Last week I was the guest speaker at a men's book club. Each month a member selects a book, and my friend Phil Love, graciously introduced NNAOPP to his colleagues. The club consists of a dozen professional men of varying ages. The attendees were kind with their comments and asked thoughtful questions about the book. The discussion quickly turned to the idea that everyone has interesting stories, and I listened with enthusiasm. Many of the stories shared a musical theme. Here are a few snippets:
"I felt like I was reading a story about my own life. I attended Indian Hills Junior High, Shawnee Mission East HS, delivered the KC Kansan, and I play the banjo. The only thing I'm missing is the Mardi Gras trip. Got any openings?"
"My father-in-law, Judge Andrew Jackson Higgins, played in your Dad's swing band in 1938. When he died two years ago his obituary referred to your Dad as one of the people who shaped his life. I made the connection after reading your book." Small world indeed.
"After selling my business, I took up the harmonica. A few weeks ago I had my inaugural performance at the Phoenix Jazz Club. I worked hard on one song, had a good backup group, and it went pretty well."
"After college I went out to LA to try to make it as a stand-up comic. I took acting and voice lessons and received my Screen Actor's Guild card. I was struggling to survive when one of my instructors took me aside and said, 'there are over 30,000 SAG members, but only a few hundred make over $20,000 per year.' I packed it in and got my MBA."
One of the participants holds a PhD in organ and told of his experience playing the new organ at the Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. "The sounds are intense in the theatre, but even more so sitting at the keyboard. It almost blows your hair back."
And my favorite came from Phil, who, among other things, plays standup bass fiddle and is a brilliant lyricist. He crafted this little ditty with friends over drinks.
Puff, the magic maggot,
Lived in the trash.
Frolicked in the banana peels,
And in the cigarette ash.
Little Teddy Tapeworm,
loved that maggot, Puff.
Brought him dead dogs two weeks old,
And scabs still moist with pus!
A maggot lives forever,
But a tapeworm's not as tough.
Teddy ate the banana peels,
But he croaked on the scabs with pus!
Puff was broken-hearted.
Losing Teddy really hurt.
But not as much as hunger did,
So he ate him for dessert!
Walnut Valley Festival (aka Winfield, KS Bluegrass Festival)
"Banjo will get you through times with no money, but money will not get you through times with no banjo"
"My next husband will be normal"
Tee shirt wisdom
It was a beautiful fall day as I journeyed through Flint Hills of southeast Kansas. Leaving the interstate, I headed south on Highway 77 from El Dorado. My route closely followed the meandering Walnut River to the handsome city of Winfield. The river forms a levied crossbow encircling the Crowley County Fairgrounds, home to the 43rd annual and aptly named Walnut Valley Festival.
Three years ago I purchased my Ome Trilogy Tubaphone II open back banjo from Jim Baggett, the owner of Mass Street Music in Lawrence. He told me he bought the banjo at the Walnut Valley Festival, and he suggested I attend a future event, as it was a Mecca for acoustic music fans. But I procrastinated. Then I met a fellow banjo player at the aforementioned book club. He reminded me that this was the weekend for the Winfield bluegrass event and added, "I'll be there for the entire four days. You'll have more fun than a banjo player is allowed to have." And so I went.
I arrived at noon on Friday and was amazed at the huge crowd (estimated at 15,000) and the thousands of RV's assembled. The attendees were friendly, eclectic, and attractive. During a quick walk around, I observed an abundance of young families with little ones, farmers and cowboys, old and young hippies, boomers, knitters, and even hipsters. There was a noticeable dearth of tattoos. Instead of pigs and sheep, the exhibition barns were full of vendors of serious musical instruments, food stands, and arts and crafts. The sounds of music echoed from every direction.
Four stages were set up offering live music running on the hour from 9 am to 12:30 am. Thirty different professional acts were featured along with several hundred amateurs. A fifth stage consisted of dozens of jam sessions held in the campground area.
I rotated from stage to stage to try to see and hear as much as possible. I also sat in on a few of the contests for amateurs. Friday's contests featured hammer dulcimer, mandolin, and old-time fiddle.
I listened to four contestants, out of 45, in the amateur mandolin contest. A large lady ambled up to the microphone and announced without enthusiasm, "That was contestant number 9. Next will be contestant number 10." Out walked a high school age boy wearing a Dekalb seed ball cap who proceeded to play an intricate Bach Contata with remarkable skill. Then came a youngish man in a ponytail who played so skillfully he reminded me of Ricky Skaggs. Then came a man in his 50's who played "Buffalo Gals" at near-tyro level mindful of my banjo plucking. This made me contemplate the formerly unimaginable, "What's the worst that could happen? 46th out of 45 in the banjo contest?"
It was easy to see why the crowds were so large and appreciative. The musicianship and showmanship of the professional groups, none of whom possessed familiar names, were nonpareil. In addition to standard bluegrass bands, I listened to cowboy western, western swing, Celtic, solo instrumentalists, and folk. A local Winfield man accompanied two of the groups on the bones. (Bones players use two slightly convex shaped, 7 3/8" pine splints in each hand. When properly applied, they snap together to create a delightful rhythmic, percussive sound.) I've been working sporadically trying to gain a modicum of competence on this particular instrument, thus far with little success.
One folk performer, John McCutcheon, demonstrated virtuosity in clawhammer banjo, bluegrass banjo, flat pick guitar, hammer dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, and piano, all in a one hour show. Interestingly, he was accompanied by a signer. I couldn't figure that out. Can the deaf sense and enjoy music?
Performers came from Australia, Ireland, North Carolina, Montana, Michigan, New York, and of course, Kansas. One of the very best groups hailed from nearby Wichita, started by twin brothers, who first attended the festival as infants. In their formative years as a band, they added their banjo and lead guitar members from musicians they heard at earlier WVF jam sessions.
Like many of you I'm sure, my iTunes collection features a playlist devoted to yodeling, but never before had I heard a song featuring two-part harmonic yodeling, until WVF.
Between 5 and 5:30 pm Stage one featured the top three finishers in the previous day's finger style guitar contest. All were great, but the most memorable was the second place contestant, a young man who came from Osaka, Japan. He won an earlier contest in Japan, and his first place prize was a trip to Winfield, KS for the festival. He should have won first place in my humble opinion.
It's hard to pick a favorite performer, but my choice goes to Jacob Johnson, a solo, spikey-haired, hipster, guitar plucker from NC. He attained the most unique and agreeable sounds from his instrument that I have ever heard. I later encountered him on the midway, introduced myself, and told him how much I enjoyed his music. I asked him how he achieved the harmonic sounds solely with his left hand. He was appreciative and said kindly, "The key is a good pickup so the audience can hear the subtleties, brand new strings, and 20 years of dedicated practice." "Oh! That."
Next year, I'm taking camping gear and will stay for the duration.
A few days ago I was bitten on the tip of my nose by a wasp. The bad news was that it hurt, it made my face swell up, and my appearance scared my granddaughter. My upper lip was roughly the size of my thigh. The good new came from amusing consolations, "Good thing you don't play the trumpet" and "It makes your wrinkles disappear." Better than botox.
I'm pleased to report that my blog http://www.nudenuns.blogspot.com has now eclipsed 5,100 hits. Lamentably, the audience originating in the United States represents less than 60% of the total. The others are, in descending order, Germany, UK, Russia, India, China, and Yemen. France and Romania are coming on strong. Given the lack of known sales to these regions, I can only surmise these are disappointed porn seekers.
That's the news from here.