Thursday, March 21, 2013

Live Session Recording - 3/16/13 at Midnight Brewery

Trae Cairns, the owner of Midnight Brewery in Rockville, VA, asked Laura and I if we could play some tunes there the day before St. Paddy's Day.  I recruited some excellent players to join us: Kathy Whittle (wooden flute and whistle), Andy Cleveland (violin), Lee Owens (guitar) and Chris Hale (mandolin).  Justin Joplin also joined us on clawhammer banjo for some of the tunes.  Like the other two groups I had assembled for music at Midnight, it was the first time that all of us had played together as an ensemble, but it turned out OK and was a lot of fun.

I recorded the session using my Olympus LS-14 recorder.  Below is an embedded player so that you can listen to the recording as you read this post.  If you'd like to view the whole recording, click here.

We set up around some picnic tables in the newly expanded back room/beer garden of the brewery.  It was just Kathy, Lee, Laura and me at first. The first tune we played was Whiskey Before Breakfast. Andy arrived during the tune and joined in on his fiddle, instantly lifting the mood of the music.

After that warm up tune and a few sips of beer, we next played a set of jigs - Tobin's Favorite, Kesh Jig and Connaughtman's Rambles.  I didn't instantly recognize the first jig or the third jig in the set but I kinda got them eventually.  Laura admits to being nervous, but her bodhran playing was spot on all day long, including on these jigs. It's not always audible though, drowned out by foot tapping, due to where I had the recorder placed.

Next I asked Andy and Kathy if they'd like to do the reels Merry Blacksmith and Sally Gardens.  It's a pairing I've heard done before, but I wasn't as familiar with Sally Gardens as I thought I was. Kathy sounds really good here.

We followed with some more jigs - Tripping Up the Stairs and My Darling Asleep.  I remember thinking that was the best I had ever played Tripping Up the Stairs without looking at the music - the recorder may or may not agree!

I then suggested we try playing My Love is In America, a reel that I learned from Eamon O'Leary from a lesson when he was in Williamsburg recently.  Andy went from My Love is in America into a reel that I was unfamiliar with called the Bank of Ireland.

Chris Hale had definitely arrived by this point in the session, and for the next tunes we tried putting Drowsy Maggie and Cooley's Reel together.  Chris isn't real familiar with Irish music, but is a professional level musician and I've heard his band Scattered, Smothered and Covered do Drowsy Maggie so I figured it was a good tune for him to start moving his fingers on.

The next tune was a quick jig played by Andy.  I think he called it Tommy People's Jig.

By now Justin Joplin had his clawhammer banjo out.  He was tuned to D and called for John Ryan's Polka, which he knows from an oldtime jam we both attend.  At the local Irish sessions, John Ryan's often comes after Britches Full of Stitches and Dennis Murphy's Polka.  So we did all three of those polkas, with Justin able to play on the last two since they are in D.

Staying in D, I requested the fiddle tune Liberty, which I think everybody in our impromptu band somehow knew how to play.

Kathy and Andy then dueted on the six-part jig Strayaway Girl (or Strayaway Child), which I have yet to even attempt to learn!  A six-part jig is almost like learning 3 separate tunes.  Maybe some day I'll work on that one.

After that we did the set of Jerry's Beaver Hat and Mug of Brown Ale, which is a popular pairing of jigs.  I used to have to play the B-part of Mug of Brown Ale in a lower octave because I couldn't finger all those high notes cleanly, but I've re-learned it in the higher register and am getting better at playing it that way.

We followed those jigs with an unusual merger of June Apple and Red Haired Boy.  I had been thinking that those would go well together, and it sounded OK for a first time effort.

Andy then played a slow listening piece which I believe is called Coyle's Field House.  I could have the name wrong.  It's a Scottish tune.  I remember thinking that Lee was doing a great job backing that one up, picking it up on the spot. I have to commend Lee for being a standout player all afternoon long.  He wasn't always familiar with the Irish tunes we were doing, but he hung right in there with some really tasteful accompaniment.  Unfortunately the recorder didn't always capture what he was adding to the music.

I then jumped into one of my favorite tunes - Road to Lisdoonvarna - and medleyed it with Star Above the Garter.  Andy added a third slide...either called O'Keeffe's or Denis Murphy's.  It was soon revealed to me that others don't share the same affection for Road to Lisdoonvarna.  I still think it's a great tune though!

I got up to get another beer and while I was gone Lee introduced the theme to Bill Cheatam, and Justin, Chris and Andy all picked up on it, busting into a full-on version of the tune.  I chatted with some folks and listened while they were playing this one.  I knew I recognized it but didn't realize it was Bill Cheatam until they told me.  That would be a good one to learn.

After my brief break, I put down the tenor banjo and got out the tenor guitar, which I would play for the rest of the session.  Since he was now tuned to A, I asked Justin if he could play Road to Malvern on his clawhammer banjo.  It took a few go rounds for us to get in sync on this "new" oldtime number, but the tune was definitely there.

