Eric 2009/08/05 8:40am

I'm home after a wonderful week and a half out on the road with the band. We started in Cornish, ME, at the Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival. We have so many friends from that area, having played in the region so many times through the years. It seems strange to say that it feels like home when I'm six hours from my family, but it does when we play in Maine. They even forgive us for being Yankee fans. We closed the show and then drove to Manchester, NH, where we caught a plane in the morning in order to play a late afternoon set in Columbus, OH, for the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer Bluegrass Festival with proceeds going to St. Jude's Childrens Hospital. I had tuned my banjo down for the flight, and it refused to ever come back up for me, to settle down, during our show. I can usually rein in the tempermental instrument (and the tempermental me), but it was a real struggle (on both counts). I kept thinking, "I'm teaching at Augusta this week, and I can't even tune!?" Oh, well. I did the best I could, and I was proud to be a part of a beautiful cause.

We taught at Augusta in Elkins, WV, from Monday through Thursday. Once again, it was a thrilling experience in so many ways. We had wonderful classes with friendly people eager to learn. There were also many memorable moments outside the classroom...jamming with Herschel Sizemore on old Flatt and Scruggs tunes, playing on-stage with David McLaughlin and Mike Witcher, picking with National Flatpicking Champion Tyler Grant, Sharon Gilchrist, and Casey Driessen...witnessing Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum create magic, or art at the very least, on-stage with just a guitar and mandola (he's nicknamed it Nelson Mandola) and two perfectly matched voices on "The Oak and the Laurel." I believe the absolute highlight of my week was getting to hang out with one of my banjo heroes, Tony Trischka. I was delighted to find that he is as nice a person as I've ever met, funny and down-to-earth, in addition to being a monster banjo player. After Leigh and I had breakfast with him one morning, Leigh said to me, "What is wrong with you? You have a chance to talk banjo with one of the greatest of all-time, and the two of you spent the entire time quoting "Napoleon Dynamite?"" Leigh had a point. My friend Katy Daley says that movie-quoting is a way for males to say "I like you," kind of like punching each other on the arm.

We drove all night Thursday to get to Nashville to play a showcase in front of a bunch of arts center promoters from all over the country. I was proud of the band. We had fifteen minutes to make an impression, and we all felt good about our performance. We finished the tour on Sunday in New Jersey at Duke Island Park in Bridgewater, NJ. The river was rising throughout the show and the spectators had to keep moving their chairs to keep from getting wet, but the mood was light and happy, a perfect way to end a successful stretch of music-making.


Eric 2009/07/19 6:46pm

I'd like to talk about a few recordings I've picked up lately that are getting lots of play in my car and on my iPod. David Peterson's "Comin' On Strong" is a real deal country record that would be all over the radio and jukeboxes had it come out in 1954 or so. The record is so rich and fresh-sounding, cut live on the floor with the musicians gathered together with no headphones. The results are electric. You can hear the give and take between the musicians and David's voice sounds especially inspired. Double and triple fiddles, wailing steel, Bob Moore-inspired bass playing by Dennis Crouch, great 'deep catalog' songs from the likes of Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Mac Wiseman, and Willie get the picture. I get just as moved by this kind of stuff as I do by bluegrass music. It's music I think I'll crank at intersections just to get my point across as the uninitiated shake their heads. It's music you can't find at Wal-mart.

I think it must be tough to be Ralph Stanley II, being the son and nephew of such musical legends. I am really enjoying "This One Is Two," especially Lyle Lovett's "L.A. County" and Townes Van Zandt's "Loretta." The production is crisp and it feels to me like II has found his voice, sounding comfortable and very believable. Not that he needs me at all, but I'm really rooting for him.

