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I guess I'm just not cut out to be a bluegrass jammer . . .

Posted by bj on Sunday, March 8, 2009

Went to the Hellertown Jam today and met Dee (fiddlecat) there. I've been going to this one fairly regularly just because there are so many good musicians, and a few really great fiddlers. And the people there are super nice.

But I realized today that my heart is just not in it. I can noodle along, but I don't really care all that much for the tunes that aren't fiddle tunes, and today that was all but maybe two or three of them. Today they were playing all the twangy stuff, and singing through their noses (WHY do they DO that????)  I'm not yet good enough to improvise much on the fly, and if I don't care to play that twang I doubt I'll get good enough anytime soon.

And I really hate all that bluegrass jam etiquette stuff, and feel that it seriously gets in the way of making great music. A few times today the chop got so loud, with ten or so people chopping, you couldn't even hear the solo, so what's the point? Not to mention that the BG Jam Etiquette Drill Seargeant was in attendance and barking orders, so when I got bored chopping and went to long slow notes he got on my case. I wasn't the only one who ran afoul of his rule book either. Now I know how Dee felt when he got on her at the Hilltown Jam.

Then there's the singing thing. I can belt out a tune. But I'm not there to do that, I'm there to learn how to fiddle better. But because a couple people have heard me singing harmonies on a couple of the choruses I know, they're now after me . . . correction-- they're downright PESTERING me to learn some of these dang songs I don't even like much, just so I can sing lead at this jam. It's flattering that they love my singing that much. But I want to fiddle, not sing. And though I did manage to chop and sing at the same time today, I ended up not doing either all that well when I did them together.

One guy loves my singing so much he wants me in his band. I'm ambivalent about that, as you've probably figured out. He's insistent it will be wonderful. Very insistent. Which makes him yet another man who knows what's best for me after talking to me for maybe ten minutes-- to my reckoning he's number 1,742. And I actually like the guy, which is going to make this "negotiation" (which means me saying no way nohow, while he insists we'll be great together) that much more interesting. And he's one of the ones who will be coming to the Easton OT  jam . . .

The contrast after such a great OT jam last Tuesday really brought it all home to me. I want to play Oldtime all the time. I want to fiddle. I want to play fiddle tunes. That's when I'm happiest. Anything else is just a distraction from the important stuff.

Well, rather than whine about it anymore I have to decide whether to bother going to BG jams or not. Probably not.

I did bring flyers for both the Ken Kolodner Workshop and the Phillipsburg OT Jam. I was surprised that yes, there is interest. Some of the people told me that yes, they will come to the jam, if maybe not to the first one, then to subsequent ones. I also saw some people picking up the flyers I left. One was the Bluegrass Jam Etiquette Drill Seargeant. Oh Joy. Hmm. Actually that might be fun if he shows up. After all, since I organized this Oldtime jam, I get to turn the tables on him. I know he absolutely hates Blackberry Blossom, so maybe I better spend tomorrow brushing up on that one so we can play it four or five dozen times through or so . . .

Another who took a flyer was the weird guy. The one who keeps sneaking up behind me and whispering weird things in my ear while I'm playing, though he didn't do that today since I made sure the way behind me to my ear was blocked at all times. I hope he doesn't show up. Why do I have the feeling he will? Ah, the hell with him. I'll be playing Oldtime, and I'll have friends there to run interference.

Tuesday is only two days away . . .



19 comments on “I guess I'm just not cut out to be a bluegrass jammer . . .”

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, March 8, 2009 @8:24:46 PM

I can of relate. I think I've grown to like Bluegrass over the years,
although I agree with many of the things you dislike, the chopping in particular gets old, and a lot of the bluegrass fiddlers I've seen
do it much. I'm sure you can find some YouTube vids of bluegrass fiddlers doing that- enough for a sheetful of links that you can HAND the etiquette cop next time he tries to bust you!

