Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Below is a lightly edited version of my Welcome Page column in last Tuesday's California Bluegrass Association. As always, my thanks go out to the CBA for providing me with this platform.
We've been resting, a luxury those of us who are supposedly retired can enjoy, in Shelby, NC and now for a week in Myrtle Beach after the five hectic, inspiring, demanding, and action-filled days of IBMA's World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh. We find attending IBMA gives us a chance to touch bases with people we often see out along the bluegrass trail, and also allows us to make a personal connection to those we only know through their recordings or on line. It's like a big, fast-paced family reunion. IBMA also gives us a chance to acknowledge the many kindnesses and thoughtful remarks people have made about us and our work. For both of us, often in very different ways, this annual feast of music and friendship remains a special gift. But it also reminds me of a debt I owe to so many people who have opened doors for us, created opportunities, and allowed us behind the scenes and into their lives to understand and appreciate the rigors of the road and the demands of performing. One of the things I hear from others, who like me are involved in sharing this world with an ever-growing public, is that too many performers and others take too little time to acknowledge the effort, time, and care that goes into greasing some of the skids of this demanding life making and sharing music.
I remember being a guest on The Mark, that luxurious bus carrying Dailey & Vincent along their demanding way. After a performance one day, we were ushered back to the owners' cabin at the rear of the forty-five foot long Prevost they ride in. The door closed and somehow some of the size and energy leaked out of Jamie Dailey as he sat in his seat and opened his laptop computer. As we chatted, he responded to dozens of remarks and observations coming from fans, let his publicist and others working to help keep their enterprise running know about the day, and checked in with others. He wrote some of what my mother used to call “bread and butter” notes, thank you notes to those whose kindnesses or mentions had helped pave the way for the phenomenal success across genre lines that has become Dailey & Vincent.
In the dozen years that we've been involved with this bluegrass world, we've seen the opportunities for growth and spreading awareness become ever greater. Bob Cherry, who runs Cybergrass, the oldest online resource for bluegrass, recognized the potential for growth represented by the Internet almost at its birth, but bluegrass grows from the roots of rural America and is often reluctant to take on new ways of communicating and publicizing itself. When we came into bluegrass, there were few band sites, no Social Media, and restricted opportunities for publicizing a band and getting recognized. Cheaply printed fliers and word-of-mouth seemed to be the major ways to spread news of festival. Cybergrass, the world's seventh oldest web site, was founded in September of 1992, and has persisted as a great aggregator of bluegrass information from other sources and originator of new material. John Lawless and Brance Gillihan began The Bluegrass Blog in 2006. It has since morphed into the bluegrass world's first media giant, a true online newspaper that functions as a Social Media site, too. As Bluegrass Today has grown, it's influence is ever more widely felt. With a full-time staff and numerous bluegrass stringers, Bluegrass Today is literally everywhere in the bluegrass world.
It's the rare band that no longer has a web presence with a web site (often professionally developed and managed), personal and business Facebook pages, and other outlets on the Net. A new world of media awareness has emerged, and it affects bluegrass in mighty ways. World Wide Bluegrass is now streaming bluegrass twenty-four hours a day around the world using numerous broadcasters in several countries. FM radio is a powerful force supporting bluegrass music, particularly in the realm of public radio and college low power stations. With all these opportunities to spread the word, what responsibilities do individual performers have?
I hear rumblings out there in the communications world that many artists neglect recognizing that publicity is a reciprocal phenomenon. How many artists put a note on their Facebook Page or Twitter feed saying “I'm going to be on the air today with this DJ. Why don't ya'll listen in at......”? Those radio DJ's, many of them volunteers, are working hard to publicize your efforts. Don't you have a responsibility to let your world know about them? I once heard Rush Limbaugh (back in the days when I listened to him) say that his only function on the air was to keep you (the listener) tuned in between the commercials. Likewise with you, the performer. Your taking time to publicize your upcoming appearances on the air, and to thank the person who put you there afterwords, is part of this game of effectively using the vast media world available to you. Recently I wrote a couple of useful paragraphs that bands put on the front page of their web sites, at least for a day or two. I was pleased about this, and complimented. I like it a lot when people who use my photographs on their web sites or Facebook pages at least acknowledge that they are my photos. Many people do just that. Similarly, I try to acknowledge song writers in the description section of my You Tube channel. It's your responsibility to acknowledge and recognize the efforts made on your behalf by the media world working to put your name before the public. It's not at all unlike the (often reflexive) thanks performers give from the stage to the promoter and the sound man. Even when the sound is bad, smart bands acknowledge the sound man, knowing the damage that can be caused a performance on the sound board. How often does the emcee, who brings a band on stage with enthusiasm and encourages the audience to call for often undeserved encores, get thanks from a band? How often does a band put its upcoming radio appearances on its tour schedule? Isn't a radio show or TV appearance another form of performane?
