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.
I woke up this morning around 8am, early by my standards, but maybe I had a subconscious premonition of what was to come. Around 9 I heard the rumbling and whine of a chainsaw and thought nothing of it at first. I looked out the window and noticed a tree care crew had chopped off some of the branches from the lovely tall maple tree across the street. “Oh, they’re pruning it up a bit before winter, that’s good,” I thought. But they didn’t stop there. They took the whole tree down to the ground, passed it through the wood chipper, and were on their way before 10. Later on my neighbor told me he had them cut it down because he was tired of raking the leaves and it had to happen sooner or later anyway, right? Sometimes it seems people have more agency than common sense. On the other hand, trees and houses are a tricky combination that will often lead to some kind of trouble sooner or later, right?
Happy Tree Appreciation Season, everybody. In this email I will attempt to catch you up on the following:
– Some stories from the road
– At least one pretty good video from the last tour
– What am I doing in Detroit nowadays
– Upcoming shows and plans for 2016
– A word about our new Corn Potato record
– Book report
A WORD ABOUT THE LAST TOUR
The last time I wrote I was getting ready to go on a long tour with my Corn Potato String Band in the UK and Ireland. Well, we did it and it was a great success. Every show was met with a great reception, wonderful crowds and lovely hosts who were either dear old friends or delightful new friends. There were only one or two exceptions to this, and those were no worse than an average show in the US. (Sorry USA but it’s true!) One of the best parts of a tour is getting to meet other bands and hear them play. A few of our favorites (there are too many to name them all) are Dr. Bluegrass & The Illbilly 8, The Bucket Boyz, Foghorn Leghorn, Seven Sons, Blue Dust, and of course our very favorites, The Ninetree Stumblers. Check em out!
I’m going to keep the ‘stories from the road’ part of this newsletter pretty short, in fact, I’m only going to mention one truly remarkable surprise gig we landed when another one cancelled on us short-notice. It was on the Isle of Arran at a sweet little pub/diner/restaurant called Fiddlers Music Bar, like it was made for us! Anyway, the Isle of Arran is breathtakingly beautiful and our hosts were incredibly generous and hospitable. Add this place to the list of places to which we can’t wait to return.
After the tour I performed in the Banners & Cranks Festival back in Detroit, which Lindsay organized. It was a big success, bringing in artists from all over the country and a record crowd in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
A PRETTY GOOD VIDEO OR TWO
Now, I haven’t looked at all the videos from the last tour, nor do I even know where they all are — Please feel free to send me links to any favorites you may have found — but so far the best ones I’ve seen are from the Heart of Hawickand from the Moniaive Bluegrass Festival. Here they are, in no particular order:
– Russian Rag, from Heart of Hawick
– Poplar Bluff, from Moniaive Bluegrass Festival, with first-place Clifftop champion clogger Suzanne Ambrose
– Run Mountain, from Heart of Hawick
WHAT I’M DOING IN DETROIT NOWADAYS
OK, here’s where it starts to get juicy. Since I will be in Detroit most of the time until May I am starting to try and attempt to get some things started. Here are a few things I’m doing (and I’m skipping the boring stuff about working on the house):
– Detroit Square Dance Society — We have successfully organized the first community (non-exclusive) square dance in Detroit since the seventies, and we plan to do another one soon. It was a great night at The Gaelic League, in collaboration with the regular Monday night Irish Set Dancers, who seemed to enjoy the Southern-style square dancing as much as the square dancers enjoyed the Irish set dancing. And the potluck was delicious!
– Old Time Tuesdays chez moi — Every Tuesday I’m hosting a jam or teaching a workshop. First Tuesdays of the month are fiddle tune workshops, third Tuesdays are clawhammer banjo workshops, and every other Tuesday is an old time jam. Get in touch if you’ll be in Detroit on a Tuesday, everyone is welcome.
– Ben Luttermoser Trio — This is a new project with my friend Ben Luttermoser in which I will occasionaly feature as soloist playing early jazz and swing music. So fun!
– Detroit Pleasure Society – This is a bigger band, seven pieces including myself, in which I get to play fiddle solos with a cool group playing hot jazz and swing. Also very fun!
