Eric 2010/02/15 10:04am

The Boston Bluegrass Union's Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Framingham, MA, has always been special to us. New England is in our backyard and we've played so many shows in the region that it feels like home to us. We see people that we've known for twenty years now since we first played the Weston Playhouse in Weston, VT, a show that sparked interest in us from promoters and fans all over the region. It seemed that after we played the Playhouse, we started playing in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. We've made so many friends in the region, and many of them were there yesterday in Framingham. We used to have field days around home when I was a kid, and I was reminded of that yesterday. One of the highlights of our musical career was playing the Joe Val festival in 2002 after we'd been off the road for a few years. We had made a roots country record in Nashville that never got off a shelf and had derailed a promising bluegrass career, basically disappearing after winning the IBMA's 1998 Emerging Artist of the Year Award. Stan Zdonik, one of the promoters, called me in late 2001 asking if we'd come back and play a show, that folks missed us. We hadn't played bluegrass in a few years and didn't even have a full band together. I heard myself saying 'yes' and then realized we had to get a band together. Mike Barber had been playing with us in a country roots outfit and was onboard. We heard about Marc MacGlashan through Ronnie McCoury and were lucky enough to secure him. We asked our sister Erin to come along. We didn't know how we'd be accepted, having 'left the fold,' so to speak. When we were announced on stage, the applause was so deafening that we couldn't hear ourselves play the first several bars of the opening song. It was an outpouring, and we poured back. We were relieved and on fire thanks to those New England fans who reminded us where our musical home was, in bluegrass. If that day had gone differently, we may not be playing music today. 

This year's Joe Val contained the same kind of energy that is always present at the event. I don't know how we sounded out front, but we heard so well in our monitors and felt like we were really making music. It's so nice to play when you can hear. That may sound obvious, but there are times when we just hope the pieces are falling together because we can't really hear what we're doing. Yesterday was a pleasure for us, and judging from the audience reaction, they heard what we heard. I am so proud to stand on stage with Leigh, Mike, Clayton, and Joe. They play like champs.


Eric 2010/01/31 7:23am

I couldn't believe it. I had been watching the weather all week to see what Saturday would bring, knowing that it would be below zero for our show in Chazy, NY. I'd been in a foul way, thinking we were going to play for a room of empty chairs. When we stepped on the stage, we saw a room full of smiling faces. There's nothing like playing to a full-house. The energy permeates the room. It's as if folks are looking around thinking, "Hey, everybody else came, too. I must be at the right place." The band feeds off that energy and the loop of good feeling keeps going back and forth throughout the evening. The best is pulled from each member of the band. Those are the good nights, and last night was one of them.

We kicked off with "Ring The Bell," now the Number One song for two consecutive months on the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30 Survey. Our album has held the top postition on the magazine's albums chart for two months as well. We had been off for a few weeks, so it felt good to get back in the saddle. I love playing that song. When we arranged it for the recording, I wasn't sure who should kick the song off. Mike Barber said, "It's in C. Why don't you drop that fourth string to a C note and kick it off?" I took his advice and I love the way the banjo growls in C tuning. I played my 90s RB-3 last night because I popped the head on my old standby. The neck is bulkier on my newer model, but the banjo barks pretty well. I was in a playing mood all day leading up to the show, blasting away on the banjo, probably driving everyone crazy in the house, and pacing back and forth when I wasn't playing. All these years into it, I still have the fire. I don't ever want to lose it.


Eric 2010/01/08 1:32pm

I haven't been moved by a song for some time as I was yesterday by Claire Lynch's "Barbed Wire Boys." Claire is so good that she could sing the phone book and I'd be humming along, but her performance of this song is nothing short of breathtaking. Corina and I listened to it over and over on the way to Plattsburgh. I know or knew a lot of barbed wire boys in these northern Adirondack foothills. I was glad to be wearing sunglasses as the words hit me and the emotions flooded over. Music can be so powerful! I said, "We'd have done this if we'd found it first." Corina thought it worked better coming from a woman's perspective and that the song had found its rightful home. I have to agree. There's nothing like being bowled over by a song. Singers like Claire and songs like "Barbed Wire Boys" make the world a richer place.


