Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Jammin' at Bristol

For several years I've been hauling my old 1959 Kay upright bass down to Galax on Fridays to play in the four-hour Midday Music program in the breezeway of the Blue Ridge Music Center.   Toting that bass around, playing it for that long a time and then getting it, and the special stand, and the special stool, is a load  -- sometimes seeming more like a process than a performance.  So when I heard about the Jam Town Jam Camp planned for the four days preceding the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, I signed up, went over to Bristol and spent a wonderful week making mostly bluegrass music with some talented people.

Among them were Gilbert Nelson and his wife Leigh, professional musicians and good teachers who operate these jam camps all over the East under a program developed by Pete Wernick.  The plan isn't to produce professional musicians, but to help dedicated pickers get better at it, learn how to improve their playing skills, absorb the rules of jamming etiquette, expand their repertoire of songs, understand better how to harmonize with other pickers, and become more familiar with stage management, microphone setup and use, and even such things as how and when to make runs up and down the bass.  In other words, not reinventing the wheel, but making sure pickers come away with more knowledge and better skills, and having fun.
Leigh Nelson, left, and Gilbert Nelson at Jam Camp

Among other things, we broke up into four bands of about 7 players each, and performed on a stage that a little later that evening would be occupied by the award-winning Black Lillies.  So our story, of course, is that we opened for the Lillies.  Never mind that our audience was spouses and friends and nice folks who wandered in off the street, while the Lillies' audience was a sold-out, paid audience of enthusiastic fans.  Our band called itself the Bluegrass Misfits -- we had three banjos but just one dobro, one mandolin, one guitar and one old bassman.  Here's a couple pix:
The Misfits, on stage

The best fun of the evening came when Leigh and Gilbert, joined by teachers Bob Minke and Dee Rosser, were performing, and invited up Hannah Jacobs of Danville, whose sweet high-range voice had transported the Misfits with her rendering of "Angel Band", and Corinne Macintosh of Lanexa over near Williamsburg, who played the Stanley crosscut saw with her fiddle bow.  You ain't never heard nothin' like it -- hilarious, charming, eerie, and right smack dab in the middle of the bluegrass tradition that if you can play it, people will listen and let you know when it's good.  They did.  Here's another photo, showing Hannah at the mike and Corinne sawing away on the saw.  You can't make this stuff up.
Sawing away at a Stanley 26" crosscut saw


  1. Looking good there, Jack...can't wait to hear more from that doghouse of yours in future Blue Ridge jams.

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