That’s about all for now. Lindsay and I will play the occasional show as the Corn Potato Duo, and we are bringing Ben Belcher to Detroit again in March and in May for some bigger shows. I’m actively looking for people who want to play with me and people who want to take lessons with me. So far I have one really great student and I’m enjoying teaching very much.
UPCOMING SHOWS AND PLANS FOR 2016
Wednesday, 9 Dec – Tom’s Tavern w/ Ben Luttermoser Trio (BLT)
Thursday, 10 Dec – PJ’s Lager House w/Detroit Pleasure Society (DPS) – This is a benefit for Detroit Youth Volume, a great program that gets underprivileged kids in Detroit playing the violin! That’s a cause I can really support.
Friday, 11 Dec – Lo & Behold Records and Books w/DPS – This is also a benefit, for the ongoing project of keeping Lo & Behold open and running. This place is very supportive to local musicians and functions as something of a cultural hub. I took it for granted at first and then I realized there’s not much else like it around here.
And that’s about it for confirmed gigs I have coming up (gasp — how will I survive?)
In January I’m going to New York City to play some shows for a big music conference with Corn Potato, our first attempt at reaching for a higher level of whatever. I trust the guy who invited us and I know most of the other people who are performing on the same bill so even if nothing much comes of it I think we will have a great time. While we are there we will also do a couple of house shows in the area. I plan to update you on that before it happens but you can always check the calendar on my website or the listings on the band website for the most up-to-date information. In February Lindsay and I will play the Doctors Without Borders benefit on the 27th at the AOH Hall in Redford. In March Corn Potato will play a benefit for the Black Swamp Conserancy in Northwestern Ohio, and we’ll do a couple shows before and after that. In April we might go to Louisville to play their awesome square dance, and then in May we begin a big US tour that includes our first ticketed show at The Ark! More on that later…
A WORD ABOUT THE NEW CORN POTATO RECORD
This is the first you’ll hear of it. We recorded on the Isle of Jura with fantastic engineer/guru Giles “Explore The Space” Perring, and the results are still being processed. Sorry I don’t have anything to share with you yet, but I will probably keep talking about it in every email from now on until we make a new new record… Suffice to say that we got some really good stuff and I know that whatever we put together will be way better than anything we’ve recorded previously. So there. Get excited about it.
Congratulations! You made it (almost) to the end of my long rambling newsletter. Here’s the part where I tell you about what I’ve been reading, or not. Since I wrote my last newsletter I’ve only had time to read a little bit. In London my friend Helen lent me her copy of There but for the, by Ali Smith, which was beautiful and poignant, not without humor, seemed quite relevant for our time, and was a quick-to-read yet intelligently-written book. I’d recommend it! I also read a story or two from Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore. Intriguing characters and stories that drew me in. I didn’t read much of the collection yet but I bet it’s pretty good. And then the best of all was a book called My Secret Unicorn: The Magic Spell, by Linda Chapman. Sure, it’s written for kids but you know, it really got my imagination going. Maybe unicorns ARE real? And why not? You can only see them if you believe…
And so my friends, I was going to leave you with a slightly cynical thought I recently heard which I couldn’t help but agree with, from a fellow freelancer who said, “If I have to hustle to find work I’m not doing my job very well,” because this can also be taken optimistically, i.e., if I do my job well then I won’t have to hustle to find work. Instead, I am going to leave you with the image of a little girl patiently and persistently putting together the puzzle pieces that will unlock the secret to the magic spell that will turn her pony into a unicorn and then take her flying around the world on adventures that are all about doing good and helping people. And not cutting down those beautiful trees when they aren’t doing anything wrong except for making leaves!
