Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 2010 Contest Results!

If there was ever such thing as Olympic Bluegrass Contests, this one would certainly qualify!  We had our largest contest ever by almost double.  There were 26 flattop guitar contestants, 43 fiddle contestants and 24 banjo contestants, for a grand total of 93 contestants.  I am glad that I didn't know that when we started or I probably would have panicked!

This was our first year ever to have flattop guitar.  To say the least, it was a huge success!  We added this contest in memory of the late Bill Barttelbort who was with The Chris Talley Trio.  Bill judged many a contest for us and loved to teach and play.  Probably just about every guitar contestant from Saturday had never competed in a flattop guitar contest before.  There just aren't any around here.  It was good to see guitar students from St. Agatha School competing.

It was also good to see so many people that I have never met before.  Every year, the talent just seems to get better and better.

There are SO MANY people to which I owe a debt of gratitude!  I will try to remember you all, because you are all important to me.  First of all, thanks to our judges who spent six hard hours listening intently to all the contestants.  Igg Tiemann and John Bell play all the instruments they are judging quite well, and believe me, it's hard to find experienced judges who are competent musicians on even ONE instrument, much less three!  Thank you to my mom, Carla, who added all the scores...again...and again...and again...making sure the totals are correct.  I had lots of help setting up the hall.  Thanks to Mallory, Lucas, Nathanael, Matthew, Dennis, Chelsea, Zak and Diane.  Thanks to the Pickin' Chicks and their parents for providing food & beverages.  This was actually a fund raiser to help the Pickin' Chicks pay for their upcoming thanks to YOU for supporting them!  Thanks to Gary and Dick for making the fiddle & banjo trophies.  Thanks to Charlie for helping with the guitar trophies.  Thanks to Chelsea for an untold amount of help with just about anything I could ask for or forget to ask for!  Thanks to my husband, Earl, for taking pictures (which will be posted on Facebook), helping with the awards, and keeping me straight on everything!  Thanks to Zak, Carla, Nikki, Verlan and several others who helped at the door and at registration.  Thanks to everyone who came and attended the event, and to all the contestants who braved their fears and entertained us so well!  There were also too many people to mention individually that stayed afterwards to help clean the hall.  Thank you all so much!

Here are the results of the contest:

 Flattop Guitar - Junior (16 & Under)
1st - Rosemary Hall
2nd - Paige Johnson
3rd - Madison Wilderman
4th - Mallory Warnecke
5th - Matthew Worthington
JC Davis (Most Entertaining)
Hope Kapelski (Youngest Guitar Player)

Flattop Guitar - Open (17 & Up)
1st - Mike Wall (Most Entertaining)
2nd - Charlie Hall
3rd - Zane Prosser (Oldest Guitar Player)
4th - Don Willi
5th - Katarina Worthington

Junior Banjo (16 & Under)
1st - Nikki Warnecke
2nd - Emily Hall (Most Entertaining)
3rd - Lucas Worthington
4th - Curtis Lewis
5th - Paige Johnson
Andy Eisenhauer (Youngest Banjo Player)

Open Banjo (17 & Up)
1st - Chelsea Perkinson
2nd - Fred Pringle
3rd - Don Willi
4th - Holly Salvatore
5th - Amelia Price

Adult Beginner Banjo (21 & Up, Played < 4 Years)
1st - Julia Ziltz (Most Entertaining) & Kevin Martin
2nd - Larry Reuss
3rd - Dennis Huebner
4th - Doug Farney
5th - Steve McDonnell

Senior Banjo (60 & Up)
1st - Fred Pringle (Most Entertaining)
2nd - Larry Maxwell
3rd - Ralph White (Oldest Banjo Player)
4th - Nick Hughes

Junior II Fiddle (12 & Under)
1st - Rosemary Hall
2nd - Amelia Eisenhauer
3rd - Colton Dever
4th - Regan Farney
5th - Mylie Farney (Most Entertaining)
Isabella Worthington (Youngest Fiddle Player)

Junior I Fiddle (13-17 Years)
1st - Paige Johnson
2nd - Angela Winkeler
3rd - Emily Worthington
4th - Kat Dierksen
5th - Mallory Warnecke (Most Entertaining)

