Eric 2010/07/19 9:21am

Grey Fox 2010 has come and gone, and I feel a little like I did as a kid when Christmas was over...happy I experienced it, but sad that it didn't last longer. I think what made it even more fun than usual is that I brought my fourteen year-old son Kelley with me for the first time. He had a blast at Jenny Brook and begged me to take him to Grey Fox. He walks around the festivals wide-eyed, and I get to see and feel things again through him. He said several times, "I am having such a blast. Thank you for taking me." At Jenny Brook, he was thrilled to meet Leroy Troy, Smokey Green, and Alan Bibey. At Grey Fox, he was beside himself to see Sam Bush, one of his Rushmore mandolin players, again. Sam is just so positive when he talks to him, and Kelley walks a foot higher as a result. Shaking and howdying with the likes of Kym and Carol of the Greencards, Mike Bub, Bill Keith, Katy Daley, and Bill Knowlton had him walking even taller. He had his camera at the ready the entire time.

Our workshop performance was a lot of fun. The theme was "The Gibson Brothers Sing Their Favorite Songs," so we took the opportunity to sing a bunch of material we may never do on stage, kind of what we might do if the two of us were just sitting around with two guitars. Luckily for us, Mike Barber and Joe Walsh asked to participate, and we were so glad to have them. We ran through songs by Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell, and Don Gibson as well as some requests from the audience. There were some bumps and bruises along the way, but there was also music made. Leigh threw me a guitar solo on "Just One Time" which I bumbled through. When the song was over I said, "I was not prepared for that solo." Leigh quipped, "We could tell." The audience roared and Leigh followed by saying to them, "I bet you're asking yourselves, if these are their favorite songs, why don't they know them?" More laughter. More fun.

Our Main Stage performance was cut short by rain, but we did the best we could with our shortened set. The sun came out hotter than before the rains, and our instruments' tuning kept going all over the place as a result. You have to grin and bear it in those situations and put on the best show possible. I was proud of us for not falling apart. Ten years ago, it may have been a meltdown, but at the end they were standing and yelling for more. And Kelley got it on camera.


Eric 2010/07/06 8:48am

We quit writing set lists several years ago. Leigh, Mike, and I have been playing together now for seventeen years. Mike can remember the key of every song we've ever done. I think Joe was nervous at first and we had to remember to give him a heads up here and there at first, but now he's comfortable with our way of doing things. Clayton's been with us for six years, so it's hard to surprise him as well. I like the spontaneity of it all. I like to read a crowd. If we do an old country number and the audience really responds, well, we'll make sure to do another one later in the set. If hard-driving stuff is tearing them up, we'll give them more. Sometimes we'll finish a song, and Leigh and I will turn to each other and suggest the exact same song as a follow-up. Sometimes it's a song we haven't done in ages, but something will make us think of it at the same time. Scary. A few months back we did a radio show where we had to write a set list in advance. I wrote what I thought was a solid set, but it didn't translate the way I thought it would. The folks at the show were in a rowdy way, and my list was too subdued. Set lists! 

Leigh is so witty that people have asked before how he comes up with what he does. I swear, it's off the top of his head. He scripts very little. Oh, he has a couple intros for songs that he may lean on in a pinch, but very seldom. Leigh could have been an actor. He does impressions in the van that kill us. I love the nights when he feels comfortable to let himself go onstage. At OATS, he announced before "Blue Yodel #4" that his yodel has really impressed the ladies down through the years. A female friend picked a spot in the song and surprised us by doing a ridiculous dance in front of the stage. Leigh spoke into the mic mid-song with a low Barry White-type voice. "Hey, Mama." We don't yuk it up too much, because the music is first and foremost, but we want to have fun. We will never have a Vegas-type show with all kinds of lights and gimmickry. I like to think of our show as having a livingroom-feel to it. 

