just passed through the neighborhood last night. I sat on my porch for about six hours as the wind slowly picked up, the intermittent thunder and lightning became more frequent, and the rain went from a drizzle to a patter to a solid torrent, the wind whipping around in all directions and water coming down in such a volume I felt like I was a car at the drive-through car wash. Before going to bed I saw a single raindrop illuminated by a flash of lightning as it was right in front of my face before it hit the ground.
It’s been about two months since my last newsletter and there’s no way I can get everything in that I want to share with you. The main thing to communicate is that I am well and busy these days, very happy with my recent tours with Luke Richardson and Ben Belcher in Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands, where I saw old friends and made some new ones and saw a lot of great bands as well. I’m also very excited about everything that’s coming up. So in this email I plan to cover the following:
– Upcoming shows with Corn Potato and Roochie Toochie (Scroll down if you want to see those first)
– Brief tour highlights
– Some new reviews of Corn Potato String Band “Volume 2”
– SOME videos from our spring tour in the US are now up on youtube
– Book report
I’ve just returned home from a month of touring in Europe and I’m getting ready to hit the road again in a couple days. I was lucky enough to be invited to join local swing band, Detroit Pleasure Society, for a show as soon as I got home. It certainly helps to delay those post-tour blues. Starting July 1, Lindsay, Ben, and I will play a few dates as the Corn Potato String Band and then Lindsay and I go on tour for the last two weeks of July with Roochie Toochie & The Ragtime Shepherd Kings, our wax cylinder recording project. We will tour in New England and the tour dates will be available somewhere, some time, I’m not really sure where and when exactly we’re playing but it should be possible to find out eventually. After Roochie Toochie tour we’re going to catch the last few days of Clifftop and then head to Galax, my musical mecca.
REVIEWS – Over the past few months we got some great reviews of our latest record. The reviews are up on our website at this link, and although they aren’t all one hundred percent accurate, they all have a lot of nice things to say. For example, the Old Time Herald said that we ‘get at it and stay at it,’ and fRoots Magazine compared us to Spinal Tap’s Viv Savage because we ‘have a good time all the time.’
VIDEOS – Since I’ve been home I managed to get just a handful of videos from our spring US tour up onto youtube. You can see the ‘Live At Jalopy’ playlist here and the ‘Live At The Ark’ playlist here.
BRIEF (TRUST ME) TOUR HIGHLIGHTS – If I were going to make it any more brief it would read just like this: “I went on tour with Ben Belcher and later with Luke Richardson. Germany, UK, Netherlands. It was great.”
The tour started with the Karl-May-Tage festival in Radebeul, near Dresden. Karl May was a very popular and influential author in Germany. He wrote many fantasy Western novels about cowboys and Indians which inspired a movement of hobbyists to dress up in authentic outfits and gather for camps where they could reenact and relive these imagined Western scenarious. I had been to some of these gatherings before and was prepared for all kinds of strangeness. As it turned out, most of the people at the festival were locals, families out for a day’s fun. The hobbyists were certainly present, and the festival even had some hired actors to act up in the drunk tank or in the saloon and occasionally have a shootout in the square, and the overall feeling was fun for everyone. Ben and I played in the saloon, a small room that would get very rowdy and crowded. The other band that played in the saloon was one of our favorites from the whole trip. They’re from Dresden and they’re called Tam Tam Combony, a trio of accordion, pedal steel plus guitar plus some horn, and tuba plus percussion. They always got the crowd going and they also played classic spaghetti Western soundtrack music during the shootouts, a la Ennio Morricone). There was also a main stage where I thought all the bands were really good. What struck me about this festival struck was the generosity and kindness of its organizers, as well as their sensitivity to what could potentially be seen as a racist event, depicting Native Americans according to an ignorant stereotype. The Karl-May-Tage festival always brings in a group of Native Americans to conduct workshops, performances, and generally share their culture with people who have a great curiosity and respect. After the festival was over Ben and I attended the afterparty, where a brief ceremony was held to honor the relationship of the festival with the various tribes it has worked with over the years. A tree was planted and speeches were given in the name of peace and understanding. Now who doesn’t support peace and understanding?
After the festival we spent a night in Berlin where I had a glorious reunion with the Froggy Mountain Boys, my beloved western swing band. We had a quick rehearsal before the show and played a great set with Ben sitting in. After our set there was an open jam that ran the gamut from swing standards to hip hop and free improv to Turkish tunes. I met a fantastic swing violin player there named Daniel Weltlinger and went to see him play a beautiful concert a couple nights later. (And at the same venue a couple days after that I saw a tribute to Sun Ra in honor of his 100th birthday and I’m so glad I went to that, too. Berlin!) I ended up staying til around four in the morning… Ben left for tour with The Hot Seats a day later and I stayed in Berlin for a week to visit with friends, drink beer, eat ice cream, and enjoy my favorite city in the world. I got to play for a swing dance unlike any other I’d ever seen—The organizer and dance insructor, Anna, insisted that we play whatever we want and vary the tempos as much as we like. These dancers can dance to any tempo, she said, and everyone has the most fun when the band is having fun. (Most swing dances will have people telling you to keep it at this or that tempo so that dancers can do this or that dance.) And we had a great time! I got to play with a bunch of great old friends, and later that week I got to play two shows with Django Lassi, my favorite band in Berlin. Without planning for it I was in Berlin during the Karneval der Kulturen, a huge celebration with parades and live music everywhere.
