Saturday, October 26, 2013

red-letter weekend in the music business, got to play music three different times in three different places, sawed away to my heart's content, and got praise and appreciation. first time, thursday night, at an auto-body shop, i'd been trying to get out there for weeks, and they have a kind of jam, seven or eight people around in a circle taking turns. a few bottles of beer around, a certain stale smell of cigarettes, a couple of people perhaps at kite-altitude. though i didn't know a soul, they welcomed me and even assured me that i was in the right place, this being because i had a fiddle and was clearly willing to play. high points, musically, were "goin' to kansas city" which i myself requested, and a rousing version of "blue eyes crying in the rain." funny thing, on the willie nelson tune i felt a bit like i did one day trying to do "star spangled banner"...that is, if the song's sacred to so many, then there's only so much experimentation you can do. you get out on the edge, do frilling & twisting of the notes, and it begins to irritate a few people, i can tell. to me, that's the good thing, you get a classic out there, you play with it, you bend the chords and have several kinds of harmonies going, and it's a version nobody's ever heard before, for sure. but not everyone sees it that way. here you have willie nelson fanatics, they're swaying to the music, they're not looking to hear new harmonies. well ok.

so i'd been there a while already, had already had my fill, was ready to go home, and i said, since i know it's pretty clear i'm a yankee right off the bat, i said, i moved to texas just to play that song. couldn't get anyone up north to play it with me. but that made my day, thank you for the opportunity, and i'll be on my way. next thursday, of course, being halloween, it might be a week or two before i see them again. but they have folks who go to kerrville there. it's a folksy, kind of hard-partying crowd. i liked them a lot, felt at home there. the music was kind of a mix, some original, some old pop, some of lots of things.

friday night, the bluegrass guys, most of whom are older than me, and the audience older yet. here the music is cookin' and it's all bluegrass. they took a tour of dixie, two songs about tennessee, one about kentucky, one about carolina, then rocky top, etc. it was as if they were trying to provoke me. but they also played the ones i'm good at: sittin' on top of the world, tell me baby why you been gone so long, nine pound hammer, salt creek, the usual. it's as if they know what i like, because i almost never request or lead anything, and never sing by any means, just haven't figured out how to do it when i play the fiddle. can't really think on more than two or three levels yet.

my attitude about that dixie stuff is, bring it on. i actually lived in the shadow of clinch mountain one time, and just because my family and my history is pure yankee, hey, it's the usa if i'm not mistaken, i'll play any song ya let me. my goal is to learn this dixie stuff and express myself through it, all my feelings, and as it happens i come to love the place the longer i live here. i'm referring to west texas, of course, not pure dixie, which is more like alabama or maybe south carolina. here it's almost like they've flung themselves out to the desert, and they're pining for the old dixie that they left behind, or to be more accurate, the old dixie of pre-1850 or whenever it was when they had this other larger identity of the usa come and take away their nation. i'm not sure. the sentimentality is there, in these dixie songs, i can tell you that. they are united in their love of dixie, their love of bluegrass, and a good tune, and the song of a regional ethic, come down through the ages, out on the circle. let this yankee fiddler figure this one out, they're saying, i figure. but they're all real nice to me. they appreciate the fact that i do try to figure them out, slowly, one by one in some cases. and i play in b which not every fiddler will do.

but then the last one, tonight, a neighbor's party about two blocks away, with lots of university folk and a pumpkin-carving experience for the kids, then this kind of old english dance, the morris dance, done by kids, with musical accompaniment provided by me, a young fiddler named n.m., her sister, and her dad the accordionist/music theory teacher. now this little band, the four of us, we were hot, we were fantastic, and this was mostly because of n.m., who couldn't have been more than about 12, but who had practiced assiduously and really knew her stuff. she was in tune, which was quite incredible for a 12-year-old. she was humble too. her dad and mom hovered over her a little, and her little sister, on the cello, was also quite good. first song was called ragged crow. second was twiglet. these were old english dancing tunes and kids danced with sticks, the morris dance. then we played for the wild rumpus; that was buffalo gals this year, very hot. cluck old hen, old joe clark, a couple of polkas (specialty of the accordion) and a few more. very hot, very good. there were some neighbors, students, who at first were shooting to drown us out, they had amps, or maybe they were just cranking a stereo system. but they gave up after a spell. with our little band out there (the cellist left fairly early, but the dad, the accordionist, had quite a bit of staying power)...we played for a while. kids tore around in the dark. the carved pumpkins glowed out at us; people danced and ran around the yard.

i feel that, in a way, it's a long path to finding the right group to play with regularly. i know i'll know when i find them. i know that certain groups will have to do until i find them. at the auto body they were surprised that i was from the city but they didn't know me. i've been here about a year, i said. i don't know a whole lot of people, i appreciate the opportunity. people coming and going, i practice saying howryall, hoddy, ba. it's a friendly place. everyone is nice.

with the willie, i think, you just gotta stick to the tune. and by the way, there's really no reason i can't sing this stuff. it's hard to remember the words. i'm afraid i'm not so in tune, sometimes. you trip up, you forget a verse, things happen. but hey, john hartford did it, he did it all the time. he slid the fiddle down a bit, so he could sing better, and he sawed away, and he sang all the time.

and they can handle the double-the-tempo bit, the old banjo problem, when, when you sped up a bit nobody could handle the doubling, but here, they can handle it, and they do, and they even double it up themselves sometimes, and this was particularly true for banjos, and the accordion. they warn you. the rest of us can take it easy, keep it slow, not get too worried about it. it gives a song a texture, to have someone running around beneath you, with double the notes. you can come to like it.

the party was an anniversary of sorts, their previous party last year was perhaps my first social experience in the city. so now, i'd been here a year. i like it just fine, i told them. it's a very friendly city. my house is that pink house down the street, on flint, where the enormous branch fell the other day, where it took such a battering in the hailstorm. everyone knows that house. the whole city must go by 20th and flint, some time during the week. i got a certain amount of notoriety, might as well be in a small town. well, i guess, i am, if you get right down to it.


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