The only downfall I can see of not writing a list is that from time to time we forget to do a request. One time I was half-way home from Lodi, NY, and it hit me that I'd forgotten to sing "Beautiful Brown Eyes" for a little girl. It really bothered me, and still does. Maybe we lost a fan there. Requests can be tough, too. We go back quite a ways now. People will ask for songs from the mid-90s that we haven't done in ages. You can tell they really want to hear it, and you want to make them happy because they paid to see you. Sometimes we'll get brave and try something we have no business doing. When it works, you feel like a champ. When you have a trainwreck due to the unfamiliarity, you're mad at yourself that you didn't play something you really wanted to play. Another problem is when you get asked to play a ton of ballads. We can't be a bluegrass band and play an entire set of ballads (my dad would prefer that!). We'd put ourselves to sleep. We just do the best we can and hope folks leave happy. When they quit asking for songs, we're in trouble, so we're glad to get requests and will try to do as many as we can. 


Eric 2010/06/01 10:45pm

I told Leigh when baseball season started that I was through caring about the sport. I said, "Why should I care about those multi-millionaires. They don't care about me." Well, two months into the season, I'm hooked all over again. I'd still rather watch my sons play, but I find myself watching inning after inning on television at home and in hotel rooms. I guess I just love the game. I throw with my sons almost every day I'm home. I love the smell of the grass and of my old leather glove. I love hearing the ball as it whacks my glove harder every year as the boys grow. I love that summer sun on my face after a North Country winter. It has come full circle. My dad used to catch me many an evening after working so hard all day. As I got older and faster, he'd misjudge a curve's break or knuckleball's dance and take one on the shin. He kept trying though. I'm seeing it now as my reflexes have slowed a bit. I'm getting my shins bruised here and there. 

One of my best moments involves baseball and my dad. I was a sophomore pitching on varsity for Northern Adirondack against Mount Assumption Institute (now called Seton Catholic) in a home game in Ellenburg Depot in a battle for first place. Around here, Plattsburgh was the 'big city' to us. MAI was from Plattsburgh. We'd gotten used to the teams from Plattsburgh making fun of the smell of cow manure from the farms around our baseball field. It made us want to beat them that much more. We'd been reading about their tough pitching and stout lineup in the local paper. I was nervous because our other pitcher, a senior, had hurt his ankle in the previous game. I was it. My dad didn't go to a lot of games. He was tied to the farm. The cows needed to be milked at six in the morning and four in the afternoon. The game started at 4:15. I looked over in the stands while I was warming up, and there he was. Looking back, I think he knew the pressure I was feeling and that I needed him there. The cows, for once, would have to wait. I started shaky, giving up three runs in the first inning. However, as the game went on, I settled down, shutting them out for the rest of the game. We won by a run. The guys I'd been hearing about all season went quietly, and I felt euphoria after the final out. After celebrating with my teammates on the field, I found Dad in the crowd. I didn't care who saw it. I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for being there. He may have been embarrassed a little and worried that I'd be teased for my show of affection. He said, "They're going to think you're a daddy's boy." I answered, "I am."


Eric 2010/05/08 11:11am

Merlefest was hopping this year. Attendance was high and it felt like we were part of an event, not merely a festival. When you get booked at Merlefest, they keep you moving. We rolled in at one in the morning on Thursday and played a 9 a.m. show for a local elementary school. The students were so sweet and loved the music. I could tell that Merlefest had done a lot with outreach programs, because the students were very knowledgeable about the instruments. We played a short set on the Cabin Stage later in the day and were well-received. We did a set at the Walker Center on Friday at noon to a large and enthusiastic audience, among them Dierks Bentley. He later praised our harmonies on stage during his show with the Traveling McCourys. Thanks, Dierks! I had met him back in 2001 before he had a record deal. I am glad he's doing so well and keeping his hand in bluegrass while enjoying a strong country career. I felt like our Walker show was our best of the weekend. We played on the Creekside Stage later in the day and went over well, but I didn't feel like we locked in as well as we did during our other shows. We came away from the weekend feeling very positive. Merlefest was on our radar for so many years and we never could crack the lineup. To book it two years in a row shows the progress we've made.

