University, and there was a clay conference in Birmingham last weekend that she couldn’t miss. Ben went to help with the baby and I went so I could keep playing music with Ben.
I’ve been down here, suffering through the sunny Alabama weather (it’s still February??), and working up lots of new material with Ben in preparation for our upcoming Home Routes tour in April (scroll down for tour dates). Much of this new material will end up in the regular Corn Potato trio repertoire as soon as we get a chance to practice all together.
And when will the Corn Potato String Band play again? Good question — I will tell you. I will also tell you about some other events that are coming up very soon, and I think I can even share a recent video or two, just for fun. I also have a little album update, in case you were wondering about our newest release. (“What? When? Whaaaat??)
So, or as my friends in Deutschland say, SO! Let’s jump right in with upcoming events:
This Saturday, Feb 25, at our beloved Gaelic League in Detroit – The 8th Annual Benefit for Doctors Without Borders. This is basically a one-day festival of Celtic and American music, packed with great musicians and for a great cause. Click here for tickets and more information.
Friday, March 3, at the G.A.R. Hall in Peninsual, OH (near Cleveland) — The full Corn Potato String Band is together again for a return to this beautiful concert hall. We had a great time last time we were there. Tell everyone you know in the area to come out and see us! Tickets (scroll down)
Saturday, March 4, at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI — This is an incredible-sounding room and an amazing venue that’s hosted just about every great folk and roots act in the last fifty years or so. It’s an honor for us to play there again, and this time we will have our friends Wire in the Wood opening for us. Help us sell the show out! Tickets
Sunday, March 19, at The Gaelic League — Detroit Square Dance Society presents a St. Patrick’s Day Square Dance — 5pm potluck, 6pm dancing with a beginner’s workshop and/or flatfooting at 5:30 to get warmed up. Special guest caller Greta Van Doren and the music of the Detroit Square Dance Society Band will have you swinging and promenading all night long. More info here
On Saturday, March 25, Lindsay and I are doing some crankie shows (paper movies) at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, exact time and location TBA…
And that’s about it until the Home Routes tour. As you can see, I’m working as much as a retired person. If you know of anyone looking for someone like me to record, tour, or teach, please put them in touch with me.
Now, as promised, here are a couple videos of me and Ben from last night’s private concert we played in Atlanta: Ruth’s Rag, featuring our host Ms. Moonshine on the dance board, and Freckles, a technically challenging yet lighthearted classic banjo piece from 100 years ago, written by Joe Morley, which we are very proud to have worked up.
Thanks for keeping the fires burning everybody. These are interesting times we live in, and I feel honored and privileged to be able to make music and travel with and for such fine people as yourselves. Do keep in touch and stay close with one another. Until next time, I remain, Yours in Corn Potato,
I just got home last night from two weeks in Ireland and France, the end of my summer’s travels, ALMOST. Yes, I spent all my time on the road since I last sent one of these newsletters out, and yes, I am going out on the road again tomorrow so I have very little time to write this and edit it or even read it over before I send it out. BUT I just have too much coming up that I can’t not tell you about it. This one will again be pretty brief and I hope some time next month when things start to slow down I’ll be able to ramble in print a bit more and on the road a bit less. So I’m going to tell you about what’s coming up FIRST, and then maybe a bit about what I’ve been doing since I last wrote, and that will be all.
WHAT’S COMING UP – see www.cornpotato.com/live or aaronjonahlewis.com/calendar for more infos
Corn Potato Tour Dates:
Tomorrow! In Toledo! House concert at 7pm. Check the website for more info
Friday 9/16 – G.A.R. Hall, the Voices in the Valley Small Hall Concert Series, Peninsula, OH
Saturday 9/17 – Whitehall, MI – Historic Howmet Playhouse
Sunday 9/18 – Milford, MI – Rivers Edge Brewery
Monday 9/19 – Set & Square Dancing at the Gaelic League in Corktown, Detroit – With special guests Jen Maurer and Anthony Papaleo of Mo’ Mojo out of Akron, OH!! Two live bands, two callers, one big ballroom with a bar and a potluck to boot!