Adult Beginner (21 & Up, Played < 4 Years)
1st - John Oaks
2nd - Rhonda Eisenhauer (Most Entertaining)

Open Fiddle (18 & Up)
1st - Ben Smith
2nd - Chelsea Perkinson
3rd - Ron Dailey
4th - Don Willi
5th - Charlie Hall
Ann White (Most Entertaining)

Senior Fiddle (60 & Up)
1st - Zane Prosser
2nd - Fred Pringle
3rd - Junior Hobson
4th - Andy Talley (Oldest Fiddle Player)
5th - John Barnett

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday's Hours - October 30th

Since we are hosting our 9th Annual Fiddle, Banjo & Flattop Guitar Contest on Saturday, October 30, 2010, our hours will be reduced for this day.  Please note that we will only be open from 10:00 a.m. - Noon on Saturday, October 30th.  Come on over to the New Athens Community Center (underneath the water tower) at the corner of Chester & North Johnson Streets.  The contest starts at 1:00 p.m.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hair Explosion in my Fiddle Case!

If you've ever had carpet weevils in your fiddle case, you know what I'm talking about.  These tiny critters wreak havoc on horsehair and wool (felt).  Maybe you didn't know you had them, but you know the scenario:  You open your fiddle case after a short while of not playing to find a bunch of hair from your bow neatly "cut" at one or the other end of the bow.  If you look closely, you'll also find the tell-tale carcasses (or even perhaps a "live" one) in the case.  The shells are very tiny brown things that look like miniature cicada sheddings.  You might even see something like white powder, which would be the eggs.  To be more specific, you are actually seeing the eggs or shedded skin of the larvae of the carpet beetle.  You will also hear these referred to as bow bugs.

I happened to go through this scenario with a customer recently and we caught a live one at work.  Here are two pictures.  I put the inkpen in one of the pictures so you could see how tiny they really are.  I didn't realize these things were so hairy until I took the closeup picture of it and was Photoshopping it.  If you want to enlarge either of the pictures, just click on the picture.

How to you stop attracting these things?  How do you get rid of them if you have them?  Well, first of all, they are everywhere.  It has nothing to do with your housekeeping skills (or lack thereof).  It has nothing to do with how clean you are, or whether you live in the city or the woods.  They generally show up inside a case after it has been closed for at least a couple of weeks with the bow inside.  They also show up if you have a case that is lined in felt.  If you notice ANY loose hairs at all when you open the fiddle case, even one, you should inspect the case carefully.  Look for white powder or brown carcasses.  If you see any, or even if you don't but you suspect them, vacuum the case thoroughly.

Next, you need to put something in the case that will ward them off.  I like to use mothballs.  I know they smell, but if you can stomach them, they work the best.  I actually buy lavender scented mothballs (yeah, right!) that are wrapped in paper packages so you can touch them.  (You should still wash your hands after touching mothballs because they are poisonous.)   WARNING: IF YOU HAVE YOUNG CHILDREN, THESE LOOK LIKE CANDY!!!  You need to take the proper safety measures.  Fresh cedar also wards them off.  Both of these lose their effectiveness over time, so you need to check on them from time to time. 

Another thing you can do with your bow is to put it in an air-tight plastic bow container, or put it into a plastic bag.  The plastic bag won't keep them out entirely unless it is air-tight.  Zippers don't keep them out, either!

Now you, too, can be carpet weevil-free!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Busy Friday at The Shack!

What a nice day we had today!  It was just as busy as ever, but we sure had fun.

Susan and several of her children came by first thing after opening.  Her daughter, Katarina, teaches piano here, but Lucas and Nathanael came along as well so that they could go throught their contest tunes for next Saturday.  We hadn't even gotten around to practicing yet when Michelle and her husband, Ken, came in from O'Fallon, MO.  Then two more folks walked through the doors for guitar strings.  Next in?  Chelsea and Zak with their "baby" Chief (the basset hound).  Four piano lessons later, in comes Charlie and two of his students.

