Monday, December 22, 2014

Eighth Anniversary Post

Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog. During that time I have posted 1149 entries which have been seen, depending on which analytics I look at, over a million times. It means that on average, I have written 143 entries a year, or nearly twelve a month. A couple of days ago, I Googled “the average lifespan of a blog” to see if this were really any kind of accomplishment. I learned a couple of things. First, it's estimated that approximately 60% - 80% of all blogs remain active for less than a month. Second, I had asked the wrong question. Truly, the question I asked is unanswerable. That's because even if a blog is no longer maintained it is virtually immortal, as long as the Internet lasts and no-one takes it down. The correct question to ask is whether the content within the blog represents something meaningful and important to the person writing it. Throughout the past eight years, I've had to best job I've ever had. I've been provided with a forum to write, photograph, and consider two of the most important elements in my life: music (especially bluegrass) and books. I've developed habits of considering and writing about two areas of interest which are important to me, and apparently thousands of others. With my wife, Irene, I've traveled many miles and spent untold hours listening, watching, sharing, reading and playing while meeting people I never imagined existed who have, mostly, become our friends, people we look forward to seeing or communicating with through the many ways that today's communications permit. What a life!

First, let's look at some statistics, although increasingly I've come to believe that they're considerably less important than other habits, values, and experiences we've had along the way. During 2014 we've spent 220 nights on the road following the passion we've developed. We attended seventeen bluegrass festivals from New Hampshire to Florida and across the mountains to Tennessee and Ohio. Nevertheless, I'm constantly reminded of how many events there are, how many really good bands, how much fine music in bluegrass and other genres can command attention, and how little time and money we have to experience it all. But given time, age, and our resources, we're doing the best we can. In addition to attending festivals we visited 29 other events and individuals, each of which added to our store of experience, knowledge, and enjoyment. We visited (and wrote about) music shops, concerts, museums, jam camps, luthiers, performers in their homes (a special treat), jams, and small shows. We've come to treasure and appreciate the differences as well as the similarities found in these places and people who share this little world with us.

Increasingly, You Tube has become an important way for us to communicate about the music and musicians in our world. During its lifetime, our You Tube channel has accumulated 1190 individual videos, mostly singles. They have accumulated slightly over four million song plays, with the viral Josh Williams Bird Video accounting for roughly half of them. This year alone this fortuitous event accounted for roughly half of the 1.4 million hits the channel had as well as gaining significant interest from companies wishing to represent it (or me) in syndication, making all sorts of promises. I've allowed several to show the Josh Williams video on television for a single play, but declined to sign any agreements. While it's fun to have people come up to me to ask, “Are you Ted?” and thank me for the videos, or to have them leave comments, I still prefer to write. While we live in a society where people are increasingly more willing to view both their entertainment and learning material without making the effort to read at any length, I'm old enough and comfortable enough in my own skin to continue writing in larger chunks than most people prefer. Meanwhile, the latest and hottest of video experiences is a teen/hipster site called Vine where members post looped six second videos and most of the providers getting millions of hits and making fortunes are kids or twenty-somethings. I still want my readers to read what I have to say about where we've gone and what we've done, think about it, and maybe even communicate with me. As a part of that process, I've become increasingly active on Twitter, continue to keep up my Facebook page, maintain Ted & Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure, and participate in various online forums including, since I returned after many years to playing the guitar, the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum. Although I have a Pinterest account, I honestly can't figure out how it works or how to reach out to people through it. Overall, Social Media both contribute to the activity on my blog and You Tube channel and permit me outlets to express other interests that don't belong on a relatively focused blog. I understand that my online world isn't “real life” but still feel it helps me stay in touch with a wide variety of people as we, ourselves, become less mobile and begin to wind down.

During the year I posted thirty-five book reviews. Several people have suggested I segment the blog to keep the reviews from interfering with bluegrass content. I've stubbornly refused to do this, as I think my blog represents my story, or at least those parts of my story I wish to communicate. Just enough people have come up to me to thank me for book reviews or “friended” me on that marvelous book site Goodreads (the quintessential web site for readers) that I'm satisfied to keep posting book reviews with regularity. Here's a look at my year in books according to Goodreads. Four of the books are explicitly about music, but I also read avidly in American History, biography, mystery/thrillers, sports, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I've added a new twist to how I read books about music, which ought to be reflected in the coming year. I've found Spotify (a music streaming web site) to be an invaluable resource in helping me gain greater appreciation for the music of people I'm reading about. In reading biographies of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, I've listened to their music while reading and writing about it. I have at least two history of American music books on my list for 2015, and intend to create Spotify playlists to coordinate with these books, something I wish had been available to me. We'll see what happens with that.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank the people who have made this whole project possible. First, and foremost, my wife Irene, who more-or-less patiently, has humored me and adjusted her schedule to make it possible for me to have time and space to read and write. She also serves as an effective filter, keeping me from burning too many bridges and as an incomparable line editor. She's put up with me for over fifty years, and it looks like we'll make though another one. Her own career as Queen of Merch deserves attention, but she much prefers to do what she does quietly and efficiently. But ask the artists for whom she sells. Meanwhile, there are at least dozens, maybe hundreds, or people who have taken time to correct my errors, supply information I ask for, and generally be helpful to me. They always add to whatever quality is found in these pages while not interfering with my trying to make sense of the world we inhabit. Thanks to all of you. See you next year.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays
Ted & Irene Lehmann