Eric 2009/12/24 10:59am

I think it was '87 or '88, but I know it was Christmas Eve. Leigh and I were both in foul moods as we loaded hay on a hay cart, taking turns to push the eight or nine bales we could fit on it up a steep ramp (no wonder we were considered strong back then) and then unloading it together to stack along the walls in front of the cows. We were arguing, at first chirping at each other rather harmlessly, and gradually getting to the point that it looked like it was going to come to blows. I don't know how we didn't see him coming, mountain that he was, but we didn't. Just as we squared off, I felt my feet come off the ground and realized that Leigh was right beside me in the same situation. Dad had each of us by the shirt, one of us in each hand, holding us up against the wall, much stronger than either of us will ever be. "Quit fighting! It's Christmas!" he roared. I don't think he saw the irony in his words, but they worked. 

It may have been that same year that Leigh and I were corralled into playing Christmas songs on our guitars for the Christmas Eve candlelight service at the Wesleyan Church in Ellenburg Depot. Mrs. Jewel Finley, the preacher's wonderful wife and aptly named, was in charge of the program. We were to play instrumental versions of "Silent Night" and "Away in the Manger" and such. Just before the program started, I said," Mrs. Finley, we've worked up a beautiful Christmas song we didn't tell you about. It's called "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." I hope it's okay to include it." She was so nice and hated to say no to us and didn't realize I was pulling her leg. " don't know." I burst out laughing and said, "Just kidding." However, once the service started, I couldn't resist. I played the first ten notes and acted like I'd made a mistake before starting "Silent Night." I could hear a few nervous chuckles in the congregation. Mrs. Finley deserved better than me.


Eric 2009/12/05 8:16am

We had been on quite a run this fall. We were out on the road for seventeen days, home for four, and then back out for eleven. The shows were all over the U.S. map, and we were having a good time making inroads with our music in our busiest fall ever. In spite of all the fun doing exactly what I want for a living, I was longing for home. "One of me is not enough, but two of me would be too much" kept running through my head (and will probably find its way into a song). I missed my wife and kids and was worried about my father. Since his heart attack in April and open-heart surgery, he had been on a health kick, eating right and exercising, and in the process losing a lot of weight. Before our recent touring, he had looked the healthiest I'd seen him since he sold the farm. I could tell on the phone, however, that something was wrong. He'd assure me that he was fine, but his voice sounded airy and his breathing wasn't right. I told Corina when I got home, "I'm doing absolutely nothing tomorrow but soaking up home. I'm not leaving the yard for days." My mother's phone call interrupted that plan. Dad was taken to the hospital with congestive heart failure. When I reached the hospital, I realized that he'd been downplaying how he'd been feeling for my benefit, never wanting me to worry when I'm so far from home. He was hospitalized for a week and is now home, back on his program, thank God! I need for him to quit being John Wayne and to get to the hospital before it's too late. I need him around.


Eric 2009/11/19 8:10am

Lately, between dates, Leigh and I have been co-writing with different Nashville writers whenever we can. It has been fun and we are excited with the songs. We are still writing on our own, but we decided to try stepping out of our comfort zone and see what would happen. So far this fall, we've penned songs with Tim O'Brien, Gary Nicholson, and Jon Weisberger. Not bad company, huh? I've always shied away from co-writing because I'm so stubborn about my songs. I have found that it's best to enter a session with a germ of an idea and not go in with a song half-done or so. If I'm married to an idea or a melody, I never like the song if it changes too much as a result of a co-write. If we all go in with an open mind, the creative process is so fun. It's also an education for us to see how different people write. We can't help but learn from these folks. We're not changing our style or anything; we're just honing what we do. 