Chris Hale asked if we could play Flowers of Edinburgh.  It had been a long time since I'd played that one, but I was reminded of how good of a tune it is.

That started a string of more Gmajor barndances.  Andy and Kathy played Peach Blossoms, which is one I have got to learn.  Kathy then started into Kilnamona Barndance, which I have been fumbling around on as of late.  I didn't do this one justice, but Kathy played it well. It got going a little faster than the speed she likes to play it at.

I asked Chris if he knew the one called Jimmy in the Swamp and he said yes so we proceeded to play that one, which was a lot of fun.

Next I played the jig The Eavesdropper, which is one that I have recently learned.  I'm hoping others learn it too so that we can play it more.

After that tune, Chris asked if we could play Mooncoin Jig, so we did.  Chris knew it as a two-part tune, but  we play it as a 3-part tune. The three part version prevailed, and it all worked out in the end!  Mooncoin was the only tune for which I looked at the music all day.

Nobody had sung a song yet, and there were starting to be more people in the brewery by this point, so I asked Chris if he wanted to sing one.  He chose the song Roving Gambler and Andy fell right in with some improvised soloing.  It's on songs like this that I become painfully aware of my weaknesses as a player.  I did nothing but just sit there and listen due to my unfamiliarity with hearing chord changes and knowing what to do on a bluegrass song like this.  It should be super easy but it's very difficult for me still.

It was then time to have Andy let loose on a couple of high-energy reels - Boys of Malin and Gravel Walk.  I love these two tunes and they are two that I hope to keep practicing until I can play them well enough to do them justice.

I had brought my new Ten Years of Tunes tunebook, and Andy looked through it and played Lucy Farr's Barndance from the notation in the book.  I had heard Owen Marshall play that tune the week before in a concert with Ari and Mia Friedman, so it's one of those tunes that I know I've got to learn.  In fact the next time that one comes around I'll be ready to play it.

One of my favorite tunes to play is Congress Reel, so I did that one next.  I think it came out OK.

It was getting near the end of the session by this point, but we hadn't yet played the trio of Silver Spear, Maid Behind the Bar and High Reel, so we knocked those out with some enthusiasm and velocity.  I think you can hear Laura's bodhran playing on these!

I had no idea at the time what the next tune was, and kind of played along on auto-pilot. I found out afterward that it was Fisher's Hornpipe, which I supposedly hate, although I recall enjoying it this time.  The act of playing along to a tune you don't know can be very satisfying in some situations, because you are reacting to what you are hearing rather than simply playing rote notes.

The Banshee is a tune Chris had been working on in preparation for this gig, and so he called for that one.  I'm starting to really like that tune again so I'm glad that one came up.

The Banshee was the last tune of the day for the group, although I asked Andy if he knew of any tunes to pair with it, and he quickly played one final tune, which he referred to as "The One That Goes With It".

There you have it.  A tune by tune rundown of our somewhat impromptu session on 3/16/13 at Midnight Brewery.
L to R: Laura Fields, Kathy Whittle, Lanny Fields, Lee Owens, Justin Joplin,
Andy Cleveland (fiddle) and Chris Hale (not pictured)
The above picture is the only one that I know of which was taken that day.


  1. Recordings sound pretty good Lanny! Probably at least a little better than my Zoom H1, good choice! (and good playing :))


    1. Thanks for checking this out Zack! I'm very pleased with the Olympus LS-14. I don't know how to do any mixing or normalizing of the tracks yet. I just upload the full recording into a program that allows me to easily designate the start and stop point for each track. This started as one long recording, out of which I created 30 different tracks.

  2. Session sounded good! I listened to almost all of it while working today, and actually knew most of the tunes as well.

    You may mention this somewhere else on your blog, but what kind of tenor guitar do you play?

    Do you approach tenor guitar playing in more/less the same way as tenor banjo playing?

    As always, thanks for sharing!


    1. Hi Bretterb,
      It was a fun session; greatly enhanced by some top notch players like the fiddle and flute players that were kind enough to participate. I play a Fletcher tenor guitar and posted about it here one time.

      I do approach tenor guitar and tenor banjo playing more or less the same, since I tune them both the same. The tenor guitar has more sustain, so you can get by with fewer plucked notes. It's also quieter and less abrasive than the tenor banjo, so a bit better for blending in. On this recording I find my tenor banjo playing to be annoying, but don't mind it as much once I start playing tenor guitar about half way through. The tenor guitar is very tempermental - and can sound differently on different days. I play both oldtime and Irish tunes, and tend to play the same repertoire on both insturments, however whenever I play a ragtime sounding tune in C I always prefer to play that on tenor banjo, since I think it suits that music better. But I like tenor guitar for fiddle tunes like the kind you would find on Tony Rice or Norman Blake records.