A while back I played a square dance with the "Sigogglin' Stringband" and wrote a blogpost about it (here). This weekend I played the other major type of Old Time band gig, a farmer's market, and I thought I'd write about that experience today. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of stats like I did for the square dance post (sorry!) - hope this will be a worthwhile ride anyhow : )
A bit about today's gig
I'm pretty sure this is at least my 50th time playing a farmer's market (this is definitely true if I expand the definition to include fish fry's, craft fairs, and other "background music" gigs). While I've played with a variety of bands in the past, today I played as a duet with my fiddle-buddy Molly; we call this arrangement "Rock Andy" (though I prefer our full name "the Rock Andy Lunchtime Experience" : ) As usual, we got this gig by reaching out to the organization that runs the market via email - we actually sent them links to our youtube videos (here) in the email as well. The good thing about getting on the email list of a farmer's market is that they usually keep your name for next season so, assuming I'm still living in Michigan next year, hopefully this will be a recurring thing!
As a late-October outdoor gig in Michigan....well, it was cold - my hands were barely functioning when we were done! We put out a tip jar and made ~$25 on top of the $50 check that's in the mail - while gigs like this obviously don't let you quit your day job, its kinda nice to be payed anything for something I love doing anyhow : ) We also got a couple heads of garlic and hot burritos from the vendors. I played El Hefe (here) in his 5-string configuration with my new pick (here) so we were plenty loud without need for amplification. Since these gigs are fairly low pressure, I only brought one banjo and just took the time to retune when necessary.
Our set list included 15 tunes and we played for 2 hours - if you allow for 1 minute between tunes (for chatting with passers-by and retuning) this means that each tune lasted 7 minutes on average. Could be that we took longer between tunes, or that I forgot a few that we played, but, while it seems a bit long, I'd actually believe that we averaged 7 minutes a tune. I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to get into a groove and start messing with melody/harmony of tunes on the fly - Molly and I both managed to find some novel territory in tunes we've played a million times. Below is our set list with some general commentary - we grouped tunes by tuning (for my benefit) but tried to alternate tune types/feels for some interest.
Set list (with commentary):
(started in Old G tuning - gDGDE)
Maggie Meade - We started off with this G minor tune (you can see a youtube video of Molly and I playing it here) which is a bit of a head turner - nice to start strong! I don't have too many tricks with this one other than going to the low octave for the B part on occasion.
Big Scioty - We then picked this "top 40" major tune for a feel change - I actually have a lot of tricks for this one (melodic variation, octave switching, cool chords, chromatic walkdown...) and so does Molly. There's a youtube video of me playing this at Clifftop with my Canadian neighbors here (Thanks to John Reddick for posting/filming!)
Margaret Randolph Waltz - Molly found this tune on Bruce Greene's latest album. Its probably the only crooked waltz I've ever come across and I just love it! I mostly stick to the script on this tune and I was lucky enough not to trainwreck the B part : )
Seneca Square Dance - I picked this one and, though it works well slow, I probably started it a little too slow. Kinda regretted that tempo but it eventually settled somewhere nice - I still cut it a bit short, however. I will say that it is one of those G tunes that lays really nicely in Old G.
Jeff City - this is a Missouri tune I've learned since moving to the Midwest...and I just love it! Its another faster tune. I found some cool new stuff in this tune - mostly a continuation of the walk-up that starts the B part - I'd never tried that before today's gig and it seemed to harmonize pretty well with what Molly was doing too. I'll have to work on it a bit more at home.
(switched to double D tuning - aDADE)
Sally in the Garden - We liked starting with a minor tune in G so we tried it again in D. Also like "Maggie Meade," there's a youtube video of Molly and I playing "Sally in the Garden" as well (here). Both Molly and I have cool harmonies for the B part (its kinda funny when we both reach for them at the same time : ) - most of my other variation on this tune is right hand stuff. I used to play this tune a lot more dirge-like but Molly has made me put a bit more pep into it - I absolutely love it when she goes to the high octave for the A part - it really kicks it into high gear!
Jingle at the Window Tidy-o - This tune, which Molly showed me from a David Bragger album (more on that here) is a zippy major tune, which we picked to contrast with "Sally in the Garden." We went for a while on this one and rather than simply sitting in the groove I *tried* to find some harmony for the A part...didn't really work great in my opinion.
Swannanoah Waltz - Again, we picked this tune for symmetry with our G set (i.e. "Minor, major, waltz") I've given a tab for it on this blog before (here). I actually found some relative minor harmonies in the B part, which I've never tried before - sounded pretty cool! Molly had the idea for me to start with the melody while she shuffled in the background for the first A part!
Snake River Reel - We played this one pretty fast and I got a bit sloppy due to a combination of cold hands and pick dysphoria. It worked for the most part but I can't wait for my nail to grow back (just another 1/2 mm or so)!
Coleman's March - Not sure I've ever played a gig without this tune! Molly and I have made a bit of a game out of pushing the boundaries on "Coleman's March" in recent weeks - she's finding some cool harmonies and also takes a bit of "less is more" approach with background accompaniment at parts - super tasteful and not something you always hear in old time fiddle! For my part, I got to put in some of the alternate chord double-stops I worked out a few weeks back (here).
(switched to A modal - aEADE)
Rock Andy - We had to play the tune we named our band after! This is a mixolydian Snake Chapman tune that Molly showed me - I could see a lot of the vendors bobbing their head to this one so we played it for a while. We had a cool moment here where Molly and I instinctively reached for the low octave in the same instant - love it when things like that happen! I got a bit brave and put a low chromatic walk (G, G#, A) in the B part, which I'll definitely try again.
Jeff Sturgeon - I actually wanted to play "Texas/Newcastle" next but its a little too close to "Rock Andy" so I suggested this tune in the middle. While its an A major tune, I find it sits well in modal tuning, which is typically reserved for minor or mixolydian tunes - I have a few other major tunes like this as well ("Policeman" and "Chinquapin Hunting" come to mind at the moment). For those keeping score, Molly, who had been in standard tuning, switched to cross A (AEAE) from here on out. "Jeff Sturgeon" is a notey crooked tune that was just about pushing my fingers' limits at this point!
Texas/Newcastle - This is the crooked Henry Reed tune I played with Adam Hurt at banjo camp a while back (here) and one of my all time favorites. Molly always puts some great swing into this one and it sounded quite good.
(switched to A major tuning - aEAC#E)
Little Billy Wilson - Molly wanted to find an A major tune next so we settled on this 3 parter (we've actually never played it together...) After nearly 2 hours in the cold, my right hand was completely numb, and I was actually kind of surprised the right notes were coming out - but we played this tune for probably 10 minutes and found a really great groove!
Black Eyed Suzie - We ended on the 3 part version of this tune that appears on the Bigfoot album (more on that album here). Molly likes to say that I play counterpoint on this tune...I think that I just never quite learned it right : ) Strong ender with a lot of bluesiness.
Hell, I'd buy that album : ) That's it for this week (and I'm guessing that was my last outdoor gig of the season) - thanks for reading!
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.