Joe Walsh turned me on to Crooked Still this summer. I ordered "Shaken By A Low Sound" after forcing Joe to play it repeatedly on a recent trip. I love Aoife O'Donovan's singing and the grooves the band finds throughout the recording. I had never heard cello in a more-or-less old-timey setting. It's different and compelling. My oldest son requests it whenever we get in the car, so that's making it all the more special a recording for me. When I hear this record down the road, I know I'll remember riding around with him with this as our summer soundtrack.

Eric 2009/07/18 8:52am

The Summer? of 2009 rolls on. The question mark is intentional. We got about four songs into our set at Grey Fox when the rain started coming down sideways. Quite a few people actually weathered the downpour, and my hat goes off to them. I don't think I'd sit in that kind of rain for anyone unless maybe Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and all the Foggy Mountain Boys showed up. Grey Fox is so much fun no matter what the weather. I picked up the festival program at the gate, and the blurb about our band raved about "Farm Of Yesterday," calling it "arresting." I few minutes later, Pete Wernick (AKA Dr. Banjo) walked up to me and told me he played the song three times before moving on to the next one and that he was moved by it. Then, in a songwriting workshop, a guy called out for the song that had "they build 'em bigger now, they got more land, they got more cows" in it. It all made me feel silly for complaining the other day in this journal about being criticized for my 'sentimental writing.' I don't want to be a whiner. I am a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, and I can't help it. I can't hide my feelings, and they show up in my writing. I'd be a horrible poker player. If I feel it, it shows, no matter the emotion. They have pills for that kind of thing, but I'd rather feel. The response to one little song at Grey Fox helped validate my approach.


Eric 2009/07/14 12:25pm

I love the North Country with my whole heart, but this rain and cold is ridiculous. I'm tempted to start my pellet stove on July 14th -- unbelievable! The rains put a hurting on Adirondacks Unplugged, but I think most of the folks had a good time any way. I know I did. 

I finally wrote my first song of 2009 yesterday. It took me seven months to do so, but I think I have a good one. It's called "Frozen In Time." I woke up feeling that I was born thirty years too late, as I've read in some reviews. I've also read that my lyrics are too sentimental, but I can't let that get me down. My lyrics aren't contrived; they come from the heart and I mean what I write. If that's too 'sentimental,' too bad. Some of my favorite songs by other writers might be deemed that way as well by some sorehead somewhere that nobody's ever heard of. It's a good thing I never got into politics like I planned as a young man. I am way too thin-skinned!

I am so looking forward to Grey Fox. There is always so much excitement there, palpable as you enter the gates. It's a good feeling knowing that the sound will be right and that a gathering of music-lovers awaits in large numbers. The festival holds a special place in my heart. I remember bringing my wife with me a few months into our marriage (when the festival was called Winterhawk). She was suffering with morning sickness (our first child would be born the following March), but we were young and ready to take on the world. Sitting on that hill under the stars listening to LRB and Laurie Lewis and Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas with Corina by my side on a warm summer night, hoping one day my band would be on that stage...Oops! That's pretty sentimental. I played a great Stelling banjo the following day. She could tell I needed that banjo and convinced me to buy it. (I wish I still had it if only for sentimental reasons. I love what I'm playing, but that was a good one, too.) A few months later we'd play our first IBMA showcase, playing that Stelling at a showcase sponsored by the company, and secure a record deal as a result. 

It's fun to look back and to look forward.

Eric 2009/06/25 8:10am

The new Jenny Brook site looks like something from a postcard set in a valley surrounded by green rolling hills in Tunbridge, VT, at the "World Famous Tunbridge Fairgrounds. The spirit that filled the former site made its way to Tunbridge as well, but there is so much more space -- I think the festival promoters, Candi and Seth Sawyer, are going to need it! I heard so many people say, "It's going to be the new Thomas Point Beach," referring to the giant Maine festival that recently closed. Who knows? I saw a lot of smiling faces who will tell others, I'm sure. For now, it's wonderful just the way it is. 