What did the hot dog say after it won first place in the fiddle contest? (Scroll to the bottom to see the answer…)
What a summer it’s been, friends. Lots of excitement, great music, great food, great friends, interesting weather, travel, and, you know, a lot of stuff going on! So once again I haven’t kept up with my goal of sending monthly missives, and as a result I probably have more to tell you than will fit into one email. But a guy can try, right? In this email I want to make sure and share my upcoming tour dates — We leave Monday for a seven-week tour in the UK and Ireland, during which we will record our next album (!) — Scroll down if you want to see those dates first. I’ll also share some highlights from the summer so far, including a few choice videos of yours truly on the news in various locales and other such fun type things. I am prepared to discuss ever so briefly some of the things I’ve been reading this summer, and I will also announce the release of Roochie Toochie & The Ragtime Shepherd Kings’ first CD. But first, this:
WHAT MADE ME FEEL LIKE A WINNER THIS SUMMER, or, THE HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR
For starters I got to do a little tour in the Northeast with my Corn Potato String Band and it was just wonderful. We had great weather and amazing food, swam in the ocean and in ponds, got all the way to my old college home of Bar Harbor, Maine, home to many great friends I haven’t seen in a long time. So that was a major highlight. And then from Corn Potato tour I went on to tour with Roochie Toochie, our first tour ever, and a total success. More gigs in New England and points northeast, ending at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV, where we won first place in the neotraditional band contest. Yippee! Blue ribbon number one.
Well, then. After Clifftop I went to Galax, where we set a new world record for Largest Mandolin Ensemble. We absolutely crushed the previous record of 412 by getting 491 mandolin players together to play Old Joe Clark and Angeline The Baker in sweet angelic harmony. I didn’t get a ribbon for this but being a part of it makes me feel like more of a winner than any ribbon ever could. Soon after Galax Lindsay and I went to the Wilson County Fair, the biggest fair in Tennessee, where we played with our friends Buddy and Lisa and special guests on the flatbed of a 1932 Ford truck along with a dancing gorilla, a talking possum, a ventriloquist routine, a dancing devil, a crankie show, and a dancing fathead (not all at the same time). We also enjoyed some of the fair’s many other features including a real working water-powered grist mill, blacksmithing, Civil War reenactors and their cannons, daredevil show, fair food, baby contest, beauty pageants and talent shows for every age group. They also had a bluegrass contest where I won third place in bluegrass banjo (my first banjo contest ever!) and first place in fiddle. So I got some more ribbons and now I feel like a really big winner.
Another major highlight for me was visiting the MTSU Center for Popular Music in Murfreesboro, where Martin Fisher (yes, the same Martin Fisher who recorded Roochie Toochie on wax cylinder) showed me his audio lab, where he was working on the Ed Haley collection. (Ed Haley was a legendary fiddler who inspired generations after him, including me.) Not everything Haley recorded has been released, and I got to hear some of his unreleased recordings, which, you guessed it, also made me feel like quite the winner! I wish I’d had more time to spend there because they have a huge archive with all kinds of media pertaining to popular music, including some real old stuff. I saw a handbill for a vaudeville performance from 1916 and I got to look at some of Eddie Lang’s instructional guitar books (way beyond me) and some transcriptions of tunes by the Farr Brothers (of Sons of the Pioneers) that have never been recorded. OK, now for some
On the local news in Galax for their coverage of the World’s Largest Mandolin Ensemble event, and a short video of everyone actually playing together There are more videos online if you search Galax Largest Mandolin Ensemble 2015
On the local news in Detroit with Detroit Pleasure Society – music starts around 2:30
ROOCHIE TOOCHIE DEBUT CD
Speaking of Roochie Toochie, we do have our first CD in print now. It consists of 23 wax cylinder recordings, only the best. It’s not available online, however, so if you would like a copy just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. It will have to wait until I get back from tour, however. That’s right, I’m going on tour so soon, and here are the