Boy, did we have fun!  Dennis and Nathanael went through Flop Eared Mule on the fiddle while I installed some spikes on Michelle's banjo, changed the strings, and did some basic setup work.  Lucas was in the main showroom talking banjo with Michelle and Ken and picking up a storm on his own banjo.  Katarina was having her own personal Christmas in her teaching room looking through all her new piano books that had just arrived.  And then???  MY Christmas arrived -- the UPS man with lots of big boxes!

I really enjoyed talking to Ken and Michelle.  They are both new players.  Michelle has played banjo for one year and has an excellent start!  I didn't get to hear Ken play, but that didn't stop us from talking guitar!  Guess who's coming to our contest next Saturday?

When Chelsea and Zak came through the door with Chief, it was immediate love between Chief and every girl in the shop!  Katarina's phone camera came out and she was busy snapping pictures.  Every single wrinkle and expression was followed by "awwww."  Chief's favorite position?  All stretched out with this nose pointed forward, front legs pointed back, back legs pointed back with his feet crossed!

Chelsea had business here today, though.  She was picking up her own personal Stelling banjo.  The Sunflower, to be exact.  I am quite sure that there is no silence in the house tonight!

About 5:30, Susan's husband Dale came by to pick up the three children.  We had to do a little picking before they left, though.  Katarina played guitar, Dale played the bass, Nathanael played fiddle, and Lucas and I played banjo.  We went through their contest tunes, and then we just played a little bit.

It was another day full of great people and fun!  We hope you'll come by soon and join us at The Bluegrass Shack!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How I Practice for a Fiddle Contest

I have learned through teaching that many students have no idea what practicing is.  They confuse it with playing.  Although practice does require playing, it should focus on what you DON'T know well rather than what you are already proficient at.  In general, the majority of my practice time is spent working on new songs and techniques.  When I have finished working on those things, or if I just want to "have fun," then I start playing the tunes I already know or my favorites.  I may also take a look at a list of songs I play and make sure that I haven't forgotten any of them. 

When I'm preparing for a contest, I get really particular with my practice time.  It will be spent almost exclusively on the songs I think I might play in the contest for 2-4 weeks prior to the contest.  I analyze everything I do in the songs.  I make sure I can play them excessively slow.  If I can't, then I don't know the song well enough.  I don't want to be on stage feeling really nervous, start to think about what I'm doing, and then realize I have no clue what I'm doing and that I've been playing on "automatic pilot" for the past several weeks.  Take my advice on this one.  If you can't play the song slowly, go back and relearn it.

Next, I analyze any areas of the song that aren't perfect.  Do I have notes that are out of tune?  At this point in MY playing, out of tune notes would not be an overall problem, but limited to just certain notes in certain areas of a song.  It's usually related to how difficult the fingering is and how much I have to contort my left hand to get my little fingers in the proper position.  I have a perfect example.  I've been working on Cotton Patch Rag.  In one section of the song, my 1st finger on the A string is supposed to be low (B flat).  Invariably, I was playing somewhere between B and B flat.  When I slowed the song down so that I could focus on making this the correct pitch, I couldn't remember the rest of the notes in that particular section.  I had to work really hard again to get this down just because I moved my finger 1/16"!  So don't think you are the only one.

I can also think of a good example in Sally Goodin.  This particular song was what I played as my hoedown in the first round of competition last weekend.  When transitioning from the high part of the song (3rd position) back to the low part (1st position), my notes weren't clear.  I remember it USED to be clean, but now something had changed and it was not longer clean.  I slowed it way down, made sure I knew all the notes, and played through it a bunch of times.  When I sped it up, it was inconsistant.  Then I started analyzing my bowing and which direction I was going when it worked and when it didn't work.  I determined the problem was actually with my bowing.  I figured out that my bow was going backwards when I started the 3rd variation of the high part, and that made it almost impossible for me to play the transition cleanly.

If I am lucky, I will be able to play my songs regularly with a guitar player for the weeks prior to the contest.  Since my husband plays guitar, and my band has a good rhythm guitar player, and I own a music store with guitar teachers, this one is covered!  Having a guitar player is more than just having rhythm.  It allows me to make sure I am playing in tune.  It also helps me know how well I know a song.  If I don't know it well enough, I find the guitar is a distraction to me and I won't play the song as well.  When I know the song really well, the guitar is a bonus for me and actually helps me to play better.