The song we wrote with Tim could have gone in so many directions. Tim's mind works so quickly. I think the song is one of the best we've ever written, and we threw away pages of verses I thought were strong! Tim pushed us to get our very best. Gary came up with a chord progression I don't believe we'd have found on our own. We wrote an Orbison-esque song with him that I don't know if we'd ever be able to pull off as a bluegrass band, but we wrote it nonetheless. The song we wrote with Jon makes me think of the Stanley Brothers. New songs that sound old are hard to find. We are on a high from these sessions and look forward to more. I know on some days it's going to work and on others it won't. I do know that so far we've been inspired. It is exhausting to me. After a writing session, I feel like I did in sixth grade when I was put in a gifted math class. The class made me realize that I was no math scholar, that my work ethic yielded good grades. I would emerge from that math class fried, the high level math forcing me to focus for longer than was comfortable. Same feeling. I think the payoff is worth pushing myself. I want to develop the same approach to the songs I'm writing on my own. I have a tendency to say, "I'll finish it when I get around to it," thinking somehow a magic moment will present itself, the clouds will part, and a song with a golden glow will emerge from the notes I've scratched out. Once in a while it works that way, but I know I need to be more proactive, to hurt my brain a little more.


Eric 2009/10/15 12:12pm

Leigh and I are the same numerical age for a couple of weeks each year. Leigh celebrated his birthday at the Ark on Friday night in Ann Arbor, MI. It's been so long since any of us have gotten him a present that he joked on stage, "I know it's going to be big. It's been building up for so long. I wonder what they have in store for me?" Leigh's practicing his guitar right now in a Nashville hotel room with me. Here we are rooming together again. I guess eighteen years in the same room on the farm and a couple years together in a Plattsburgh State dorm room weren't enough. We get along quite well for a couple of brothers who spend a ton of time together. 

Ol' Clayton's getting married in a couple of weeks. Smart move. She's a wonderful girl with a postive attitude and great sense of humor. We're happy for him. We're playing his dad's venue, the Kentucky Opry, on Friday night. Clayton just seems so happy lately. It's a great feeling to make a life decision you're sure about. I know. Marrying Corina is one thing I'm absolutely sure I was right about. There are not too many things I can say that about, but I'll go to my grave knowing I was right one time.

This has been a busy fall for us so far. I'm not complaining. If the phone quits ringing, we quit playing. I read an article about Merle Haggard where he said that he was proud of his accomplishments but that everything he'd done had been difficult and had taken him forty years. Even Merle gets frustrated sometimes. I love that he never covers anything up with BS, always telling it like it is. I read interviews with others where everything's sugar-coated, everything in their world is just perfect, let the good times roll. I want to hear the good with the bad. I like surrounding myself with people who will tell me the truth. I've said before that he's my ultimate hero, writing a body of work that's been so consistently good for so long. He's STILL writing great songs. He's still restless, even with all he's accomplished. We've accomplished nothing compared to him, but I see it. We'll do something we've never dreamed we'd get to do, but we'll wake up the next morning dissatisfied, ready for the next thing. I wrote a bad song a while back called "Stay Hungry" about that very thing. Bad song, good motto. 

Eric 2009/10/06 9:21am

What an honor it was to be a part of the IBMA Awards show at the Ryman in Nashville. "Iron & Diamonds" did not win, but the night was still special for us. Marty Stuart has said that if you've been asked to play the Mother Church of Country Music, your country pedigree need not be questioned. I felt confident with our band on that stage, but it's also humbling to know how many legends have appeared there. Some of them even came up to us with kind and sincere words, people like Ricky Skaggs, Tim O'Brien, and Sam Bush -- all guys on our musical Rushmore. It was great to chat with Tom T. Hall before the show, and we met this up-and-coming banjo player named Steve Martin, as down-to-earth as could be. So many things happened that I'm still trying to sort them out in my mind. I don't think we'll ever forget the night and we are so thankful to the IBMA for asking us to play "Ring the Bell" on that hallowed stage.