My ego took a shot this weekend. A freshly-painted white fence stood between me and the restrooms. I contemplated jumping it, but then thought better of it and crawled between the top and bottom boards. I still don't know if I could have made it, but I did not want to fail in front of so many people. A young guy, maybe 18 or 19, followed me and jumped it like a deer in its prime. I said, "Man, you're braver than I am." He gave me a cocky look and said, "Well, you're only thirty years older than I am." Thirty years!? Maybe twenty. I gave him my best shot at a Clint Eastwood glare and said, "I'm pretty tough for an old guy." I couldn't help it. He said no more. 

I don't know if that's what drove me to find my curveball after so many years, but I found it this week. My sons are getting as crazy for baseball as I am, and I've been throwing every day with them that I'm home since snow came off the ground. They both want to pitch and both did in their leagues this year. Kelley is 13, and before this week I'd only shown him a two-seam fastball and a four-seamer. I taught him a circle change when I got back from Tunbridge and he's already getting the hang of it. I won't show him a curve until he's a few years older as I don't want to ruin his arm. I do, however, need to remember it myself if I'm going to teach him at some point. It all came back to me this week. Shorten the stride, slightly dip the front shoulder, pull the string...God, it feels good to throw when it's warm out. In my head I'm 18 again, but I forget it's about him now and not me. I snap off a good one that he misses and it smashes the top of his foot. As my kid limped off to school today, I thought about that fence jumper and wished I could face him one time on the mound.


Eric 2009/06/17 9:08am

We have returned from a Tennessee swing in which we played the Station Inn in Nashville, Riverbend in Chattanooga, and the Dumpling Valley Bluegrass Festival in Kodak as well as a stop at Harry Grant's Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival in Pennsylvania. I felt like we were all 'on' the entire trip, that the little engine was purring. Usually one out of five is going to be having an off day, whether it's feeling under the weather or whatever, but we all felt great and enjoyed the sunshine and smiling faces. We've really made an effort to play more in the Southeast the past couple of years, and it's paying off. It feels so good to be in Tennessee and hear folks yelling out our songs. We had so many nice moments, but I think one that will stand out is playing "Farm Of Yesterday" on stage for the first time with the band at the Station Inn. It's been a worry of ours that the song hits too close to home with Dad's recent medical problems, but there was feeling in the room that lifted the song. They rang the bell for it as well as for "Ring The Bell," the venue's sign of approval. Mike Bub's not one to blow smoke, and his telling me how much he loved the song means a lot to me. He was kind enough to run sound for us and really made it sparkle. Roland White came out to the show as well, another of our favorite musicians and people.

Leigh got to play with the Traveling McCourys at Riverbend. We were a last moment replacement act and the McCoury set was a surprise set as well. They jammed for thousands and thousands with a rumor going around that Phish was coming (they were up the road at Bonnaroo). We kept hearing all over the grounds and even at the hotel that someone BIG was coming. Leigh had no idea who the special guest would be. Right before the set kicked off, Leigh asked Ronnie McCoury, "So, who is the special guest?" Ronnie answered, "Well, you!" Leigh got a real kick out of that. Several of our Southern cousins showed up and we were so thrilled to see them. You should hear THEM sing.

Dumpling Valley was an excellent festival set in some beautiful rolling green hills. They talk about the friendliness of East Tennessee, and they aren't kidding. They brought us back for two encores after our evening set. The next morning we're at Cracker Barrel and had a few different folks come over to express how much they enjoyed our music. When we went to pay, our bill had been taken care of! Thank you so much to whomever extended that kindness.

Wind Gap is always a blast. We lucked out that our show was on sunny Sunday and not soggy Saturday. Harry is a real character, a successful promoter and excellent sound engineer. Wind Gap has such a rich history. I love looking at the bluegrass mural on stage of all the great pioneers in our music. It's a good thing to reflect on that history during the performance and I have an idea that was exactly Harry's intention.

Off to Smoked Country Jam and Jenny Brook. Thank you, Lord, for making me a bluegrasser!