Friday, July 26, 2013

Old-Time Atlas: an online resource for old-time music festivals, contests, gatherings and workshops in The United States

Check out The Old-Time Atlas.  It's a comprehensive listing of old-time music events and gatherings happening year-round throughout the United States, arranged by State and by Month, and/or displayed on a map.  A brief description of each event is included.  The Old-Time Atlas was started in 2013 by two old-time music enthusiasts in East Tennessee.

You can sign up to join their mailing list (for monthly calendar updates), and make use of their Festival Guide for the year of 2013, which includes information on over 200 old-time music festivals / workshops.  You can also submit an event for listing on the Old-Time Atlas using this form.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Grateful Dead's 8/27/72 "Sunshine Daydream" concert to be shown in theaters on 8/1

Deadheads speak in numbers, such as 5/8/77, 10/27/79, 4/19/82, 10/9/89 and so on.  These are the dates of classic and/or particularly memorable shows.  One such date always referred to with reverence is 8/27/72 at the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, Oregon.  This sun-drenched and acid-drenched marathon of a concert is considered to be one their best of all time; very representative of the Dead’s early 70’s country rock meets Bitches Brew sound.
A video bootleg for this show has circulated for decades, shot on 16mm film with no shortage of footage of naked, dancing hippie chicks and other crazy weird happenings, both on stage and off.  Rumors of the film, nicknamed “Sunshine Daydream”, being officially released have been going around for years, to no avail. 

Well, the wait is no more because apparently Sunshine Daydream has been restored/remastered and will be shown in movie theaters nation-wide on Thursday, August 1, 2013 as part of the 3rd Annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies, always held on Jerry Garcia’s birthday (August 1).

Bonus features include never-before-seen footage from the concert day as well as recently recorded interviews with participants including Ken Babbs, Sam Cutler, Wavy Gravy and Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia.  The film also features appearances by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir - 8/27/72
The concert itself was over three hours long, so I don’t know if they will be showing the whole thing.  The press release I read said it will include the songs “Bird Song,” “Dark Star,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Jack Straw,” “Playing In The Band,” “Promised Land,” “El Paso,” “Sing Me Back Home”, “China Cat Sunflower,” and “I Know You Rider.”  That’s pretty meaty, even if it is just a portion of the music played that day.  The vintage shots of the trippy folks in the crowd will be entertaining as well.

Locally it will be shown at the Cine Bistro at Stony Point Fashion Park and at Regal Virginia Center at Virginia Center Commons.  If outside of Richmond, check local listings for your area.  If it’s anything like last year, part of the fun will be seeing Deadheads taking over the adjacent Texas Roadhouse restaurant for a little pre-game party at the Virginia Center location while regular people there for a Thursday night steak dinner look on in bewilderment.  A good time is bound to be had by all!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Augusta Irish, Boxwood Lunenburg, and Joe Mooney Summer School are all next week!

I’m feeling a little bittersweet this week, because the Augusta Heritage Irish/Celtic Week is next week – July 21 to 26 - in Elkins, WV and I won't be there.  I attended last year and took part in the Irish tenor banjo class.  It was the first (and so far only) week-long music camp that I ever attended.  Here’s a video about Augusta Irish week.

I’m not sure how much I actually learned during the week at Augusta, but more than anything it motivated me to delve deeper into learning music.  I kinda wish I was going back this year, or at least could be a fly on the wall at the late night sessions in the Icehouse pub on campus.
Davis and Elkins campus - site of Augusta Irish/Celtic week
Oddly enough, at least two other Irish music themed instructional weeks are also taking place next week:  Boxwood Canada in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and Joe Mooney Summer School in the tiny village of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim, Ireland.
Lunenburg, NS Canada
Lunenburg is already at the top of my list of places to visit, and the fact that there’s an event like Boxwood there each summer makes it even more enticing.  A cool feature of the Boxwood festival is that all similar pitch instruments are allowed in any class.  Participants are encouraged to take a variety of classes each day so that throughout the course of the week, you will have met with a variety of teachers across a multiple of disciplines.
Session in Drumshanbo Ireland
Jumping across the Atlantic, if the number of instructors listed on the website is any indication, the Joe Mooney Summer School must be huge!  I counted over 50 instructors, with all the traditional Irish instruments represented.  How awesome would it be to attend an Irish week in Ireland?!