It's worthwhile for band members to remember that we live in a world that rewards reciprocity. That's one of the reasons why links are so important and effective on the World Wide Web. Remember that you, as a performer, live in a literal interconnected web of reciprocity benefiting all the participants. I remember calling a bluegrass performer a few years ago to urge him to build a Facebook presence. He exploded at me, saying “I already have too much to do!” A day or so later I noticed a FB page and this performer has since become a master of letting people into his life (in the places he chooses), telling where his band will be performing, and sending pointed thanks to those who help him along. The newly developed skill has been important to the progress of this particular band. Too often I hear performers say, “It's all about the music,” pointing to the few hours of performing pleasure a week that make it all worthwhile. But it's clear that it isn't “all about the music.” Much of a performers life must be devoted to burnishing the business of music to make it work. Spend some time looking at your web of support, and make sure you thank those people next time they take time to recognize your efforts.
Friday, October 17, 2014
After the rigors of IBMA week in Raleigh, we needed some rest, some quiet time to be with friends, write, and recuperate with long naps and good visits. Our Lake Cottage on the shores of John H. Moss Lake between King's Mountain and Shelby, NC has filled the bill for us ever since we first went there to visit Dr. Tom Bibey (Dr. Bobby Jones). While Bobby is no longer alive, we've met and come to deeply care for a group of people who live, work, and make music there. It's an important restorative place for us to be.
Lake Cottage in Shelby
Beyond burnishing friendships and quiet time to recover, two events of the week stand out. Bluegrass music is alive and well because it takes place in quiet, out-of-the-way places where pickers can congregate and enjoy being together. Over the years we've covered quite a few of these performance and jamming locations, some easy to find, others hidden away where only a few know about them or can find them. Here's one of each:
The collection covers a large range of Jack Bingham's interests and enthusiasms. He's carefully collected local musical artifacts and lovingly built and preserved elements of local culture. His commitment to a combination of preservation and celebration is really quite remarkable, as is the man who has devoted so much time and energy to creating this fine collection. Although Jack has passed the age of 70, he's still building and refining his piece of Americana.
On a small outdoor stage, local jammers get together every Wednesday at the Cabin during warm weather and inside the Bomb Shelter during the chillier months.
Tuesday with Darin Aldridge & Friends
Angel's Restaurant (101 E. Virginia Ave., Bessemer City, NC) serves a number of purposes in downtown Bessemer City, a once thriving, mostly industrial suburb of Charlotte with a history dating back to an eighteenth century iron smelting operation. At present it is home to several large industrial corporations. The main street is neat and tidy with plenty of room for evenings at Angel's, where Darin Aldridge & Friends play bluegrass to an appreciative audience on Tuesday evenings. The menu includes a variety of tasty sanwiches, hot coffee, sweet tea, and local wines, prominently on display. A corner of Angel's is devoted to a small shop selling guitars and such, while the back contains a consignment shop with a variety of wares. Angel's has a warm, somewhat quirky environment, perfect for bluegrass, a tasty lunch, or quick sandwich. Around 7:00 PM on Tuesday you can find Darin Aldridge along with a group of friends he has been playing bluegrass with since he was a teenager. They play familiar old bluegrass tunes, some newer ones, and invite members of the audience to join them on stage to pick or sing a song. We went twice during our stay, enjoying each evening with the music and our local friends.
Nice Place to Visit, Eat, Listen
(LtoR) Roger Holland, Carli Arrowood, Darin Aldridge,
Mike Lynch, Jeremy Arrowood (no relation)
Harold & Sharon Bess, Debbie James
Jack Bingham's Wednesday Jams
In the past I've written about the Bomb Shelter, built in 1959 and 1960, a time of great nuclear fear and the Cuban missile crisis, by Judy Bingham's father, which has become a local jammers hangout and a place where several young bands got their start under the tutelage of Darin Aldridge and earlier Dr, Tom Bibey (If you're not familiar with Tom Bibey, a local doc Dr, Bobby Jones writing almost fiction under a pen name, you can still find and explore his blog here. It's especially interesting to read in the years before a malignant brain tumor short circuited a fine literary career he had scheduled to supplant his medical practice in the near future. His warm hearted and interesting writing explores the life of a small town doctor who loves to play both bluegrass music and golf.) You can see a few pictures of the Bomb Shelter here, but very few, as its location is pretty well guarded by those who enjoy it so much.
Jack's Cabin, which he has built over the past four decades and continues to improve, stands as a shrine to both his love of bluegrass music and traditional arts. The cabin, built a short walk from the Bomb Shelter, sits on a piece of property where Judy Bingham was raised. Judy forms a small triangle with her fingers to explain that she's lived in only three places for her whole life: her parents' home, an apartment on their property, and the house she and Jack now inhabit. It seems a small space, until you discover the rich musical heritage that visited there and made music.
