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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Of birthdays, bikes and books

For the past five years, Chuck and Diane Flynt of Dugspur, pictured above, have raised a bunch of money for the Jessie Peterman Memorial Library in Floyd with a birthday ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This is the 6th year, and the goal is to ride a mile for each of Chuck's birthdays -- 75 miles this year.  Some of the dozens of riders opt for other goals -- 20 miles, or 40, or 50, or whatever seems right.  The Flints contribute a dollar for each mile biked to the library. It all adds up.

Last year, for example, the birthday ride brought a contribution of nearly $1,200, and the folks at the library were thrilled.  As I reported last year, branch manager Cathy Whitten said, "We are so grateful to all of you who ride and donate.  It’s just the most delightful thing to us that you all would do this!"

This year's event was a huge success, raising $1,589, reports Chuck Flynt. "Thirty-one riders participated in this glorious event. We all had a great time and are a little tired and sore from the experience. 
Paul Lacoste finished with me as he has for all the six previous rides. Craig Rogers from Patrick Springs, a biking newbie of only 4.5 months, completed the 75 mile course ahead of his coach and inspiration, me. I won't let him start early next year!"

It looks like pretty much fun for the riders who gather early on a Sunday morning to head up the Parkway for the Big Dogs ride up to Rakes Millpond. The wind was howling and it was just over 52 degrees this morning when they left for the first 25-mile leg.  They rolled back in at mid-morning to get a quick snack and then join the Puppy Dogs riders for the second segment down to Fancy Gap and back.
Dan Sweeney gnarfs a banana-and-peanut concoction before heading out with the Big Dogs

But at least this morning it wasn't sleeting, as it was for part of the ride four years ago.  Today's gusty, strong winds were enough to battle. Craig Roger of Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, fairly new to serious bike riding, said he fought not only strong winds but also some startled turkeys in the road as he biked up and down some of those steep hills. 
Craig Rogers and Chuck Flynt, shortly before Craig was first out of the blocks toward Rakes Mill Pond

Craig, heading north, first leg 

Heading back down toward Mabry Mill

Newlywed Dan and Beth Sweeney

Floyd builder Ed Erwin, about to start on the second leg