Oh well.  At least I am going to the Appalachian String Band Festival (AKA “Clifftop”) for a few days in late July.  Clifftop is more hillbilly than blarney, but it’s still a lot of fun!  And cheap!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


The text below is from "Woodshedding and The Jazz Tradition" by Paul Klemperer  on

When a jazz musician comes wailing out of the gate, spinning riffs and complex runs, fellow musicians will appreciatively murmur: "Cat's been shedding!" Alternately, when a player's ego outmatches his technique, his peers may suggest he spend more time in the woodshed. Woodshedding is the nuts-and-bolts part of jazz, the place where you work out the techniques that form the foundation of your improvisational ability.

The term woodshedding in jazz means more than just practicing. It is a recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public. There's something philosophical, almost religious, about the term. The musical treasures of jazz are not easily accessed. You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself, become focused on the music and your instrument, before you can unlock the treasure chest.

At the same time, woodshedding is a process of demystifying the music. The amazing solo, the intricate bebop melody, the complex rhythmic pattern, can be learned, if one is patient. It is a humbling but necessary chore, like chopping wood before you can start the fire. The term woodshedding, like the term "axe" (slang for your musical instrument), evokes images of rural, rootsy beginnings. It is a reminder, conscious or not, of the deep roots jazz has in the blues, gospel, and the merging of African and European musical traditions under slavery.

Woodshedding is an outgrowth of the aural tradition in jazz, where a player works out by ear and intuition the music he or she heard played in public. While many jazz musicians have also been trained in written music, jazz improvisation developed aurally and orally, as older musicians passed on their innovations and discoveries to the younger, both through live performances and jam sessions and then, later, through recordings.  The common theme between jazz and other musical woodshedding is the emphasis on the aural discovery of the right sounds, a trial-and-error process that hones your musicianship.

There is a lot of folklore and legend associated with woodshedding. Bebop legend Charlie Parker, after his embarrassing attempts to solo at several Kansas City jam sessions, spent the entire summer of 1937 honing his technique while playing a resort gig in the Ozarks. He took all of Count Basie's records, from which he learned all the Lester Young saxophone solos. At the end of this marathon woodshedding session, he reemerged as a mature player to be reckoned with.

John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, both modern jazz innovators and saxophone legends, were renowned for their dedication to practicing and investigating new musical ideas. They would practice all day, and then practice between sets at their gigs, when the other musicians were hitting the bar and hitting on women. Coltrane in particular served as an example of the spiritual discipline that can be part of woodshedding.

Now that jazz is taught in universities and high schools, aspiring musicians have a multitude of resources for learning the art. There are a plethora of books, videos, even computer software for learning jazz improvisation. Woodshedding in the 21st century has taken on new forms. Still, the idea of woodshedding has not changed. Any musician who wants to be part of the jazz tradition has to pay his or her dues. You still have to take your axe in hand, go to the woodshed, and chop that wood before you can light the fire.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Camping - Things to Bring to an Oldtime Music Festival

Clifftop - Photo by Kathy Brown
Clifftop, which spans the last week of July/first part of August, will be my first oldtime music camping excursion of the summer, having missed Mt. Airy, Highland County, Elk Creek, and some of the others that come before it.  We’ll be setting up camp a few days before the festival officially begins, when the crowds are thinner and not all the vendors are set up yet.  This requires a bit more planning.  Rockbridge is another mountain music festival my wife and I are going to later this season.  After some haphazard camping last year, I’ve started to make a...


Musical instrument(s).  Duh.