Tuesday 9/20 – Stormy Records in Dearborn, MI – we’re the first band to play at their new location. Free show, 3-4pm
Wednesday 9/21 – Tom’s Tavern at 7 Mile & Wyoming – Still my favorite place to play in the city. It will be Ben’s first time playing there, so excite it!
Thursday we drive to Terre Haute, IN, to stay with some lovely people on our way to St. Louis
9/23-24 we play and teach at the St. Louis Folk & Roots Festival, whoo!
9/25 – Gatlinburg, TN – Sugarlands Distilling Company – These people offer free tasting sessions that will blow your mind and/or taste buds…
9/26 – In Atlanta we will share a show at Mammal Gallery with Black Sheep Ensemble, this great brass band we met in Detroit in July at the Crash Festival
9/27-28 No idea… Anyone got any suggestions? People around Atlanta that might want to hear us play? People that might want to have us stay at their house?
9/29 – Dahlonega, GA – The Crimson Moon Cafe – Lovely listening room with great food and drinks, haven’t been there in years and I’m glad to get back
9/30 – Club Downunder in Tallahassee, FL, at the UFS campus. This is a big show with Ken Waldman and many special guests.
And then that’s it for a while. Lindsay and I have two big shows in Michigan for October so far. They are:
Thursday, Oct 13, in Lansing at The Robin Theater with our friends Red Tail Ring
Sunday, Oct 23, in Flint, at the Flint Institute of Music for the mini-festival called Humanity In Harmony. It’s a great lineup, lots of variety and all in the name of world peace. Check out the link…
Right, so the last time I wrote was July 11. I can’t believe I actually managed that because I had a doctor’s appointment early in the morning (don’t worry, I’m pretty healthy) and a studio session in the afternoon. Well, I played some great shows that week at St. CeCe’s and at Marge’s Bar and the weekend was consumed with the super fun and nearly overwhelming Crash! Detroit Festival, which had about a dozen brass bands from around the country invade the city and make crazy exuberant music for many days and nights. We hosted ten people from different bands in the house which only added to the fun. Then there was Roochie Toochie tour which was VERY good, the highlight being our showcase set at Clifftop, which we were all happy with, and that doesn’t happen too often. It’s such a treat to play for a bunch of musicians and music lovers who totally get what you’re doing. I had people comment on musical things we did that lasted less than a second, and this is while there are fireworks going off and cardboard signs and puppets flying around, people still notice the music part. That really cheers me up. While we were in New York I got to play a totally uplifting show with the great Tamar Korn and I got to see some of my dear pals e.g. Thomas Bailey, who has done some recording with me and Max Johnson, a.k.a. Wild Hog (click it!), over the year, and I’m not making any promises or anything but we may just have something to release before the end of the year. We’ll see.
After Clifftop I went to Galax and had the best time ever. Then I went to Asheville and recorded with Joe Troop at Billy Cardine’s house — I’m listening to Billy’s album Global Americana right now, this guy is amazing as a composer and instrumentalist — we’ll see what comes of that as well, but Joe and I have been pickin pals for at least ten years and we both love to go out and tour so it seems inevitable that we’ll join forces at some point. After that Lindsay and I went to the Wilson County Fair and saw the acrobats, the prizewinning livestock and poultry, we saw Roni AND Donna Stoneman (dream come true!), rode rides, ate too much fair food, hung out with our pal Luke Richardson, who also just released a beautiful fiddle-and-concertina album he made with Jody Kruskal called Waiting for the Boatsman, check that out here, I won first place in the fiddle contest (again), we shared the stage with some GREAT musicians, Austin Derryberry, Tater Carruthers, the 13-year-old fiddle and banjo prodigy, Roy Harper the Singing Brakeman, 91 years old and used to play with Jimmie Rodgers, and of course our Gallinipper pal Buddy who puts it all together. We also had a snake charming routine, a dancing gorilla, crankie shows, and a big Fathead representing our Possum Party. Vote Possum!
