Jam session

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

From time to time, people show up my house for a jam session.

Watch on Vimeo

My cousin Tony Bonta, a member of the up-and-coming Bald Mountain Band, and his fellow Baltimore-area musician Terry McBride stopped by Tyrone to pick up my brother Steve on their way to a Hillbilly Gypsies concert in northern Pennsylvania. They had just enough time for a quick jam session in Plummer’s Hollow.

This is a true jam in the sense that we hadn’t practiced anything together, and a couple of us were less than expert. Terry (who also plays a very credible banjo) is still learning the fiddle, and said he felt somewhat abashed about playing it in front of others but forces himself to anyway. Steve is an great frailer but hadn’t played some of these tunes in that style before, so was picking it up on the fly. I wasn’t going to join in on the harmonica but couldn’t help myself. (Note that I wasn’t intentionally hiding from the camera; there just wasn’t any way to fit us all into the frame without being a camera nazi and ordering everyone about.)

Regular readers will remember a podcast feature I did about these same three guys and their thoughts on banjo playing the last time they stopped by.

Because of my slow internet speed, it’s excruciating to try and upload too large a file, so I was very selective here — perhaps too selective. I wish now I’d included more of the two-banjo conversation between Tony and Steve. Because three-finger style players and frailers are in two separate, usually warring moieties (bluegrass vs. old-time), and because most bands only have one banjo player, one doesn’t hear this combination nearly often enough. I could’ve listened to it all afternoon.

Where Bluegrass Comes From (videopoem)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall


Watch on Vimeo.

See yesterday’s post for the text. And where did the poem come from? As I explained in the comments yesterday, I went to a multi-day bluegrass festival with my banjo-playing cousin and his family this past weekend. That’s the origin of most of the video footage. The first two sentences that I ascribe to the banjo player are in fact pretty close to what I overheard in a workshop for banjo players on Saturday. But I wrote the opening lines in response to footage of a beetle on a blade of grass, shot yesterday morning in front of my garden. So the video and the poem came along together.

I’m more of a fan of older-style Appalachian string band music, but I do enjoy bluegrass, too, when I’m in the mood. Its relentless pursuit of speed combined with its potent nostalgia for a simpler way of life strike me as quintessentially American, though I realize it’s spread all over the world now.