May We Find Some Peace in the New Year

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gibson Family Christmas & Getting There Through Vermont & NY

We've traveled to Ellenburg, New York for the Gibson Brothers annual Christmas show in their home town high school, Northern Adirondack Central School. December in New England and The North Country of New York is always problematic, and we prepare for cold as well as ice and snow. People who live in the North Country know how to stay warm and, generally not let the weather keep them from living their life, There was a pretty good snowfall north and west of our home in Keene, NH on Thursday, so the plows had had time to do their work. The roads were generally clear, giving us a winter wonderland drive along the 218 miles to Ellenburg,

Ludlow, Vermont

When you listen to the national weather forecasts, you often hear references to upstate New York, but to New Yorkers upstate generally means "Not New York City," which gives you little idea of the variety of terrain, cultures, and opportunity New York offers. North of the state capital in Albany lies the massive Adirondack Park (the biggest piece of wilderness east of the Mississippi, designated "forever wild" in the 1892 state constitution. We skirted the Adirondacks, driving north beside Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh, where we checked into our hotel, and then west across the southernmost reaches of the desolate Canadian shield, a rocky substructure extending to Hudson Bay the Arctic Ocean. The former Gibson Family farm (The Farm of Yesterday) lies a mile or so South of the border, as does Northern Adirondack Central School.

The Mountains Rise from the Champlain Valley Along NY 22

Lake Champlain

The Adirondacks Rise to the West

While Farms Still Exist, Wind Farming is Now the 
Big Industry Between the Adirondacks & the Border

WAMU's Bluegrass Country, the forty year old 24/7 bluegrass radio station's drive time DJ is two time IBMA Broadcaster of the Year Katy Daley's musical home. She's a native Washingtonian who thinks that snowfall requires rubber boots enough to get her to the car in order to drive to the basement garage of WAMU for her daily show. She and Shannon Gibson, the matriarch of the Gibson Family have become fast friends. Katy is here for a week of Pie Camp, rest, and to emcee the show.

Katy Daley & Shannon Gibson in the Kitchen

Shannon Gibson

Northern Adirondack Central School

Well....the picture above is the best one I could find, but on December 13 it's all surrounded by snow, and the wind comes sharply across a couple of thousand miles between Ellenburg and the North Pole. But North Country people are a hardy bunch. The Gibson Family Christmas brought a sell-out standing room only crowd of around 600 on a cold evening to welcome this popular family which has lived nearby since the turn of the last century. The auditorium was warm and comfortable in every sense. It was so crowded that a dozen chairs were placed at the back of the stage to provide additional seating. 

A Packed House

Gibson Family Christmas Set 1, Part 1 - Video

Sam Zuchinni & Kelley Gibson Warming Up

Brother and sister Tom Venne & Julie Hogan are the principals in a regional Plattsburgh band called Beartracks. Well known in the North Country and New England, they play a pleasing mix of bluegrass and classic country. Their country band, The Clem Hawkins Revival, featuring Eric Gibson on the electric guitar, plays around the area when Eric is available. They can be seen at the Wednesday evening Pot Luck supper at Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival.
Tom Venne

Julie Hogan

 Kelley, Eric & Leigh Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Eric Gibson

Kelley Gibson (Eric's Son)

Leigh, Eric & Kelley

Mike Barber

Eric & Leigh

Erin Gibson LaClair - The First Noel - Video

Julie Hogan, Tom Venne & Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson & His Other Guitar

Leigh, Tom & Jule

Tom Venne & Julie Hogan

Gibson Family Christmas Set 1, Part III - Video

The Merch Table

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Looking Back on 2014 - Part II

April through June finds us wending our way North. After spending the end of March in Nashville, mostly to attend IBMA's Leadership Bluegrass, we headed over to Shelby, NC to spend a couple of restorative weeks at our "lake cottage" on John H. Moss Reservoir, spending time with all the friends we've made there through the years. The highlight was our first visit to the newly opened Earl Scruggs Center, a state of the art museum devoted to the life and career of iconic bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs and the region which nourished his particular sound. The Scruggs Center joins The International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY, The Bill Monroe Homeplace Jerusalem Ridge near Rosine, KY, and the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintonwood, VA as places where those seeking to capture the essence of bluegrass music in its historical and cultural matrix must visit.

Marta Jones, Irene, and Emily Epley (Museum Director)
You could spend hours with this interactive musical table!