Well, then we drove straight home after the fair was over and got on a plane to Ireland the next day. Wow, that bluegrass festival at the Ulster American Folk Park was just fantastic. The weather was cooperative but just barely. Other than that the setting was beautiful and there were so many great bands to see. Our favorites (and our friends who were there) were Betse & Clarke, Dr. Grass & The Illbilly 8, Bluegrass Boogiemen, and new friends and favorites Red Wine, from Italy, and Sunny Side, from Czech. After the festival Lindsay and I went to France to visit some friends (such as Johannes, one of the founding members of my Western Swing band, The Froggy Mountain Boys) and attend a truly lovely wedding celebration that lasted for days at a chateau in the south of France… Maybe the best wedding ever… Best one I’ve been to this summer in any case. On our way home we got to spend the night with our pal Colin who plays with I Draw Slow. Those guys are all so talented and delightful. So glad we got to see Colin. Check out his band.
That brings us more or less up to the present. I did manage to read a short book while I was in France. It’s called The Roots of the Blues, by Samuel Charters. It’s a travelogue wherein the ethnomusicologist author travels to West Africa in search of connections between what’s left of traditional African musical traditions and the American blues. I like travel writing and I like to think about where music comes from and how it changes as it moves around in space and time, so I loved this book. I also watched about twenty movies on the plane over the course of the summer and can’t remember one of them.
I hope you’ve all had an excellent summer and I hope that you are, like me, looking forward to what lies ahead. See you out there some time soon!
I would get home from a truly excellent tour and once again have to face responsibility for more than being on tour (although there is plenty to deal with on tour, it’s just different and I could probably write a whole essay about it. For now I will spare you…) I have a big pile of things to catch up on, so for now I will keep this very short and some time soon (maybe when the summer is finished?) I will be able to share a bunch of fun things to look at and remember your Corn Potato friends by… And I won’t send an email that only contains upcoming gigs — Here’s the best joke I heard on the tour (thanks to Paul in Hawick): Two wind turbines are in a field. One says to the other, “What kind of music are you into?” The other says, — (scroll to the bottom for the rest of the joke!)
|Wed, 7/29||Pittsburgh, PA||Babyland|
|Tue, 7/28||Lancaster, PA||Chestnut House Concerts|
|Mon, 7/27||Worcester, MA||Nick’s Bar|
|Sun, 7/26||Belfast, ME||Waterfall Arts|
|Fri, 7/24||Portland, ME||Mayo Street Arts|
|Thu, 7/23||Littleton, NH||Littleton Opera House|
|Wed, 7/22||Cambridge, MA||Club Passim|
|Tue, 7/21||Dorchester, NH||D acres|
|Sun, 7/19||Glover, VT||Bread + Puppet|
|Sat, 7/18||Denmark, ME||Denmark Arts Center|
|Fri, 7/17||Gorham, NH||Medallion Opera House|
|Wed, 7/15||Hudson, NY||Time and Space Limited|
Dear Friends, Folks, and Family,
I know it hasn’t been that long since my last newsletter but it’s probably going to be a long time until the next one, and I have a lot of great news for you! What I would like to do here is give you all the big news first and then save my rambling reflections on life for the end. I’ll also give you the punchline to this joke, a recent favorite I got from our local auto mechanic. I’ve been telling everyone I meet: “What’s the best thing about Switzerland?” (Scroll down to the end for the punchline.)
THE BIGGEST NEWS FIRST – NEW CORN POTATO STRING BAND ALBUM IS OUT NOW!!!