In addition to playing with a guitar player, I spend time with a metronome.  I use the metronome to play songs slowly so that I won't speed them up and so that I can get really good at all the correct pitches, fingerings and bowings.  I also use the metronome to practice the songs at the speeds I want to play them in the contest.  It is easy to become nervous and play too fast.  I want to really FEEL the speeds I will be playing my contest songs.

I also spend time practicing just by myself.  I don't want to get dependent on any one thing.  Practicing by myself also allows me to work on specific areas that aren't up to speed.

Another thing I listen for when practicing for a fiddle contest is my tone quality and FEEL for the song.  I think they are related.  If you play a song with feeling, it is like the smile that you can't see over the phone, but you know is there (or isn't there!).  I make sure my bowing is smooth and consistant.  I listen for bad notes, distorted notes that are caused by too much or too little bow pressure.  I make sure I am using the right amount of bow.  If I'm using tiny little bow strokes for a waltz, I will not get a smooth sound.  I listen for dynamics (loud and soft) and make sure that they fit with what I'm feeling.  If I can't feel the song, I keep playing it until I can.  That's very important to me.  It also gives me a lot of personal enjoyment to play something that I can really feel.  That doesn't matter whether it's a contest or not!

I make sure that my beginnings and endings are smooth and fit the song.  Since these will be the first and last things anyone hears, they'd better be good.

If you have another musician (especially a fiddle player) that is willing to listen to you and give you advice, that can be a big bonus to you.  Another person may think of things that you did not.  They may hear things that you don't hear.  They may have experience that you don't have.  John Bell helped me out for the last contest.  I played all my songs for him, asked a bunch of questions, and he gave me lots of good advice.  Remember:  No matter how good you are and no matter how much you know, you can't know it all.  I am very grateful to him for his help.

One final thing that I do is to make sure I play the song the same way every time.  I don't do this for normal performances, but I do for contest preparation.  I know which variation I'll play when, and exactly how I'll play it.  I know how many times I will play each variation.  I practice the song the same way every time so that it will come naturally to me even when I get really nervous.

As the weeks progress, my songs should be getting much better.  In fact, my overall playing should be getting better, even on the songs I am not working on.  That's what's so neat about entering a fiddle contest.  When you prepare, you are improving everything you do, not just specific songs.  That means that even if I totally bomb out in the contest, my practice was not for nothing.  I am better for the work I put in and no one can take that away from me!

Song Selection for a Fiddle Contest

I thought with the Illinois State Old Time Fiddle Contest behind me, and The Bluegrass Shack Fiddle, Banjo & Flattop Contest ahead of me, this would be a good time to write about what I personally do to prepare myself for a fiddle contest.  In particular, I thought I would focus on the IOTFA contest that I just competed in.

The first thing I do is decide how many songs to prepare.  This is based on how many songs the competition requires.  I always try to have more than what is required.  This allows me some freedom of choice in case I hear my selection played several times before I reach the stage.  It also allows me flexibility in the case that I don't seem to be playing up to par on the contest day.  Most contests require, at a minimum, a waltz and a hoedown.  Many also require a tune of choice.  If there are multiple rounds in the competition, you will probably have to prepare different songs for each round. 

Next, I narrow down the songs that I think I want to use in the competition.  This can be hard to do, but it is based on a number of things, not necessarily in this order: 

1) How well do I know the songs?
If I am starting my preparation several weeks ahead of time, and I really SHOULD, I take into account how well I currently know the song(s).  If it is something that I haven't done in a while, I will need to brush up on the song.  I might even want to learn a few new variations.  If it's a new song, I will have to try to make the determination as to whether I will know the song well enough and be confident enough to perform it in a contest.

2) How much time do I have to prepare?
If I've waited until the last minute to decide to enter, or if I didn't know about the contest early on, my selection will be limited to what I already have up to speed.

3) Who are the judges and what will they be listening for? 
If you know who your judges are, this may help you with your selection.  Many big contests publish the list of judges.  If it is a local contest, you still can probably find out ahead of time who your judges are.  If you have played in a contest with this judge before and you were able to view your scoresheets, this will give you an idea on what to work on.  If you know past winners of this competition, and if you know what they played, this will also give you a good idea of which songs to prepare, or at least what style of songs you should prepare.

