This weekend we will be heading across the Long Island Sound to Barrington, Rhode Island. On Saturday, March 31, at 2:00 pm Erica and I will be presenting beginner to intermediate clawhammer banjo and fiddle workshops at the Barrington Public Library in Barrington, Rhode Island. The following day, April 1st, also at 2:00 pm, the full family band will be performing in a concert setting at the same venue. Both events are free and open to the public.
Legendary bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs passed away yesterday at the age of 88. Earl was an incredibly talented guitarist and banjo player who is often credited with inventing the three finger style of banjo picking. While he may not have been the first to play the banjo using three fingers, he definitely elevated the three finger, rolling, picking style to an art form. It was Earl's high energy banjo style that turned Bill Monroe's country band into a "bluegrass" band. His "Scruggs style" banjo picking would become synonymous with bluegrass banjo. Earl's wife and agent, Louise, once defined bluegrass as "folk music in overdrive," and it was the Scrugg's style of banjo that shifted the music into high gear.
We were shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely passing of our friend Gerry Riemer this week. I hadn't seen Gerry since last fall at the Sherwood-Jayne Apple Festival and only found out about her passing when I decided to investigate why a certain post, on this blog, that mentioned her was getting so many hits.
Geraldine was a lady and a scholar too. The first time I tuned into Gerry's Monday Night Traditional Folk show on WUSB I fell in love with her melofious voice, and was greatly impressed with her vast knowledge and deep understanding of the folk musics of America and the British Isles. Over the past fifteen years, Gerry was always very supportive of the musical efforts of the Homegrown String Band. I think she really appreciated the idea of us carrying on the tradition of families making music together. Her thoughtful and encouraging words were always welcomed and appreciated by our family. We usually ran into Gerry at a few festivals and music events each year, mostly here on Long Island, but sometimes far from home where it was nice to see a familiar face. Whenever she was an MC at a festival where we were performing she would always make a point of being the one to introduce us. I was often humbled and always grateful for her wonderful introductions. Between sets I enjoyed sitting and visiting with Gerry. I always looked forward to, and will miss, my discussions with Geraldine about obscure musicians and songs, as well as the social and political significance of the music of the people.
I just put a loaf of bread in the oven and for some reason I thought of the saying "the best thing since sliced bread." What a weird saying. Pre-sliced bread is terrible! 99% of all Americans get their highly processed, pre-sliced, tasteless, possibly toxic, mishmash of artificial ingredients they call bread from a plastic bag. Products like Wonder bread probably put thousands of traditional bakeries out of business, or else forced them to specialize in dessert products, while simultaneously replacing a traditional nutritional food staple with an unhealthy tasteless facsimile. Here's a photo of my homemade bread:
Homemade Music and Homemade Bread
I used 4 cups of King Arthur Bread Flour (I usually use 3 1/3 cups of white flour and 2/3 cup of whole wheat flour), 1/4 tsp yeast, 1 tsp salt, 2 cups of water, and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (homemade with a live mother). I covered the dough and let it rise overnight then baked it for 42 minutes in a preheated Romertopf covered unglazed clay baker at 475º F. I don't know what the difference is between "bread" flour and regular unbleached flour, but it came out pretty well; I don't miss the whole wheat at all.
So, what does homemade bread have to do with music? Well, just like bread, somewhere along the line, music has become a mass-produced consumer product. These days we are eating less and less nutritious homemade food and listening to less and less heartfelt homemade music. Thanks to clever marketing, slick packaging, and the misdirection of consumer's attention to superficial appearances and details, most people now prefer the perfectly formed factory made facsimile to the rougher hewn traditional, locally produced, artisan product.
We got off really easy this year as far as winter weather is concerned, but I'm still excited about the upcoming vernal equinox and the corresponding increase in outdoor activities. (I'm going to plant some peas and kale tomorrow right after band practice.) By the time we play our next show, at the West Deptford Library on Thursday, March 22 at 7:00 pm, spring will officially have sprung.
West Deptford, NJ, is down near Philadelphia. If you live in the area stop in and say hey. Maybe some High Energy Neo-Traditonal Acoustic Americana Family String Band Music and Dance will help put some spring in your step as we step into spring.
I had a lot of down time in February so I decided to organize the print-outs I usually hand out to my banjo students. I thought I would just staple a few sheets together to hand out at a clawhammer banjo workshop I will be presenting in Barington, Rhode Island on March 31st, but I got carried away and ended up with a 40 page, 8 1/2 X 11, perfect bound book. Topics covered include practical music theory, clawhammer banjo technique, resources, and some interesting historical notes from the instrument's ancient African roots through the twenty-first century.