Brook & Darin Aldridge with Judy Bingham
Jack Bingham with a Turtle Shell Turkey Caller He Made
...and One Made from a Turkey Wing
Various Turkey Callers
Collection of Vintage Picks and Pictures
Bricks from Local Kilns
The Cabin Exterior
Around the Blazing Campfire
Judy Bingham, Brooke Aldridge & Irene
On a small outdoor stage, local jammers get together every Wednesday at the Cabin during warm weather and inside the Bomb Shelter during the chillier months.
Brooke Joins the Jam for a Song
As is usual when we attend jams, we got home a little past our bedtime, but filled with the warmth and fellowship that spending time with Darin & Brooke as well as the Binghams always creates. We'll be back. Maybe next time I'll have courage enough to get my guitar out.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Crossing the Line: Paris Homocide #2 by Frédérique Molay and Anne Trager (translator) (Le French Book, 2014, 280 pages, $27.33/$9.39) is a police procedural set in Paris, the second English translation of a series of novels featuring Chief Nico Sirsky of the elite Criminal Investigation Department of the Paris Police. The first novel by Molay to be translated into English, The Seventh Woman succeeded in creating the characters in two major settings, their police function of solving intractable cases, and the domestic roilings of Sirsky's finding a new love and beginning to work through the dissolution of a marriage gone wrong. It succeeded beyond my expectations, and I enjoyed the mystery, as it resolved itself from gruesome murders to an tension filled climax. In all the areas where The Seventh Woman succeeded, Crossing the Line fails. The tensions in Sirsky's domestic life have fallen into the background, the search for the killer seems rather routine, dialogue is wooden and filled with unnecessary medical jargon, and the scenes of medical dissection and training using multiple cadavers never rise to the grisly horror Molay tells us is present. I finished reading this novel only because I had enjoyed the first enough to give the second an opportunity to find its way into my liking, but neither the plot nor the characters work this time around.
Pharmacist Bruno Guedj has died after agreeing to donate his body to science. At the lab where such things happen, his body has been dissected and various parts distributed for different medical specialties to work on. Guedj's head, along with those of thirty nine others, are to be the subject of training session for experienced dentists learning to extract wisdom teeth. During this routine exercise, one pair finds a funny looking filling and lifts it off, only to find a note concealed beneath it. The note reads, “I was murdered.” There follows an ever widening investigation into first Guedj and his family , then extending to his colleagues and acquaintances while it follows up several dead end paths before finding connections that rise higher and higher into the French social and economic structure as well as exploring aspects of medical ethics. The use of Internet chat lines to help uncover the ultimate mystery is never effective. Conversations meant to elucidate various issues seem stilted and focused on providing needed information rather than increasing plot tensions. The slow introduction of the maniacal killer, as the investigation reaches ever closer, never creates enough tension to capture the reader as it did in The Seventh Woman. All told, Crossing the Line is a sodden mess of leaden prose lacking passion, verisimilitude, or anything calculated to capture and hold a reader.
Writing has always been a passion for Frédérique Molay. She graduated from France's prestigious Science Po and began her career in politics and the French Administration. She worked as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and then was elected to the local government in Saone-et- Loire. Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursuing the passion she had nourished since penning her first novel at the age of eleven. After The Seventh Woman took France by storm, Frédérique Molay dedicated her life to writing and raising her three children. She has five books to her name, with three in the Paris Homicide series. (from About the Author in the text) These books were first published nearly a decade ago, and have been brought to the U.S. in translations by Ann Trager.
Crossing the Line: Paris Homocide #2 by Frédérique Molay and Anne Trager (translator) (Le French Book, 2014, 280 pages, $27.33/$9.39) does not live up to the promise of The Seventh Woman. Though my voice seems to be in the minority on this one, I do not recommend it. The book was provided to me in an electronic galley by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Interview and Meet & Greet at Lowe Vintage Instrument Company
A Realm of Wonder
Photo: Lowe Vintage
Burlington, NC is a once thriving town made comfortable and important by its location along a railroad line where it became the center for locomotive repair and then the growth and wealth brought by the textile industry brought to the Carolinas by low wages and the proximity of cotton. Once known as Company Shops, the city changed its name to Burlington when the railroad left. Since its height, the railroads have mostly died, and both textiles and cotton have largely left North Carolina for lower labor costs and less expensive land on which to grow cotton. Burlington remains a regional center for industry and commerce and seems to be in the midst of an urban revival centered on downtown Main Street, where Lowe Vintage Instrument (327 S. Main Street, Burlington, NC) has built a lovely shop to buy, sell, and repair fine instruments amidst other shops, restaurants, a restored theater, government services, offices, banking, and other commerce. (Thanks to Bob Webster for the brief tour and orientation.)