We were home for a few days before playing last night in our hometown of Ellenburg Depot, NY. It's always a good time for us with quite a few family members in the audience. I was surprised how many people were there from out of town. As the years go by, I recognize less and less people from Ellenburg in the crowd. Sadly, a lot of folks have "Gone Home." A few times a year, I'll take a drive 'around the square,' the bus ride we took as kids -- up Bull Run Road, turn right on Clinton Mills where the farm is, turn the big curve heading down the Canaan Hill makes me sad. That bus was full of farm kids. Very few of the farms are operating and those farm boys have mostly moved on. I can't freeze time. I don't know why I do it to myself, but I do. I guess I just like to feel the flood of memories. I don't want to ever forget.


Eric 2010/04/27 6:57pm

If anyone cares, here's what I've been listening to according to my iPod's Top 25 Most Played:

1. "The Weary Kind" -- Ryan Bingham
2. "Crown of Jewels" -- Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby
3. "Talk To Me" -- Leigh Gibson (cool demo of a Leigh original)
4. "Willin'" -- Little Feat
5. "You Love the Thunder" -- Jackson Browne
6. "Little Bit Is Better Than Nada" -- Texas Tornadoes
7. "Farm of Yesterday" -- Gibson Brothers
8. "Back in Baby's Arms" -- Patsy Cline
9. "Gold Heart Locket" -- Sam Bush
10. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" -- IZ
11. "Fourteen Carat Mind" -- Gene Watson
12. "Everyday I Write the Book" -- Alison Brown & Sam Bush
13. "Big Bad John" -- Jimmy Dean
14. "Fifteen Years Ago" -- Conway Twitty
15. "Shaky Town" -- Jackson Browne
16. "If You're Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do it Right)" -- Vern Gosdin
17. "Who Were You Thinking Of?" -- Texas Tornadoes
18. "L.A. County Blues" -- Band of Heathens
19. "16th Avenue" -- Lacy J. Dalton
20. "Blown Away" -- Jeff Lynne
21. "Southern Accent" -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
22. "When It Comes To You" -- John Anderson
23. "Circles Around Me" -- Sam Bush
24. "River Is Waiting" John Fogerty
25. "I Don't Know" -- Ryan Bingham


Eric 2010/04/21 3:57pm

Our first trip as a band across the Atlantic got off to a shaky start. After a seven and a half hour flight from Newark to Munich, we got separated from Mike at security. We left without Barber for Bremen, pulling our hair out. What happened? Does he have any money on him in the event they try to charge him for the next flight out? We need to call him. Oh, that's right. He left his phone in the States. We should have known that Mike, being Mike, would be just fine. He was able to get on the next flight without a lot of hassle (They tried to make him pay, so he said, "If I'm paying, get me a ticket back to the United States." They let him slide!), drank coffee, made friends with total strangers, and got a massage while we stewed about him. Our friend Christine picked him up at the Bremen airport while we waited at the hotel. Mike took the whole thing in stride. We were frazzled and Mike was undeterred. "Hey, it was an adventure," was his explanation.

The promoters, Peter and Karine (pronounced Corina) Reimer, were wonderful. They welcomed us into their beautiful home the night before our concert at the Staatstheater in Oldenburg. We ate a delicious meal and socialized. Leigh even felt comfortable enough to attempt singing a song in German. You may surmise where he found the courage. We listened to Waylon Jennings records and talked a lot about country music with Walter Fuchs, a renowned promoter and writer. My dad's cardiologist, Dr. John Baker, told us we would love the Reimers. He was right. Dr. Baker asked me last year when we in the hospital with Dad after his heart attack if we'd be interested in playing in Germany. I told him I would love the chance and didn't think anymore of it until our agents called us a few weeks later with an offer. Dr. Baker and Peter have been friends for many years. Dad joked later, "Here I was dying in the hospital and you were doing business. I'm glad I could be of some help to you!"

On the day of the show, I was trying to ease into the day when Joe came running into the hotel. "Hey, I found a film crew at the coffee shop across the street. They want to interview you guys." The film crew was very friendly, and the host of the show kept apologizing for his English. All weekend long, Germans were trying to apologize to us. I kept telling them, "You're doing great! I understand everything you're saying. I don't know any German. I should be the one apologizing!" Leigh, Joe, and I were interviewed and were followed around for a few hours. 

