Saturday, March 04, 2006

This is the high point of the Winter Bluegrass Weekend. Last night, after I played with the Middle Spunk Creek Boys to open the concert schedule for the weekend, I got to jam with some buddies. I decided what my blog topic would be based on that jam. A jam is a conversation held with instruments. We had guitar (former state champ flat picker no less), two banjos (my old friend Barry and me), fiddle, and bass. Before I get to my point I want to say that having two banjos in a jam session is VERY tricky. I have often said, on this blog and elsewhere, that banjos are the crudest and clumsiest of instruments due to their volume and the method of playing, which is essentially a steady stream of notes (think mini-gun; lots of bullets and lots of damage). However, if the two banjoists are sensitive (remember, this is banjos we are talking about here) and very respectful of others, it can not only be done but it can be fun too. Well, Barry and I have played together for decades, shown each other tons of licks and tunes, and we pretty much know each other's styles. The jam was going really well; we were playing jam-friendly tunes and everybody was limbering up and improvising smoothly and tastefully. Then, an old friend showed up who had a Dobro. This fellow is a prince among men and is universally well liked as a person, but... well, he doesn't show the same respect for others in a jam as the rest of us and he made the music very tough to enjoy. If he wasn't playing lead, he dominated the rhythm, especially when the guitar was trying to take breaks. He was chopping the back beat so loud that I was getting a headache from the volume. He would play fill licks whenever he wanted without determining if anyone else was doing that (if they were, then his playing muddied up or erased theirs), and he would not adjust his volume to allow the guitar to be heard when the guitarist was obviously taking the lead break. Remember my conversation analogy? If six people are having a discussion, is it annoying if one of the participants does not stop talking? At all? During the whole conversation? And he always talks loudly while others are trying to say something? To me the answer is yes. If you don't think so, I will email this guys name and number to you and you can invite him to your jam. Well, we live in Minnesota and there is a cultural bias against speaking up in situations like that and nobody did. After about three songs I excused myself and went to look up a special friend so I could have fun again. I reckon my real point is that I am getting finicky about what I want out of a jam session and high quality pickers who get it are what I want. So sue me. Tonight Ivory Bridge opens for Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, the big national act of the weekend. I hope it goes well; it is really satisfying when one plays a great set with a group for a room full of people and that is what we are hoping to do. I will report back.


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