4) What are the rules of the contest and which songs will fit best into this scenario?
Is this an old-time fiddle contest?  Texas swing?  Is hokum bow allowed?  Are you allowed to play in different tunings?  These are all things that you need to know ahead of time.  If you are entering a strict "old time" fiddle contest, the songs have to be a danceable speed!  That means not too fast!  Texas swing?  Then you will need something in that style.  You get the idea...

5) How well will I be able to perform this song under pressure?
This is actually a very important question to ask yourself.  When preparing for the IOTFA contest last week, I was thinking of playing Leather Britches.  It was a good song selection all around.  It fit all the criteria I listed above.  I even play it remarkably well.  The problem with it?  I am not comfortable playing it.  I don't know why, but I simply am not.  I continued practicing it all the way up until the contest day because it seemed to fit so well.  In the end, I still chose not to play it because I could just picture myself up on stage feeling nervous and uncomfortable.  If I didn't have many choices, I would still probably have to play it.  Thank goodness, I had other options.

6) Is it a tough enough song?
One thing about fiddle contests is that there is no "standard."  You are really at the mercy of what impresses the judges.  This can be a difficult question to answer because it really depends upon how you play the song.  In other words, how difficult is your variation?  Some songs, no matter what you do to them, are not good for a competition; e.g., Bile Them Cabbage is many times the first song a fiddler learns.  No matter how hard you make it, it is not a good choice for a more advanced fiddler.  It is fine for beginner.  If the song you choose is too easy, or if your variation(s) are too easy, then a perfect performance might not give you enough points to win.  If your competition is not too great, then it MAY be enough.  You probably won't know this until the day of the competition, though.  Generally, the harder the song is to play, the more points you'll score IF YOU PLAY IT WELL.  If your judges aren't fiddle players (and shame on the contest if they aren't), they simply won't know how hard a song is to play on fiddle.  You might as well pick something that SOUNDS hard...

7) Is my goal to win, or do I have a different goal in mind?
Maybe this sounds like a funny thing to ask, but it is actually very important.  Not everyone who enters contests, and not every contest that a person enters, does it to win.  Maybe you just want to support an up and coming local contest.  Perhaps you have friends that are entering and they want you to enter as well.  Do you just want to get on stage to play and have fun?  Maybe you want to get some experience.  Particularly if you are a new player, your goal may just be to make it through your songs.  If you are so nervous that you can't perform well, this may especially be true for you.  When I first started entering contests, I was an experienced musician, but was surprised to find out that I could not perform on the fiddle well in contests.  I was just too nervous.  I was king of the fiddle in the livingroom, and it was king of me on stage.  Very frustrating to say the least!  My goal, early on, was simply to get through my songs and do them well.  I chose songs that were easy for me.  This allowed me to not be so nervous about making mistakes and forgetting on stage.  I did this for a while so that I could gain some experience and confidence.  I gradually increased the toughness of my songs.  I also decided that I would not enter any song into a competition that I had not previously played on stage.  Playing a song in front of others really shows you if you have any weak areas in the song.  It gives you a second chance, so to speak.  If you find you are making mistakes on the song when you are nervous, you know what to work on.

8) Will I have competent accompaniment, or do I need to pick something with very minimal chord changes?
I am very lucky with this one.  The guitar player for my band, Zane, almost always accompanies me in contests.  We are able to practice ahead of time, and Zane has played backup for fiddle players for years, so he knows (or can quickly learn) all the chords to just about any song.  He is also a fiddle player himself.  If you are not so fortunate, you may have to pick up a guitar player at the competition.  My advice?  Ask the guitar player just to warm up with you first.  Don't ask him/her to perform on stage with you immediately.  Why?  Because if it's not a good match and they aren't what you expect or need, you won't be stuck with them.  If the warmup goes well, then you can ask them to back you up in the contest.  If you find a good rhythm guitar player, but they don't know too many fiddle tunes, you may have to stick with songs that don't have too many chord changes in them.

