This week is totally crazy for me. Fortunately, I only had two work days scheduled. On Friday I have to pack up the car (or truck if the stuff doesn’t all fit) and head down the road for the Kings River Festival. It’s more than a four hour drive from my home but my daughter Juliet really wants to go and I do too. We’ve never been and we’ve heard great things about this festival ever since it was called Hobbs Grove.
Right now I’m at the IBMA. Yeah you heard me right, the International Bluegrass Music Association gala in Nashville, Tennessee! I have for so many years envied the other CBA members who get to go to this great event. And now finally, I’m a part of it! I just listened to Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top Express play. Bobby’s son played with him and they had Rob McCoury on banjo. Now there’s a band on from North Carolina called Town Mountain. They’re pretty good. I think their fiddle player must have listened to a ton of Michael Cleveland.
This is so exciting! I’m really here finally. I’ve been looking for friends from California but so far I haven’t seen anybody I know. It’s such a big place. And I’m the kind of guy who sort of stays under the radar. Not much of a schmoozer.
Like last night when I had to attend my son’s school class parents dinner. (Like I said, it’s a busy week for me). At the dinner, I hardly met any of the parents of Ethan’s new friends. Practically the only people I did meet were people that my lovely wife happened to be talking to.
Even a fish out of water like me can appreciate what a place for schmoozers the IBMA in Nashville is. People are hawking everything imaginable related to Bluegrass. New bands are getting promos (I just heard a promo for AJ Lee! She’s on tomorrow.)
I sure wish I could be in Nashville to listen to AJ. But I have to be at work. Like I said, this is one busy week for me. But I’m not superhuman. I can’t be every place I’d like to be all the time so don’t ask any of your friends who went to IBMA if they saw me in Nashville this year. They didn’t. And it’s not because I’m an under the radar non-schmoozer type.
My visit to Nashville this year was via my favorite radio station WAMU. They streamed live IBMA goodies from Nashville from 3 to 6 all week this week. Hopefully you read the message board this week and saw my IBMA post. Hope you enjoyed your trip to Nashville as much as I did.
If not, as you read this I’ll be at King’s River. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be listening to my lovely daughter Juliet play music with the other Kids on Bluegrass. Like I say, it’s been one busy week.
THE DAILY GRIST…”“I feel bad that I don’t feel worse.”–Michael Frayn
Today’s column from Ted Kuster
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I get to play an occasional fundraising party for our neighborhood school. It’s the most fun gig I do all year. The tone for the band is set by Mabel, a fifth grader who is as enthusiastic about her fiddle as she is about her iPod Touch.
Frequently she wants to play with both of them at the same time. I think the thumb strength she’s built up from texting must be helping her fingering and bowing, because she’s getting really good. At both of them.
Mabel’s mom and dad do their best to channel the energy, but their hands are full most of the time, one with a guitar and the other with a bass, so it can get pretty chaotic. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the fiddle played from a standing position on the back of a couch.
When my own kid was in grade school, the best place to practice my banjo was sitting on a bench in the schoolyard waiting for her to come out at the end of the day. Kids have a complex, ambiguous relationship with music. They love it, and it’s kind of scary. It can be just one more part of the adult world, trying to make them conform, play it this way and not that way. But at the same time it’s full of rebellious possibility. The banjo sits right at that border, mysterious and shiny and loud.
I would sit there running through my exercises until the bell rang, then I’d have to stop because I’d be mobbed by curious grade schoolers asking, “What is it?”
There is no word for banjo in Spanish. That doesn’t stop kids that don’t speak English from asking you what it is. I tried different approximations; I’ve found “African guitar” seems to get it across OK.
I‘m sure Carlton Haney didn’t think about this for a moment when he came up with the festival as the main way of participating in this music. We soak our kids in picking for days at a time; no wonder so many of them get the itch. Lots of other genres have festivals, but you don’t see a lot of young kids picking up the oboe or the berimbau spontaneously and joining in jams with their parents and uncles and aunts.
I owe my own participation in bluegrass to a kid. It was her idea to pick up a mandolin and start singing; it didn’t seem like there was anything I could do but get a banjo and back her up. She’s moved on to higher culture now (I’ve lost her to jazz, for now at least), but the banjo appears to be a permanent condition.
And of course if I hadn’t grown up required to sing in every church choir between Chicago and Lake Superior, I wouldn’t have had the gall to take up this strange, scary practice in the first place.
My own kid has graduated from grade school and never had much time for bluegrass anyway. I’m OK with that, because I have a purpose in life. Mabel’s going to be needing a banjo player for the next few school fundraisers, so I’ve got to go practice.