Tent – this is car camping, not backpacking, so why not get a roomy, comfortable tent that you can stand up in?  Preferably one that will keep you dry during the inevitable rainstorms.  I just nabbed the Eureka Copper Canyon on sale for $154 online.  The REI Hobitat also looks like a good choice, but is a bit more expensive.  Both of these tents are tall enough to stand up in.

Shelter – last year I bought the REI Alcove shelter and like it a lot.  Easy to set up.  Does well in the wind and rain.
Propane camp stove and grill table.  If you plan on making some of your own meals, this is a must.  Camping World seems to have the best prices on these types of camp tables.  See here and here.

Sleeping Pad/Mattress – I’ve had bad luck with big air beds – they always seem to leak air overnight.  However, the thin, lightweight sleeping pads designed for backpackers like the Therm-a-Rest are surprisingly comfortable and durable.  I’ve also considered using a portable foam pad, like these Tri-Fold Exercise Mats.

Armless Folding Chairs for jamming.  The locker room timeout stools that basketball players use would be perfect for taking to festivals, but I can’t find anyone willing to sell a small quantity of these chairs.  The best thing I can find are these small folding chairs on Amazon. 

Here are some other miscellaneous things to remember to bring:
Baby wipes
Bug spray
Coffee Percolator/French Press
Cups and mugs
Digital Recorder
Duct tape
Ear plugs
Extra strings, picks
First aid kit
Flip flops for the shower
Food and snacks
Ground cover footprint
Hand sanitizer
Ibuprofen and antacids
Instrument stand
Jumper cables
Mallet for driving in tent stakes
Oven mitts
Paper and pen
Paper plates and plastic utensils
Paper towels
Piss jug – for when you don’t feel like leaving your tent
Pocket knife
Portable phone charger
Pot and/or pan
Rain gear
Reusable water bottle
Sleeping bag
Sun screen
Tapestries for shade/decoration
Toilet paper
Trash bags
Warm clothes
Zip lock bags

Can you think of anything else? 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Google Flights – search for flights without having to select a destination

The other day I was wishing there was a flight search site that didn’t require you to put in a “To” airport so you could compare estimated flight costs from your chosen airport(s) to multiple destinations around the globe.  Then I found Google Flights, which does exactly that.

On Google Flights you can enter your flight dates and “From” airport while leaving the destination airport blank.  The search results will bring up a map displaying flight costs to airports all over the world.  You can refine your search by selecting your maximum number of stops, cost, travel time and more. 

For example, I selected random dates in October as a test, flying out of Reagan National (DCA) and other nearby airports with a maximum of one stopover and maximum price of $600.  The results showed me a variety of airports in the USA, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico and South America that met this criteria. 
Google Flights screen shot
Then I de-selected any price or stops maximum to get a sense of what it would cost to fly to places across the ocean and beyond.  I once-again realized that it’s still probably too expensive to consider returning to the UK or Europe, but flights to Peru, Curacao or Nova Scotia could be within my travel budget.

You might have to play around with the options a bit to make sure that you’re not missing some potential destinations.  For instance, someone recently told me that flights to the island of Roatan in Honduras were relatively cheap.  Although it didn’t show up on the search results, I found the Roatan airport Coxen Hole on the map (it’s Southeast of Belize City) and once I clicked on the light-blue colored dot some flights did come up under $600.  I would not have seen that had I not checked.

But, other than that, Google Flights is a pretty awesome flight search engine that you can have fun with by selecting different varieties of options.  Maybe it’s time to consider a long weekend in Boston or Miami?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why do the Tunes All Sound the Same?