On the Road with Flatt & Scruggs

Irene, Marta Jones & Me 
Plaque devoted to Dr. Bobby Jones (Tom Bibey) in Background

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival

We attended the Big Lick Bluegrass Festival in Norwood, NC for the first time this year. This is a growing festival featuring a solid lineup located in rural North Carolina. Promoter Jeff Branch has worked hard to develop this traditional festival held in a pleasant part with primitive camping facilities, good vendors, and lots of jamming.

Nothin' Fancy
Jesse Smathers, Tony Shorter, Mike Andes, Chris Sexton

Mike Andes

Renaissance Bluegrass Band
Bethel University

Jim Fraley

John Marquess - James King Band

Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival - Roxboro, NC

Promoter Mike Harris continues to improve the site at Willow Oak Music Park and the lineup along with it. While grounded in traditional bluegrass, this former member of The Bass Mountain Boys, is always looking for a strong alternative fitting within the bluegrass matrix while offering bands and music in the pocket for the mostly traditional fans who attend this festival. Held the same weekend as Merlefest, Willow Oak provides a wonderful alternative for those who prefer their bluegrass in a quieter and more manageable (as well as less expensive) setting.

Mike Harris with the Malpass Brothers

Melvin Goins

Marc Pruett - Balsam Range

Darren Nicholson - Balsam Range

Old Reb

Dave Adkins Waiting for His Partner

Edgar Loudermilk

Dave Adkins

Alan Bibey - Grasstowne

Shannon Slaughter - Grasstowne

Steve Dilling - Sideline

Darrell Webb - Sideline

Greg Luck - Sideline

Linda Dilling

Junior Sisk - Junior Sick & Ramblers Choice

Jason Tomlin - Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Jamie Harper - Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

James King

Houston Fest
Sierra Hull

HoustonFest is a youth oriented two day festival dedicated to the life and enthusiasm of the late Houston Caldwell. It's filled with wonderful young groups on the cusp of moving into the larger bluegrass world, characteristic old-time music found in the Galax area, and first class bluegrass performers. If you're the kind of bluegrass fan who likes to look to the future, this is one for you.

Jake Stargell - Sierra Hull Band

Marc Pruett & Tim Surett - Balsam Range

Dr. Ralph Stanley

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival
 Pete Wernick's Jam Camp

Gettysburg is one of the Bucket List festivals on the east coast despite the almost certain interference of bad weather, the combination of music, setting, crowd and vibe win out to create a wonderful effect for all who attend. 

Rebecca Frazier

Chris Eldridge - Guest with Seldom Scene

Fred Travers - Seldom Scene

Ben & Chris Eldridge - Seldom Scene

Clay Hess

Irl Hees - Clay Hess Band

Claire Lynch

Blake Johnson - IIIrd Tyme Out

Russell Moore - IIIrd Tyme Out

Strawberry Park
Mike Armistead - Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

Strawberry Park had a learning year in 2014 with its campground under new management unfamiliar with bluegrass music and bluegrass culture. However, even before the event ended last year, they were working to build and improve. Nevertheless, there were still highlights and personalities to feature there.

Tim St. Jean

Gale Wade

Nora Jane Struthers

Carol Young - The Greencards

Kym Warner - The Greencards

Ivy & David Shepherd - South Carolina Broadcasters

Kim Ford & Jim Beaver - Emcees

Bruce Stockwell - Hot Mustard

Dan Russell - Dry Branch Fire Squad

Adam Haynes & Danny Roberts - The Grascals

Bryan McDowell - The Claire Lynch Band

Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival
Alan Bartram (The Travelin McCourys) with Promoter Candi Sawyer

The Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival has emerged as one of New England's strongest events. Combining lots of jamming, youth activities, a fine band contest, kids academy, bluegrass university, very good vendors, and an always fine lineup all nestled in the heart of Vermont's Green Mountains, this is a fine event.

Aaron Foster
A Child of Jenny Brook & Director of the Kids Academy

The Clem Hawkins Revival Band
A Classic Country Band for the Wednesday Pot Luck

The Church Sisters

Sarah Amos - Bob Amos and Catamount Crossing

Bob Amos - Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing

Chris Hill -  Feller & Hill

Tom Feller - Feller & Hill

Brandon Rickman - Lonesome River Band

Randy Jones - Lonesome River Band

Cory Zinc

Rick & Allen Spinney - The Spinney Brothers

Eric Gibson - The Gibson Brothers

Jesse Brock - The Gibson Brothers

Clayton Campbell - The Gibson Brothers

Jason Carter - The Travelin' McCourys

The Travelin McCourys have emerged as the best of the current crop of side project bands touring these days. Not content to play standards well, they've included lots of new music composed by band members and worked hard to develop a unique band sound, although they do continue to vary depending on who comes along as the guitar player.

Jeff Autry - Travelin McCourys

Jason Carter & Rob McCoury

Ron McCoury

Gary Hultman - The Boxcars

Harold Nixon - The Boxcars

The Gibson Brothers Sign with Rounder Records
Marion Levy, Leigh & Eric Gibson, Ken Irwin

More next week. Enjoy!

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