This weekend's banjo energy was used on prepping for, and then playing, a block party in the lansing area with the Sigogglin' Stringband, the group I played the square dance with last year (more about that here). We've decided we'd like to find some more gigs this season so I may put together a website for us in the near future. In the mean time, if you'd like to book a 3 piece old time band for a gig in the Lansing area (or beyond!) please use the contact button in the upper right corner of this page.
Saturday night the band came over to my new place, worked up some songs, and ate some veggie curry. As an aside: nothing will make the neighbors come over and introduce themselves more quickly than an old time band on the porch : ) You'll notice that I said we worked up "songs" rather than "tunes" - for those not in the know, the word "song" typically indicates something that is meant to be sung (i.e. something with words), while "tune" is used for something instrumental. These definitions get a bit fuzzy since many fiddle tunes have words as well and can be sung...but they also have a certain unmistakeable structure that seems to differentiate them from "songs" as well. Sigh - most of the Sigogglin' Stringband is composed of Ethnomusicologists who could certainly talk about these distinctions with more authority - perhaps I'll bug them about this some day.
Anyways...vocal numbers, whatever you may call them, are certainly out of the norm for me but I had a ton of fun backing them on banjo! Furthermore, I even sang a few myself. I find my voice only really functions well in the keys of D and C (G and A tunes veer a bit high for my limited range). I therefore picked 2 songs that I play in D: "The Dying Californian" which is a Sacred Harp tune that I heard the Flat Iron Stringband do a while back, and "Dinks Song" which I first heard Furnace Mountain do (I talk a bit more about both of these albums here). "Dinks Song" has become a bit more popular in recent years because it was featured in the Cohen Brothers movie "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Today, I woke up late, made some breakfast, then brushed up on all the new songs until the gig this afternoon. Playing and singing with phenomenal musicians in today's gorgeous Michigan weather was just incredible - I'm still riding high on the extra endorphins! Hopefully some of this mood will carry over into my work week : )
A sad note to end today's post on: I found out this past week that my banjo buddy Stew, who has posted comments to this blog several times (for example here and here), passed away in early August. I first met Stew on a trip to Elderly Instruments not too long after moving to Michigan - I was plunking around on a couple of the show room banjos and Stew came over to introduce himself and tell me that he liked my playing - turns out I really liked his playing too. Over the past few years, we've kept in touch via email, banjo hangout, and through this site. Our paths crossed several times in person as well - we saw each other at local jams and became lunch- and workshop-buddies at Midwest banjo camp.
Stew was super welcoming to me and a great banjo player. I always admired his right hand: he basically ignored the "bum ditty" approach and created roll patterns using a lot of drop thumb (something I'm a bit too clumsy to pull off most of the time). Stew would sneak melody notes in sparsely, but he really took the chordal/rhythmic role of the banjo seriously. As a result, it was super fun for the two of us to play together - by occupying different parts of the spectrum we ended up sounding like a guy with 4 arms playing a double-necked banjo! He also coaxed really, really, really, great out of his Brooks banjo. I wish I'd gotten to know Stew better but I feel fortunate to have known him the bit that I did. My heart goes out to his family and friends - know that I'll keep Stew in my thoughts as well.
About this blog
I have lots of ideas about banjo playing and music in general - this blog allows me to get them all out of my head and see what you think.