That’s right, and you heard it here (or on Facebook) first. There’s not much more for me to say, except to please check it out. Listen for free on CDBaby, buy physical copies (Christmas is just around the corner!) and downloads from CDBaby, or stream/buy from our website and tell the world how much you love it. I really considered spending a big chunk of change on a PR campaign for this record but I decided not to. If we can do as well with this one as we did with the last one then we should be fine. Of course I want to expand the reach of the band and our music, and to get into the ears of anyone that might be interested, but I have to be patient and let it happen on its own because we don’t have a budget for PR and we don’t tour enough for it to seem worthwhile to push that hard. We’re doing this grassroots style. So I rely on you — If you like what we’re doing, please help us out by spreading the word and buying our music. Oh, and coming to our shows!
are up on our website and they are still being updated but we are mostly set now with May in the US and June in England, Wales, and Scotland. See the website for all the infos but for our US tour we will be in Knoxville, Kalamazoo, South Haven (MI), Flint, Saginaw, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Rockton (PA), Albany, Cambridge, Philly, Baltimore, Strasburg (VA), Berryville (VA), and Takoma Park.
Locally our biggest show we are really trying to promote is in Ann Arbor, at The Ark on Sunday, May 15, the week after Mother’s Day. Tickets are available here. (Hint: Moms love us.) And to sweeten the deal a whole lot more, Lac La Belle will be opening the show for us!
LAST DANCE BEFORE THE SUMMER
The Detroit Square Dance Society will host its last dance of the season on Thursday, May 12 at the Gaelic League in Corktown, Detroit. Potluck at 6:30, flatfooting with Hannah Lewis (my sis!) at 7, Southern squares with Lindsay McCaw calling from 7:30-11. The band will include but is not limited to myself, Ben Luttermoser and Rachel Pearson (of Behind The Times). I guarantee that there will be special secret surprise guests. I also guarantee that you will have an extremely excellent fun time if you can make it out to this dance. All that or your money back. ($10 suggested donation, no one turned away. All dances taught, no experience necessary.)
The Corn Potato String Band was featured in an episode of a BBC program called Normal for Norfolk. This show focuses on Wiveton Hall Farm and its wonderful owner, Desmond, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the last couple times I played there. The show makes it seem like hosting a bluegrass band from the US is sort of a desperate attempt to raise some money but it also shows how much fun it is, and how worth it it is (beyond financial benefit) to try and get lots of people from the community together for some live music and dancing. I also appreciated seeing how much effort went into preparing for our show in the barn. You can watch the whole half-hour episode here.
My college alumni magazine just published a sweet article about yours truly. I think their circulation is in the hundreds, possibly thousands, so I’m getting pretty big. Just saying. Check it out here.
A BIT OF RAMBLING, AS PROMISED
Last night I played a wedding for the first time with a regional mega-band that specializes in weddings and corporate events, playing Top 40 cover songs, and I had a blast. (I call it a mega-band because there are dozens of musicians involved who will split up and play multiple events in different cities at the same time. It’s very organized and professional, something I’m not so accustomed to but I sure can appreciate. The real name of the group is The Bluewater Kings.) For one thing, everyone involved has a great attitude and they are all great musicians. For another thing, it’s a wedding! That means everyone is there to party, they’re all in a great mood, there’s lots of great food and drink, lots of dancing, what’s not to love? Also, the pay is pretty good. But I’ve mainly been reflecting on how a gig like this gives me some perspective on my career as a musician. I like that most of the songs are great fun to play and some of them are just horrible radio hits that I can’t stand. How many musicians throughout the ages have had the privilege of playing whatever they want and never playing songs they don’t like? I take pride in identifying with the grand tradition of being a working musician, i.e., playing what the people want to hear. And I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of my time playing just the songs I want to play, with the people I want to play with and in the places where I choose to play, for people that actually enjoy the music I’m playing. Wow!
And with that, I will leave you. I did finish reading The Best American Mystery Stories of 2014, and I am still reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (published 1975). The pile of books I want to read is stacking up, literally, but I don’t anticipate having much time to read this summer as I tend to do all the driving when we’re on the road. Until next time, and I hope to see you again soon, I go now.
Corn Potatotastically Yours,
“I don’t know either… but the flag is a big plus!”