This is just one aspect of playing in a contest.  I plan on writing more.  Hopefully, this will be helpful (or at least interesting)!  Good luck!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Illinois State Fiddle Contest

The Illinois Old Time Fiddler's Association held its Annual Illinois State Fiddle Championship on Sunday, October 17, 2010.  This was the first year I've been able to attend due to a date and venue change for the competition.  It was a wonderful event and I met many new fiddlers!

First of all, Ann White and her family did a wonderful job for IOTFA in promoting the contest.  It was certainly agreed upon by all in the organization as well, for the White family received an award for their hard work for the organization.  I know first-hand how difficult it is to put on a fiddle contest of this magnitude.  The Bluegrass Shack does this several times every year, and even though we are not a state-certified contest,
I can attest to the fact that there is a lot to do!

They have four divisions for their competition:  Over 70, Beginners (11 & Under), Junior (12-19 years), and Open.  They compete in that order, and the first place winner of the first three divisions can also enter the Open Competition.  The winners of the Junior competition and the Open competition receive what is termed a "travelling trophy."  This is such a neat idea!  The winners keep the trophy for one year and then return with the trophy for the competition the following year.  Every winner has his or her name added to the trophy, along with the year and the city they live in.  It is really fun to read all the names.  Did you know Alison Krauss won this competition three years in a row?  Not only did she win it three years in a row, she actually had the trophy at her house for those three years...and so did all the other winners!  How cool is that?

Now that I've told you a little about the competition, I'm going to tell you how our day went there.  We had quite a showing from The Bluegrass Shack.  I initially wasn't going to go, but decided several weeks ahead of time that I could make it and would indeed go ahead and do it.  From our shop, Chelsea and Dennis decided to compete.  Earl and I also practiced every night to prepare for the competition.  We had students Tim, Colton, Andy and Millie who competed.  Additionally, a good friend of ours, Ron, and Zane, from my band, also competed.

Personally, it was a really rough day.  I have been sick with a cold-type illness for almost two weeks now.  Just when I thought I was getting better, it all went to my chest and I had to start on asthma medications.  If you've ever taken them, you know how shaky they make you.  Not so good for a competition!  I was the most nervous that I can recall for many years.  Chelsea was also sick, and we shared a box of Kleenex pretty much all day. 

The contest was held in Effingham at the Hilton Garden Inn.  This was a new location for the contest, which has in the past been held in Arcola over Labor Day weekend.  The venue was beautiful and suited the competition well, though I think it will need to be larger next year to fit all the listeners into the room!

We started by registering and putting a star sticker on the city we lived in on a map of Illinois.  (You have to be a resident of Illinois to win the Illinois State Contest.)  Then we went up to Ron & Lorraine's room to warm up.  Zane, Ron, Earl, Chelsea, Dennis and I all took turns playing through our songs and picking guitar for each other.

After we warmed up, we went back downstairs to the registration area to draw our numbers for the order of performance.  Shortly thereafter, most of the fiddle players met on stage to play several songs all together.  We went through Ragtime Annie, Red Wing and Golden Slippers.  It really sounds nice to hear so many fiddles playing together!

We found an empty stairwell near the competition room that served as a fantastic practice area.  We used this area to tune up and warm-up before our various divisions played.

The Over 70 Division played first.  Zane was in that division.  Ron and I both played guitar for Zane and he ended up winning 2nd place!  Zane played the Kiss Me Waltz and Chinquapin.

Two students of The Bluegrass Shack placed in the Beginner's and the Junior Divisions.  Andy got 2nd place in the Beginner Division, and his sister Millie won the Junior Division and the Junior Travelling Trophy.  Millie also competed in the Open Division after winning the Junior Division.  She played great, but did not place in the Open Division.

The rest of us all competed against each other in the Open Division.  There were 22 contestants in the Open Division.  I was especially proud of Chelsea, who played incredibly well despite feeling really bad.  She had two near-flawless performances that would have made anyone proud, though she did not make it to the final round.  I was very proud to be on stage with her!  Ron, Earl and Dennis also did a good job on their songs.  (We put in LOTS of practice over the past several weeks, including daily practices together for the past week or two.)  I ended up winning the Open Competition much to my surprise!  It was the kind of competition that you can't really feel bad about losing because the competition was all so good!  I would not have wanted to be a judge, that's for sure.