It's not perfect, but rather than bluegrass jams you might consider
trying to play for contradances, if their is one locally.
It's at least melody & unison oriented, and you will get to play lots and your sense of rhythm and timing will improve loads.
Contradance bands do tend to be sheet music oriented and stylistically bland, but maybe you can spice it up.

Re the guy that wants you in his band. Explain to him that jamming is like dating and being in a band is like marriage- and you're not ready
for the commitment- but you'll be glad to jam with him, no strings attached.

Best of luck avoiding Mr. Weird Whisperer!
And have a good jam!

bj Says:
Sunday, March 8, 2009 @8:36:37 PM

Thanks, Michael.

SMDTMTL Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @11:31:19 AM

Bluegrass and Old Time are dramatically different musics. If you fit in better in Old Time music, to me that's something to be
very happy about.
I can't say anything at all comparing the two... I'm too polarized on the subject.

bj Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @11:46:52 AM

Well, I'm beginning to realize I'm very polarized too. Though I must admit, the other bg jams I went to there, there were a lot more crossover tunes played, and at least it felt okay those times, I didn't feel the total misfit.

This one wasn't that way at all. And the singing thing was an especially annoying distraction this time, since they were on me for most of the jam. Every time someone would go to name a tune, they'd ask if I could sing it. Ack! I didn't mind it so much last time, when it came at the end of the jam, after I'd already fiddled my fingers sore, and we were doing a lot of Carter Family and old Johnny Cash stuff, which is fun AND seems more rooted in OT somehow.

Jessi Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @2:52:46 PM

I understand too, BJ.
I've played in large OT jams, and small (4 or 5) bluegrass jams.
Personally I like the jams where almost everyone plays the same song, at the same time. My main OT jam is a cross. We play mostly fiddle tunes, but everyone takes breaks. After 5-8 people vie for breaks on a tune, I am tired of sitting still and want to go home. We have some really great players - and I love hearing what they can do on the solos, but frankly - that's why I have a CD collection, not why I jam.
All jams evolve over time, and I've found that it's not too hard to nudge them a bit here and there.

I'm sorry you have to deal with creepy guy at a jam. What a bummer. I think if it were me, I'd STOP playing right in the middle of the tune and say Very Very loudly,

"I'M SORRY! I CAN't HEAR YOU OVER MY FIDDLE!!".

It would stop the jam, and draw lots of attention to him. Once others in the jam know, you'll have people on the lookout to support you. Jam groups (like most music groups) communicate a lot nonverbally. You don't have to "tell" on him, just draw some attention.

ChickenMan Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @2:54:35 PM

It's apples and oranges for me.
I love fiddle tunes and OT fiddling. I love bluegrass for the harmony singing and could, in all honesty, give a hoot about fiddling BG style. I fiddle in a bluegrass band (otherwise I would just play mando and sing!) because my bandmates crave the fiddle and they like my OT stylings in their BG setting.
I do find that the affected nasal singing to be a bit much. I know they are emulating Bill Monroe and others, but their regional talking voice is/was nasal. My taste is towards those who sing like they talk, if that makes any sense. No pretense of being from Kentucky or being a southerner (a couple of the boys I play with start talking with that twang when they get on stage even though they are from Wisconsin and Utah -- Lame, I know), just clear toned singing in the voice what the good Lord gave ya.

ChickenMan Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @2:56:51 PM

I meant to say, Bill Monroe and others had/have a nasal dialect...

bj Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @3:08:44 PM

Jessi, I had a similar thought about dealing with him, but I've had experience in the past with a stalker personality, and this guy makes me feel some of the same way. Better to just stay as far away from him as possible, which is another reason for me wanting to jam elsewhere. Now, if he pulls the same shite at the OT jam? I have someone (very male and very large) I can talk to about it who will politely call him outside and then make sure he stays away from me.