What a strange and funny world this is, I sometimes think. Then I think, Maybe it’s not a strange and funny world, maybe I just have a lot of strange and funny thoughts…
Here we are in the depths of winter. It’s the mildest winter Detroit has seen in years but it’s still pretty cold. I’m starting to enjoy this place a bit more, I’m finding more people to play with, more local gigs, but I am still adjusting to this place. Lots of great people here but no acoustic music scene. So I started a weekly series at my house with a fiddle and a banjo workshop once a month each, and two potluck jams per month. Last month I had my first guest teacher for the fiddle workshop, the one and only Erynn Marshall and her wonderful collaborator and husband, Carl Jones, and that was fantastic. The Detroit Square Dance Society events at the Gaelic League have generated a lot of interest, too. The last one we had was so crowded it was almost too crowded, but it worked and it was super fun.
I think this will be a relatively short email, I’m just going to skip over the past (although it has been good!) and throw the highlights of the near future at ya. Here we go!
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NEAR FUTURE
– This weekend! Lindsay and I are flying Ben Belcher in from New Hampshire and driving to Chicago for the University of Chicago Folk Festival. We’ll play a show on Friday and a show on Saturday, and we’ll play (and Lindsay will call) for the barn dance on Saturday.
– On Monday, Feb 15, Lindsay and I will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to play/call for a square dance there. I met some great people from there during New Year’s in North Carolina, and I’m so excited that they are just a few hours from where I live.
– On Wednesday, Feb 17, Lindsay and I will play a duo show at Tom’s Tavern, one of our very most favoritest bars in Detroit. This place is historic (i.e. OLD) and the good vibes there are palpable.
– Thursday, Feb 18, I play with Detroit Pleasure Society for a special (sold out!) event at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as part of the Brahms festival. We will play old-fashioned swing music (including Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream) while burlesque dancers do their stuff and a beard contest takes place. It all makes sense if you think about what Brahms would have done.
– Saturday, Feb 27, I play with Detroit Pleasure Society at two different events: First, the annual Doctors Without Borders Benefit at the AOH Hall in Redford, with many musical acts, including my pals Lac LaBelle and Behind The Times, as well as a bit of square dancing courtesty of the Detroit Square Dance Society with special guest caller Becky Hill! We will have to leave the benefit early in order to get to Plav Post #10 in Hamtramck for our second event of the night, featuring the Detroit Party Marching Band and the Black Bear Combo, from Chicago.
– Sunday the 28th is our third-ever Detroit Square Dance Society event at the Gaelic League. The band will feature members of Behind The Times and Corn Potato String Band, and we have a special guest caller from West Virginia, a Michigan native, Becky Hill! Potluck at 5pm, flatfooting workshop at 5:30 and Southern squares from 6-9 or later. Suggested donation is $10, no one will be turned away, all dances will be taught, no experience necessary.
– The following weekend, March 5-7, I play with four different groups all weekend long at the Hamtramck Music Festival. Check their website for all the details but I’m playing a Corn Potato Duo set with Lindsay, I’m also playing with Detroit Pleasure Society (I think!), Detroit Square Dance Society is putting on the day-after brunch dance, and a new project of mine, called Klezmer DetrOYt!, will make its debut.
– The weekend after that is also a big one as we’re flying Ben Belcher out to Detroit again for a few shows, first we have a hometown gig at PJ’s on Thursday, March 10. The next day we play a benefit for the Black Swamp Nature Conservancy in northwestern Ohio. And on Saturday, the 12th, we have the distinct honor of returning to play at Music In The Burbs, a truly beautiful house concert series in Bloomfield Hills.
I’m going to leave it at that for now. I hope to get in touch with you again before the next big things happen. Things like a new album release! A US tour in the Midwest and East Coast! A tour in the UK! A tour with Roochie Toochie & The Ragtime Shepherd Kings! But I’ll get to all of that later.
I have been reading, stories and essays, from the Best American series. Lots of good stuff there. And last night we watched Lindsay’s favorite movie and I loved it. It’s called The Accountant. It’s only 38 minutes long. It is dark and funny, my favorite combination. Highly recommended.
Right! That’s all for now, then. Stay warm, everybody.