“FUN AND FANCY” CORN POTATO TOUR DATES
There may be one or two more gigs getting added so keep your eye on that old band calendar or my own calendar, where you can also see all the pertinent details for each of these shows:
Wed 9 Sep – The Prince Albert – Brighton
Thur 10 Sep – Betsey Trotwood – Clerkenwell, London
Fri 11 Sep - Wiveton Hall Cafe – Holt, Norfolk
Sat 12 Sep - Elsing Hall – Elsing, Dereham, Norfolk
Wed 16 Sep - Wharf Chambers – Leeds
Thur 17 Sep – Sound Sense House Concert – Moffat, Dumfriesshire
Fri 18 Sep – Carlisle Folk & Blues Club at The Old Fire Station – Carlisle, Cumbria
Sat 19 Sep – St Boswells Live at St Boswells Village Hall – St Boswells
Sun 20 Sep – Coach and Horses – Dumfries
Mon 21 Sep – Heart of Hawick – Hawick
Wed 23 Sep – Dundee Acoustic Music Club at The Newport – Newport-on-Tay
Thur 24 Sep – Clydesdale Folk Club at The Elphinstone Hotel – Biggar
Fri-Sun 25-27 Sep - Moniaive Bluegrass Festival – Dumfries & Galloway
Mon 28 Sep – Traverse Theatre Bar – Edinburgh
Sat 3 Oct – Coldingham Village Hall – Coldingham
Sun 4 Oct – Cock and Bottle – Skipton, North Yorkshire
Mon 5 Oct – The Caledonia – Liverpool
Tue 6 Oct – The Red Room – Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Wed 7 Oct – Myles K. McCann’s – Omagh, Co. Tyrone
Thur 8 Oct – Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar – Westport, Co. Mayo
Fri-Sun 9-11 Oct – Bunratty Folk Park Festival – Bunratty, Co. Clare
Sun 11 Oct – Roadside Tavern – Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare
Wed 14 Oct – The Grand Social – Dublin
Thur 15 Oct - Burnetts Hill Chapel – Nr Narbert, Pembrokeshire
Fri 16 Oct – Barry West End Club – Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff
Sat 17 Oct – Vicarage Gardens House Concert – Dawlish, Devon
Sun 18 Oct – Bournemouth Folk Club – Bournemouth, Dorset
Mon 19 Oct – The Sussex Ox – Polegate, East Sussex
Tue 20 Oct – Mrs. Yarrington’s Music Club at The Senlac Inn – Battle, East Sussex
Wed 21 Oct – Rainham Oast Old Time Sessions (ROOTS) – Rainham, Kent
Thur 22 Oct – Stag and Hounds – Bristol
Fri 23 Oct – The Bullingdon Arms – Oxford
Sat 24 Oct – The Harrison – Kings Cross, London
Sun 25 Oct - Come Down And Meet The Folks at The Apple Tree – London
Mon 26 Oct - The Crooked Billet – Henley-on-Thames
Honestly I still haven’t had much time for reading but I have been enjoying articles from The New Yorker magazine very much. While I was in Maine I went to a big old tool and book and junk shop called Liberty Tool and bought dozens of sheet music prints as well as a copy of the journal Parabola: Myth and the Quest for Meaning, Volume VII, Number 3, from 1982. The theme of the issue is Ceremonies and there are some great pieces in there, including an attack on Joseph Campbell in the letters section, and a response from the man himself. I was especially fascinated by an article by Francelia Butler entitled “Tennessee Heritage,” that had to do with the Melungeons, a mysterious people in East Tennessee who have ‘for the most part lost their own heritage,’ and whose origins are unknown. But apparently ‘when the first white settlers came to Tennessee, the Melungeons were already there, living as rich farmers in the valleys, it is said, until 1834, when the Tennessee Constitution delared them “free persons of color” and disenfranchised them.’
While I was in Bar Harbor I saw my friend Nancy Andrews, who gave me a hard copy of her comic book Loupette and the Moon, which is most enjoyable. Here’s the link to her website, in case you want to check out her work and see some things that have inspired me over the years.
And at Clifftop I ran into Phil Jamison, whom I last saw at the Chesapeake Dance Weekend where he was calling. He’s been working on a book about the origins of square dancing and other American folk dances and it is now in print. It’s called Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance. It is a thoroughly researched, academic work but it’s easy to read and chock full of interesting details. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in what we call old time music and dance.
I guess the header means it’s time to wrap this up. OK, well, wish me luck out there in the UK and Ireland. When I get home summer will most definitely be over. I’m sad to miss the best days of autumn in Michigan, but I thought about it and I think it will still be pretty darn nice overseas. Wherever you are, friends, I hope you are enjoying the season and each other. See you again soon. And until then, I remain,
“I’m a wiener!”
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,