A Clean Break

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As many of you know, I am a vocalist and I accompany myself on the guitar. For about 50 years I got by with just playing rhythm, chords, and a few walking bass runs, hammer-ons and pull-offs. After getting hooked on Bluegrass a few years ago, I began to have regrets that I hadn’t spent much time learning to flat pick. It would be great if I could kick off my songs or take breaks while jamming with others. I’ve been trying to remedy the situation.

A few months ago, I bought a nice little mandolin from Big Hank. I sent away for the Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook for Mandolin, purchased a couple instructional DVD’s from Homespun and began playing the mandolin for a couple hours every night. While I practiced, my husband watched TV and stayed way out of earshot. I learned to play some chords and chops and then began picking out familiar tunes in the keys of G and D. I watched many You Tube videos and was pleased to be able to play along with some of the tunes. After a month or so, I had an opportunity to jam with some friends. I stumbled through some of the songs I had been learning and nobody laughed or told me to “give it up” so I kept on practicing. Before long, I actually overheard my husband bragging to people about my mandolin playing.

Now the good part of my story is forthcoming; I made an attractive strap for my mandolin so that when I went to Turlock, I could look like an old hand at carrying my little axe around from jam to jam. My intention was to stand just outside the circle, playing softly just for the experience of playing along and not be put on the spot to take a break. I didn’t feel quite ready for “prime time.” One of the earliest jams I went to was at Rick Cornish’s camp, I didn’t bring a chair for I was going to blend in with the background, right? Bruce Pritchard was there with his banjo, Rick had gooped up the tip of his finger with rubber cement or something and was playing his fiddle, Kelly Broyles was there with guitar in hand, Cliff was “pacing himself” at that point so had left his guitar somewhere else. Brooks Judd had just shown up to visit.

The music started and I was having a good time doing some unobtrusive chops in the background and feeling good about being able to follow along. I should have known that Rick wouldn’t just let me stand there doing my wooden Indian routine; when it was his turn, he passed it on to me. Oh no! This wasn’t supposed to happen, in jamming 101, if you’re outside the circle, you don’t get called on. Well if you’re the Chairman and it’s you’re party, you can make up new rules. My mouth went dry, my hands went wet and I was shaking so bad I thought the only thing I could do would be tremolo. I looked around for a dark cloud; hoping lightning would strike me down. After a false start or two, I started my rendition of “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor.” I think I kicked it off, and when I got to my singing part I was more in my element and it gave me a little time to collect myself. Everyone took a break and when it came around to me, my hands were clammy and wouldn’t slide up the neck smoothly, my performance was less than stellar but the song was recognizable. I was so glad when it was over; after that debacle, I made a hasty exit.

I later met up with Jerry Pujol who is always so encouraging and patient. He said, “Get your mandolin and play some of the songs you’ve been practicing and I’ll accompany you with the guitar.” We were sequestered in my EZ-Up shelter and people would pass by and look in, sometimes pausing to listen for a moment or two. Before I knew it, my little shelter had filled up with musicians; so much for standing outside a circle and blending in with the landscape. At some point I looked up and there is my friend Rick, fiddle in hand. Oh my, not again. Little did I know that the words he spoke would be the highlight of my day. He said, “My dear girl, (he uses that term a lot) I believe you have found YOUR instrument.” He went on to tell me that he thought I played better than some folks he knew who had been at it much longer. He even went so far as to say that my husband needs to buy me one of Craig Wilson’s fine mandolins. Then he said, “Play Angelina Baker.”

To my surprise, my heart wasn’t pounding in my throat, my hands stayed dry, and I thought, “These are my people, I can do this, we’re family,” and I launched into Angelina at a moderate tempo, it wasn’t a flawless, award winning performance but there were no fatalities. Whew, dodged another bullet.

One early evening, I heard my campground neighbor Alex playing his banjo. I wandered over with my mandolin and we began jamming together, pretty soon, we were joined by his father Michael and another person, I think it was Chuck Weir. Someone started singing “Old Home Place,” and it just happened that this was also one of the songs I had been working on. After the first verse and chorus was sung, I was given the nod. To my amazement (and theirs), I started picking right on cue and played a clean break all the way through to the smiles and cheers of my friends. I think I may have been so bold as to cheer for myself! There’s now a check mark next to item number one on my bucket list, the one that requires me to take a clean instrumental break in a bluegrass jam! Hooray!

By Wednesday, there was a real population explosion at the fairgrounds. It appears that the high gas prices didn’t deter folks from coming to the camp-out though some opted to tent camp rather than tow a trailer. It was so good to see our friends who have been on the sick and injured list. I’m so thankful that the Lord has heard our prayers for folks like Pat and George Calhoun, Steve Tilden, Bob Baumert, and Rick Cornish. Pat has her beautiful voice back, and once again we heard her play and sing our favorites as well as a few new ones. For George, I think his Blue Moon Has Turned to Gold Again. Steve, Mary and Little Maggie May arrived in a lovely new RV (one that Mary can drive). The highlight of one of my jams was to hear Steve playing his dobro and singing “Seven Sundays in a Row.” Bob Baumert is a bluegrass treasure and I’m so glad I got to join him for at least one song.

At every CBA event I make new friends; Steve Ladonga, who has a beautiful voice and lots of cool songs, Dennis Anderson who is my new mandolin hero, and a most pleasant Ukelele player and singer named Jeremy Lee Wright, come to mind. I’m thinking of having a guest book for folks to sign at my jams. It will help me to remember names and give me information that will help me keep in touch. It will also serve as a diary and a nice memento.

As the fun week came to a close, once again we had the opportunity to participate in Bluegrass Church. Rich and Debra Ferguson hosted this in their camp and led the music. Michael Sharps then gave a Palm Sunday message.

Well, we’re all back to the “real world” and the 2011 Spring Camp-Out is a fond memory. Thanks to everyone who made this a memorable event. I’ve learned that there is a difference between sleep deprivation and fatigue. After I got home and slept for a couple days, I found I was still tired, but it was a good kind of tired. I’ve also learned that when I’m playing the mandolin I sing and play bluegrass songs. I think it may be time for me to write my “Hooked on Bluegrass” essay. Never fear my country music friends, if you see me with my guitar, it’ll be country with maybe even a Bob Dylan song or two thrown in.

We can now look forward to The Father’s Day Festival at Grass Valley, look me up and we’ll do “Old Home Place” together, we’ll see if lightning can strike in the same place twice…

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