The Staatstheater was beautiful beyond words. I've never played in a more visually appealing place. We felt so proud to bring our music to a foreign land in a full room and to receive such thunderous applause. I have never experienced longer applause between songs, especially the instrumentals. Clayton tore up "Old Joe Clark" like a man on a mission. I remember singing "Farm of Yesterday" and thinking, "My Dad will never see Germany, but maybe they're seeing a little of him tonight." They brought us out for three encores, and I left the stage feeling we had represented ourselves well. Not bad for a couple of farm boys from Ellenburg Depot.

After the show, we enjoyed our meet and greet. The people were as warm as could be. There was even a Plattsburgh, NY, contingent! Oldenburg and Plattsburgh have a student exchange program. I joked with some of the students about their teachers dragging them out to a bluegrass show. They looked at each other and laughed. I think many of them enjoyed themselves though. 

Looking back, it feels odd that we basically spent a weekend in Germany. We spent almost as much time in the air as we did on the ground. We luckily got out just a few days before the volcanic eruptions in Iceland. We didn't get to do a lot of sightseeing, but I was there long enough to know that I want to go back. 

Eric 2010/03/31 8:27am

We are on the cover of April's Bluegrass Unlimited, all by our lonesome. What a thrill for us! I have subscribed to the magazine since the early 90s, eagerly awaiting each issue, never dreaming we'd be on its cover one day. Writer Chris Stuart really did his homework, and we are humbled by the quotes from Katy Daley, Alison Brown, and Garry West. If not another word was ever devoted to us, I could hold up this issue and be proud of how we were presented. Whenever we're interviewed, we never want to come across as boastful or full of ourselves. The entire band was interviewed, so it's nice to see everyone's perspective. We are humble about the music business, knowing it can turn on a dime -- for the good or bad -- but we've carved something out in workmanlike fashion. I think that came across, and we are so pleased.

- Eric

Eric 2010/03/26 5:12pm

As we drove into the San Diego area, we couldn't resist breaking into Will Ferrell impressions, trying our best to sound like Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman." "San Diego...drink it in. It goes down smooth every time!" I can see why everybody wants to live there and why it's so expensive. We joked with one another that we were definitely the poorest people in Del Mar. The promoters, as was the case in Morgan Hill, really treated us well. The food was great and the accommodations were too good to be true. We got to stay on the beach in Del Mar, a stone's throw from T. Boone Pickens' compound. Joe Walsh said it best. "Do we really get to do this stuff?" Yep. The same guys that played a sidewalk sale in Malone, NY, in the 80's in 90 degree heat for doughnuts get to do this stuff.

Spirits were high as we played to a packed room, the Power House. The audience again was extremely receptive and I've never had a show go by as fast as this one. Leigh started to announce our last song, and I felt a flash of anger. No, I'm having too much fun, I thought. I am not taking this group of guys for granted. I am blessed to share the stage with every one of them and hope these five guys can do this for a long, long time. I find myself thinking this on stage at times. No wonder I forget words occasionally! We finished our show, met a bunch of nice people, and headed 'home' for the evening. Betty Wheeler, one of the kind people who brought us to Del Mar, brought us delicious muffins and jam in the morning that she bought from a farm run by people who have been farming since they were released from a Japanese internment camp. Development is all around them, all kinds of money has been offered for the land, but they keep doing what they've always done. I love that.

We dropped our cars at Enterprise on Monday morning and had an interesting trip to the airport. A man, wife, and their two little kids, probably three and four years old, rode with us in the shuttle. The kids were looking at our cases, and Joe and Clayton took out their instruments and played fiddle tunes for them. I've never seen faces with more happiness. They just could not get enough. The driver radioed in to headquarters, pushed a button, and said, "I have a bluegrass concert going on here." The joy Clayton and Joe brought to those kids should have been recorded, but my camera was packed away. I'll remember it though. I'll remember a lot about California, as I always do. I can't get enough of the West, and I hope to return often.