The Tunes All Sound The Same
One comment that casual listeners to traditional music often make is that the tunes all sound the same.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  This music was originally intended to be danced to in the days before recorded music.  Dancers required melodies with consistent rhythms and tempos to suit the steps they were making.  Usually this amounted to an 8 measure A part (played twice) and an 8 measure B part (played twice):  an AA/BB format that could be repeated an unlimited number of times.  These similarities in structure can make it difficult to distinguish between the tunes.
Nope, the Tunes All Sound Different
Anyone who plays this music or really listens to it starts to realize that each tune is different.  The more familiar you get the more unique they become (and/or you learn to see the similarities in a different way).  Those musicians playing for the dancers could have probably gotten by on a handful of tunes, and I’m sure that some of them did.  However, it’s not unusual for an experienced fiddle player to have a repertoire of several hundred tunes – knowing how to specifically play each individual tune, rather than play “at” or “around” them. 

Compare To Bluegrass
Tunes are instrumental.  Songs have lyrics.  A large number of bluegrass songs have essentially the same melody and chord changes, so a bluegrass musician can apply the same licks and solos to a wide variety of songs and have it seem different because of the verse/chorus aspect.  On the contrary, with instrumental tunes you might be playing the exact melody note for note but to the layperson it still sounds the same as all the other tunes because of the lack of singing.  I suppose that’s why the people that love traditional music the most are the ones that play it, while the people who just want to listen and be entertained gravitate toward more performance-oriented forms of music.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Are There Any Irish Fiddler’s Conventions?

Searching for an Irish Trad equivalent to the Oldtime Festival.

In the Southern Appalachian region of the USA there are fiddler’s conventions and stringband festivals all summer long:  Mt. Airy, Highland County, Elk Creek, Clifftop, Galax, Rockbridge, Hoppin’ John’s, and many more.  These events often have competitions, concerts, and dances that appeal to the public, but for a lot of oldtime musicians it’s the non-stop jamming and camaraderie in the camping areas that are the main draw. 
Oldtime Festival - jamming at campsite
For a nominal fee, folks gather for a loooong weekend to sit around and churn out the tunes.  Some hardcore players never even leave their campsite to see what’s happening on a stage.  I don’t know of an equivalent in the Celtic world, where trad musicians camp out and simply play tunes for days on end. 

Sure, there’s the Irish music instructional weeks like Augusta, Swannanoa, Catskills and MAD Week, but at these events participants fork out hundreds of dollars for morning and afternoon music classes with world class instructors plus attendance to discussions and evening concerts, with accommodations provided in dorm rooms or cheap hotels.  There is some jamming by way of instructor-led sessions at pre-determined times of the day, and/or impromptu nightly sessions once all the classes and concerts are out of the way, but it’s different than the informal jamming done at all hours of the day and night at an oldtime festival.
Irish session - in a pub!
The other type of Celtic festival is performance-oriented, featuring your typical Celtic Rock and Riverdance inspired acts putting on a show for the Guinness drinking set, along with other attractions like large men throwing stuff and young girls dancing jigs n' reels to pre-recorded muzak.  These festivals lack the session component, or at least it  is nowhere near as comprehensive as the fiddler’s conventions.

There are certainly enough Irish musicians to support a campout festival where the primary purpose is to simply get together and play session tunes, without having to have a classroom component.  I wonder... is it a difference in personality and needs, with the earthy oldtime musicians content to camp out in rustic conditions and learn through observation of other fiddlers and banjo players, while city-minded Celtic enthusiasts prefer the comforts of an cozy pub session and/or personal instruction from a master of his or her chosen instrument?

Mandolinist David Benedict’s Kickstarter Album Project

David Benedict
The young mandolin player David Benedict has started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his full-length debut CD of original progressive bluegrass tunes.  He’ll be recording it this September in Nashville.  The Grammy-nominated mandolinist Matt Flinner is on board to produce the album.

David is currently completing a degree in mandolin performance at Bryan College in Dayton, TN, where he has had the opportunity to study a wide variety of music, ranging from Bluegrass and Oldtime to Celtic, Classical, and Jazz.  These eclectic influences are reflected in the instrumental tunes that David composes.  Like the mandolin pioneers that came before him, David Benedict strives to write tunes that blend tradition and innovation.

The Kickstarter campaign expires on July 21st.  You can learn more about it here:

Below is a video of David playing his version of the traditional tune Big Sciota.