Restored Movie Theater - Burlington, NC
The Old Railroad Station
Looking Down Main Street
Vintage Instruments, presided over by Ed Lowe and his son Will, along with Will's younger brother, provides an environment where customers can feel free to sit and play dozens of fine instruments as they seek just the right one to meet high standards of sound and performance. Each instrument has been burnished and set up to high standards by luthier David Sheppard, whose work is superb. David knows his stuff from both the shop and the stage, where he is lead singer and guitarist with his wife Ivy for the rising band The South Carolina Broadcasters . On Saturday, the newly opened shop, replacing the basement where Will and his father Ed have done business since 2004, hosted an in-store interview of the Gibson Brothers by Cindy Baucom (one of bluegrass' foremost broadcasters and IBMA Broadcaster of the Year in 2005) of Knee Deep in Bluegrass followed by a meet and greet.
Jesse Brock & Leigh Gibson Consult with Will
about an early 20th century guitar
Broadcaster Cindy Baucom Interviews Eric Gibson
Master Luthier David Sheppard Samples His Own Work
The Gibson Brothers dropped by Lowe Vintage Instrument for the interview on their way to a concert in Taylorsville, NC before heading to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN for a Sunday appearance. Winners of the 2012 and 2013 IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award as well as many others over the past decade, each one of their last seven CD's has reached the Number One spot on the bluegrass charts. Their new CD from Rounder Records, featuring performance of brother duos from the mid and late twentieth century will be released in February. This will be their first recording not featuring any songs composed by the Gibson Brothers, but including music from other great brother duos, a club the Gibsons clearly belong to.
Cindy Baucom Interviews the Gibson Brothers
Cindy Interviews Mike Barber
...While Eric & Leigh Look On
Jesse Has His Say, Too....
Recording a Song Live for Cindy's Show
The interview offered a fascinating view inside the broadcast process as well as plenty of insight into the Gibsons themselves, as Cindy Baucom asked thoughtful and probing questions going beyond the often surfacy stuff of radio interviews. The interview which will air this week on Cindy's syndicated radio show both on air and online. Check her web site for times) covered the Gibson Brothers background growing up on a farm near the Canadian border in northern New York State, as well as insight into their work and future directions. Perhaps most interesting to me was Cindy's ability to provide record relatively .hort interview segments which were focused, insight provoking, and pointed while keeping in mind the need to keep spinnng recordings on her show, which would be inserted in the production process. Baucom conducted the entire interview without a single note, while juggling her small hand held microphone, keeping focused on moving along. She's a real master of the art. The Gibson's responses were engaging and real. One of their amazing qualities is their ability to provide answers to questions they must hear frequently while staying in the present, seeming neither canned nor responding by rote...a trick in itself. At noon, the interview finished, the doors were opened and a small crowd came through to meet the Gibson Brothers, buy CD's, get autographs, and play some instruments. It was an engaging and satisfying morning.
Jesse Road Tests a 1923 Lloyd Loar Gibson
Leigh's Always on the Lookout
Eric with a Fan
Let's Give this One a Try
Headline: Jesse Goes Electric!
Mike, Jesse, Leigh, Cindy, Will & Eric
Emcee Cindy Baucom
Idle Time Band
The show was opened by a solid local band called Idle Time Band. North Carolina is filled with music, and bluegrass represents a major component. Competition for bookings for many of these part-time bands is fierce and competitive, the opportunity to perform much less available than the number of bands ready and willing to fill the space. For instance, their were nearly thirty North Carolina bands scheduled into the showcase venues at the recent Wide Open Bluegrass component of IBMA's World of Bluegrass in Raleigh during and immediately after the Awards ceremony. The Idle Time Band, like many of these bands, is filled with musicians whose love of the music brings them together to play, but for whom the rigors and risks of the road don't call strongly enough to wrench them from jobs and family. The Idle Time Band is a worthy member of this large and able cohort.
The Idle Time Band - Baby Gone Home - Video
The Gibson Brothers
As has often been said about the Gibson Brothers, they have become an instant success after twenty years of hard work, perseverance, and thoughful analysis of themselves and their unique sound. Their success provides a model for what it takes to reach the summit. They are known for their own revealing and insightful song writing, and for their intelligence in selecting co-writers to work with as well as covers that reflect the Gibson ethos. The band is characterized by a high level of stability, with the only changes in the last ten years at mandolin. Their humorous and slightly edgy by-play emphasizes the tensions that can arise between brothers while never reaching the point of discomfort for the audience. They work without a play-list, always adjusting their program and their patter to audience responses. It comes together to create an exciting program of great music combined with comfortable and real humor.
The Gibson Brothers - Bye Bye Love - Video
Eric & Leigh
The Gibson Brothers - Satan's Jeweled Crown - Video
In the Lobby
At the Merch Table