Eric 2010/03/26 1:27pm

We just returned from a whirlwind trip to California. Our time was short, but very sweet. Mike, Leigh, and I flew from Albany last Thursday on a 6 a.m. flight and landed in San Diego around noon. No, our first gig was not in San Diego. Leigh was able to book much more reasonable flights for the three of us there and an unreal deal on rental cars, so we decided to drive from San Diego to Morgan Hill, a beautiful town not far from San Jose. So, after all that time in the air, we hopped on Highway 5 and stayed on it for about eight hours. Clayton and Joe luckily flew into San Jose. I'm not sure how they made out so well, but they're good guys, so I won't complain. It made me sad to see all the beautiful soil I'd seen on my last trip in that area turned to dust and so many unhealthy or dying trees, but I'm no politician and not smart enough to figure these things out. I just hope and pray California and the entire Southwest can get these water issues sorted out.

Joe, Mike, and I went on a hike in Uva Canyon Park bright and early on Friday with at least a little guilt. I had called home, and Corina said it was snowing in Brainardsville. Our healthy hike past waterfalls and beautiful Ponderosa pines in the California sunshine was good for the soul. We got back to town in time for Mexican food at Jesus' before soundcheck. Tim Edes, the promoter, seemed especially upbeat in anticipation of the show at the Grange Hall, a sell-out. It just felt like it would be a good night, and I was certain it would be after hearing the opener, The Tuttles with AJ Lee. My goodness, what talent! Molly Tuttle has such a unique voice and guitar style and is only seventeen. Her brothers on mandolin and guitar, twelve and fourteen, repectively, were equally impressive. AJ Lee is twelve and sings like she is two or three times that age. She's too young to sound so seasoned and to phrase so well. My sage advice to her? Keep your hair just like it is. It looks like Emmylou's circa 1977. Giving hair advice made more sense to me than telling her anything about singing. She knows what she's doing. I believe we'll hear a lot more from these folks in the years to come. They really riled up the crowd and it carried over into our show. I've said so many times how easy it is to play when the crowd is into it. We had such a great time that it was hard to get to sleep even though we knew that we had to take off for San Diego at 8 a.m. in the morning.


Eric 2010/02/28 7:18am

I have been a Stanley Brothers fan for a long time. I first became aware of them as a kid back in the early 80s when I heard a few cuts of them on the radio. The sound was raw and haunting. I didn't know what I liked about it, but what I heard made me feel happy and uneasy at the same time. I think the best music has a beautiful tension. Ralph Stanley writes in his new book that the Stanley sound has been compared to the wind blowing in the trees, a dead-on description.

I told my dad not long ago that some day we're going to look back at other acts that we play with at the festivals and marvel that we breathed the same air. We have been on the festival scene now for over twenty years, veterans now, not starry-eyed newbies, and don't really concern ourselves with who is going to be playing on the same bill. We try to take care of our own business. We get caught up in the grind of travel, learning new material, recording, and balancing home life. Sometimes at the festivals, a bluegrass hero is onstage, and in the blur of selling product, visiting with other musicians and music fans, calling home, or even trying to scrounge up something to eat, I miss out on all the music but our own. I look back on the greats we've lost since we've been in the game: Bill Monroe, Charlie Waller, John Duffey, John Hartford, Jimmy Martin...the list goes on and on. How I'd love to hear them all sing again. I don't want to take any of the living legends for granted, especially after reading some Ralph.

I felt like I'd stolen a moment, or at least walked in on a memory or two. It was two summers ago at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Bean Blossom, IN, Bill Monroe's old stomping grounds and the scene of so many important bluegrass shows. When I went backstage to get my banjo, I came upon Ralph Stanley looking at the old pictures on the wall of all the legends who'd graced the Bean Blossom stage. I had looked at them myself earlier in the day, shots candid and historic at the same time. I had even seen photos of a much younger Dr. Ralph. I'm not sure what he was looking at, but it was the same wall, and I froze. I did not want to intrude. I tried to tiptoe behind him to get my banjo, but he turned quickly with a smile and said, "Well, hello there" as he shook my hand. I don't believe he knew me, but he acted like he was happy to see me. I felt my face break into a grin, patted him on his left arm, and asked, "How are you doing, Ralph?" His little smile left, and he replied, "I've seen better days" in that timeless voice, the voice that has stirred so many thousands of souls. He may have been talking about those days captured on that Bean Blossom wall.

As Ralph's voice rang alone through those tall Indiana trees on "O, Death" a few minutes later, I stood in the crowd, happy and uneasy.