We got up early on Friday after the show and drove to Guthrie, OK, to play Byron Berline's wonderful festival. It was nice to play there with my voice in good shape. Leigh had to carry me the year before, and I was certain we'd never get asked back. Thankfully, they did, and once again we played for some of the nicest people we've ever met. We had a great time on-stage and an even better time off picking late into the night on Friday and Saturday. Byron is such a gentleman and a beautiful fiddle player. He looks like he could be the lead cowboy in a classic western, kind of in the Gary Cooper mode. He doesn't say much, but he makes his words count. You get the feeling that a handshake would go a long way with him. Okay, the whole band wants to grow up to be Byron Berline! We haven't grown up yet though. The five of us took a van to breakfast, a van that only comfortably sat four. Joe volunteered to sit in the cargo area in the back. Mike and I followed suit. Leigh pulled into the crowded restaurant parking lot, opened up the hatch, and demanded, "Get out!" Three grown fools popped out of the back, receiving some befuddled Oklahoman stares.


Eric 2009/09/23 8:39pm

A funny thing happened in Flagstaff, Arizona. After the absolutely wonderful Pickin' in the Pines Bluegrass Festival, our entire band and Claire Lynch and bandmates Mark Schatz and Jason Thomas gathered in the hotel restaurant/bar to hang out. Pickers that we are, someone had the idea that we should play some music. As I looked around, I just didn't know. Would the patrons enjoy bluegrass? Joe Walsh politely asked a couple of tables and they said it would be okay. I couldn't believe that I was able to lay my voice in with Claire's on "The Singer," a dream of mine come true. You should have heard Leigh blend with her on "The Last Thing On My Mind!" When she threw a high baritone on top of Leigh and me singing "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music," I thought I would melt. She is so in tune and just owns a song when she sings it. Mark Schatz has been another hero of ours for many years, so it was a treat to play with him as well. He and Mike took turns, so we weren't hurting at all in the bass department. Clayton and Jason double-fiddled and double-smiled. Joe's music danced off his mandolin like it always does. The folks assembled hooted and hollered as we tore up "Roanoke." At the end of the night, several folks came up to us and thanked us. One gentleman said, "That was the best night of music I've experienced in twenty years. That is what I call real, American music! Now that I'm on board, how do I get more?" I think if more people could experience bluegrass that way, the style would spread like wildfire. It was a night we won't be able to re-create. It wasn't planned, but is magic ever?

I doubt we'll forget the entire trip. I never thought we could fit three Steep Canyon Rangers and two Gibson Brothers in a cab. I never want to again! The camaraderie between the Rangers, GBs, Claire Lynch Band, and Crooked Still was genuine. It felt like we were all on the same team, rooting for one another. As I looked around, I saw a bunch of folks in relatively the same age group who I hope are in this business for a long, long time, that we all grow old together. I hope we have many more experiences like Flagstaff.


Eric 2009/08/31 8:26am

Who would have thought that a song written about a tiny Adirondack town with a history of mining and baseball would be one of the five finalists for the International Bluegrass Music Association's Song of the Year? What a thrill! We had wondered when the song came out if it was too closely tied to our area to have any kind of appeal outside the region, but we have found that the song has gone over well wherever we have played. I don't know if any of the current Lyon Mountain Miners baseball team know about the nomination, but I am told that after a recent playoff victory some of them drove through town blaring "Iron & Diamonds" in their cars.

I have a good brother. We pick on each other a lot on stage and I often wonder if people new to the band wonder if we get along. The fact we've been doing this together for so long should answer that question. Here's a quick story about Leigh. I recently made an ill-advised non-stop eleven hundred mile trip by myself in order to get to a gig where the rest of the band was waiting. I had told Leigh that I'd arrive the night before the show. He not only checked on me several times throughout the day, but was waiting by himself in the midnight darkness looking down the road when I pulled in the drive.