I have several people to thank for helping make this win possible.  First of all, Zane did a great job accompanying me on guitar.  That's a must-have for a successful contest!  Also, several days prior to the contest, John Bell played through my songs with me and gave me advice on entering my first Old Time competition.  And how could I forget all my friends and my husband for their support and encouragement?!  Thank you all so much!

So now I have possession of the actual trophy that so many others before me have won!  It's right here on display at The Bluegrass Shack if you want to come take a look at all the names and years on it.  It's like a little piece of Illinois fiddle history.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Put on Your Little (Dancing) Shoes!

Here's an opportunity to have a very fun Saturday night (October 16th), and help the Thresherman's Association, too!  Three local bands are going to be playing dancing music for you from 6:30 - 11:00 p.m., and dinner will be served as well!  Come on out to Pinckneyville and join us for the fun!  It is my understanding that Bill Timpner will be there to call some squares.  Now you're talking!

6:30 - 7:30 The Pickin' Chicks
7:30 - 9:00 The Chris Talley Trio
9:00 - 11:00 Beaucoup Bottom Band

Want to join in the Chili Cook-off?  It starts at 5:30 p.m.
Dinner will be served from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Come one, come all to the Illinois Rural Heritage Museum
187 Fairground Road (just north of the fairgrounds)
Pinckneyville, IL

Need more information?  Contact Mary Greer at 618-357-3241 or

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Even Steven

Anyone with more than one child knows what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about keeping everyone happy.  Making sure each child has the same number of presents under the tree at Christmas time.  Making sure that each child gets the same amount of new clothes when school starts, or for Easter, or for whatever happens to be upcoming.

Enter a band.  Now multiply the happiness or un-happiness by the number of people in the band.  (If there are kids involved, multiply it by the number of parents as well.)  The more members, the harder it is to keep everyone happy. 

The problem with equality in a band is that it is not truly measurable.  And a feeling of inequality of some sort is one of the main reasons a band splits up.  Although talent is certainly important to have a good band, a better measure of band success is actually in the personalities of the members rather than their sheer talent. 

Imagine trying to make sure every single person in the band gets to do the same number of things as another.  That would mean the bass player should take a break on every song.  Not really tasteful for a bluegrass band.  What about the emcee?  Does that account for anything?  You can't have everyone in the band doing the emcee work.  But does that equal singing a song?  Or taking a break?  How do you quantify that?  If one person plays more than one instrument, should all the members be allowed to play more than one instrument?  What about singing lead?  Do you split that equally among all the band members for every performance?  You are probably starting to get the picture.

Most everyone knows by now that The Chris Talley Trio lost its lead guitar player last year due to a brain tumor.  In fact, it will be one year from the end of this very month!  I held back on booking any gigs for 2010.  Although we all knew it would be a while before Bill was ready to play again, we thought he WOULD get better.  He passed away the day before he was to leave the hospital and go home.

Trying to replace Bill was out of the question.  Not only is it distasteful, it's not even possible!  After I decided I actually wanted to keep playing, I was faced with the decision of finding another band member.  Do you know what my main concern was?  It was finding someone with the right personality that could get along with the rest of us.  Finding talent was not my main goal.  There are lots of talented people.  I also did not want to have to TEACH someone.  I spend all day, every week, teaching.  My band is my fun time. 

I am very proud of the fact that the members of my band have always gotten along.  Always.  Despite the fact that the band has my own name in it, I am not the star.  No one is.  I took the lead from Hot Rize, one of my all-time favorite bands.  (Take a look at the excellent article about Hot Rize in the September 2010 Bluegrass Unlimited.  This very fact I'm talking about is prominantely mentioned in the article.)  Everyone in my band is good at what they do.   I make sure they all get to do what they are good at.  If we don't agree on something, we vote.  It's not like an "official" vote or anything.  I usually just ask what everyone thinks about something.  That means I have to play songs I don't like, in keys I don't want to play them in, for who knows how many times.  But that's okay.  So does everyone else!