From Berlin I took a bus to London which only lasted about 24 hours… When I finally got to London I met my dear friend Ed Hicks and we went straight to Wales, where we spent a couple days walking about the countryside and hanging out with a lovely group of friends. Then we were off to Fire In The Mountain, my favorite festival ever. It’s quite small and it’s in a beautiful part of Wales, near Aberystwyth. I taught a fiddle workshop there, sat in with Ed’s band, The Nightcaps (which included some shirtless crowdsurfing), and played a really nice set with Luke Richardson. I also got to see a lot of great bands and do a lot of what they call ‘jamming,’ or, ‘jam sessions.’ I got to see Mik Artistik, one of my all-time favorites (sort of a cross between Monty Python and Wesley Willis, maybe?), in three separate performances. One of my favorite CDs I got at the festival is from the Rheingans Sisters. I saw some of their live set and thought was great but didn’t know what to expect from their CD. It’s really a lot of great fiddle playing with some lovely singing thrown in. Interesting tunes as well, not so much American old time but more English and Scandinavian folk. After the festival Luke and I played a few more shows in Bristol and London and really had a blast. One of our shows in London led us to the home of one of the Hot Rock Pilgrims, Hubert, and his friend Dan, who was visiting from Brighton. They opened for us and man did they kill it! Great vocals, and Dan on banjo and Hubert on guitar each had a distinctive and impressive style.
Luke and I parted ways about a week later when I met up with Ben and we flew to Amsterdam. Our friend Christian met us there and drove us a few hours north, to the other end of the country, for a sweet little bluegrass and old time festival called Boet n Deure, put on by our friend Sylvia. We got there just in time to play our set and see the last band, who we greatly enjoyed but whose name I forgot… The banjo player especially tickled us with his Don Reno licks and his uncanny Johnny Cash impersonation. Ben hadn’t slept at all the night before in order to get to the airport, and I’d only slept a couple hours as I had to get up at 3:30am to get to the airport on time, but somehow we rallied and partied late with Christian and the Flying Caravan late night after the festival. From there we went back to Christian’s place for a workshop and house concert the next day, a gig at a super tasty BBQ restaurant in Amsterdam, and a very friendly squat in Maastricht. Then we took a train to Frankfurt where we met our friend Marius (of Battenkill Ramblers), who had organized two shows for us in the area with another band, Blackbird Raum, who completely rocked the house with acoustic instruments and crazy energy, and the first show had another band, a duo from France called GRRZZZ that played insane industrial noise music. I enjoyed GRRZZZ and Blackbird Raum so much, I’m really glad I got to meet them and see them play. Our last day in Frankfurt we had a lovely workshop session with some of Marius’s friends, casually spending the afternoon eating, drinking, playing tunes and occasionally talking about this or that aspect of old time guitar or clawhammer or bluegrass banjo or fiddling. From Frankfurt we went back to Berlin for one more night and then we flew back to our respective homes (while Luke stayed in the UK and went on tour with Thomas Bailey, with whom I made the Wild Hog record.)
BOOK REPORT – I think I read one or two books that I liked a lot but I can’t really remember. Has that ever happened to you? You know you really enjoyed a book but can’t remember anything about it? I remember reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some Edgar Allan Poe, the Arabian Nights, and poems by Alecsandar Ristovic, and I know that Ben read The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, because I lent it to him and he tried to give it back to me but I didn’t have room in my suitcase anymore because it was full of Dutch cheese and German dried sausages. Mmmm!
TOUR DATES (All updated info, links, etc. are up on my calendar.)
Corn Potato String Band “Little Glow Worm” July Tour:
July 1 – Quarryville, PA (near Lancaster) – Fiddle Creek Dairy, 7pm, with a fiddle workshop from 5-6.
July 5 – Glover, VT – Parker Pie, 7pm
July 8 – Portland, ME – Blue, 7:45pm
July 9 – Belfast, ME – 3 Tides, 9:30pm
July 10 – Bar Harbor, ME – Parilla, 10pm
July 11 – Bar Harbor, ME – Lompoc, 10pm
Roochie Toochie & The Ragtime Shepherd Kings July Tour:
July 14 – Hudson, NY – Time and Space Limited
July 16 – Hudson, NY – House Show
July 17 – Gorham, NH – Medallion Opera House
July 18 – Denmark, ME – Denmark Arts Center
July 19 – Glover, VT – Bread And Puppet
July 21 – Dorchester, NH – D Acres
July 22 – Portland, ME – Mayo Street Arts (morning/afternoon workshops)
July 22 – Cambridge, MA – Club Passim
July 23 – Littleton, NH – Littleton Opera House
July 24 – Portland, ME – Mayo Street Arts
July 25 – Portland, ME – Private Event
July 26 – Belfast, ME – Waterfall Arts
July 27 – Worcester, MA – Nick’s Bar
July 28 – Lancaster, PA – Chestnut House Concerts
July 29 – Pittsburgh, PA – Babyland
And then it’s off to Clifftop and Galax, home for a few days and then to Tennessee for a nine-day stint at the Cumberland Fair, then home for about two weeks and then to the UK and Ireland for two months! You’ll be hearing from me before then, and until the next time,