ChickenMan, so I'm not the only one who gets weirded out by guys from PA and NJ who start talking like they're from down south the minute they start playing this stuff! And that nasally whiny singing just gets on my major NERVE. I really wish you were closer, my friend. I'd love to play some tunes with someone who will never pretend to be anyone other than who he is!

curlyrayfan Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @3:41:17 PM

Oh man...if you know me I'm stuck sort of in the middle. I love bluegrass and thats what I play, but i love the oldtime SOUND as well. Like Ralph Stanley music: its bluegrass, but it has an oldtime flavor in it.

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @3:47:40 PM

> Today they were playing ... singing through their noses (WHY do they DO that????)

> Bill Monroe and others had/have a nasal dialect.

Well, this lends depth of meaning to the term "honky." Wikipedia had some fascinating etymological facts under "honky tonk" (e.g., there were upright pianos made under the brand Tonk).

I count myself fortunate that the mixed jam that I attend twice a month is flexible and not so high-strung. We have clawhammer and 3-pickers playing side by side, and we have the liberty to noodle to our hearts' content without a BG drill sergeant yelling at us. I'm lucky that we have a lot of OT jams scattered about; the only negative is that they are widely scattered and can be hard to get to in the course of a month's competing activities.

Add my name to ranks of the opinionated. I have not forgiven country music for degenerating since the Carters into just another sub-genre of pop music.

bj Says:
Monday, March 9, 2009 @4:17:32 PM

curlyrayfan, when they play the older stuff that has its roots sunk deeply in the OT, I enjoy it. So we're not quite as far apart as you might think. Besides, you definitely have more than a foot on my side of this particular fence. You love Lester McCumbers' fiddling! Curly Ray put a bit of the OT dig in his bow too, when he was playing, even if he did call it BG fiddling. He was a highly rhythmic fiddler!

It's actually more the jam format than the music, most times, though as I've said, the music this time wasn't the stuff that sounds more oldtimey, like it has been sometimes at past jams. And there's also the weird guy.

FiddlerFaddler, that wikipedia article is a HOOT!

Gottasmilealot Says:
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 @7:54:43 PM

Play whatever music you desire, it's all good. Good to see another jam starting up.... although, I think it's only fair that Pennsylvania has had the czar of jam etiquette long enough, isn't it New Jersey's turn? :-) Please don't let the actions of a few turn you off to a music style. There are similar folks in old time music also. There will always be a percentage of the population that are nudges.

bj Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @7:04:18 AM

LOL! Yeah, you're right, Gottasmilealot! There will always be nudges!

I had the nudge in the back of my brain last night at our first P'burg OT jam, when one of the (very new) fiddlers, in a conversation, told me the (written) music he had brought were songs he wrote and he hoped to get to play them. I told him that I'd love to meet up with him sometime to work on his stuff, but that since the jam was advertised as a traditional music jam the jam might not be the best place for it, since it wasn't what the players were expecting. I tried to be gentle and un-nudge-like!

Jessi Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @12:50:56 PM

Good job BJ - I think I get the most annoyed at a Jam when someone tries to bring in a song he or she's written.

I know they hope we'll jam along, but it's actually very boring for most of us.

What you said was very nice, polite, and to the point. I may borrow it!

bj Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @12:56:12 PM

Please do, Jessi! I'm glad I was on the right track. I hate hurting anyone's feelings, but I also don't want people feeling free to show up with sitars and sheet music and expecting us to play whatever.

playmorebluegrass Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @6:57:18 PM

hey bj. i think you should go listen to that guy's band first before you tell him that you'd sing with him, but give him a chance it might be just what you need....it might just give you a chance to learn some of those new fiddle songs in a smaller group that's catered to YOu...just a thought☺

bj Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @7:22:42 PM

Yeah, Jen, I probably shouldn't shut him down completely, and should at least give him some leeway in a jam setting like Michael suggested.

But to explain from my perspective-- I played "frontman" in a band for years and never ever liked it. I don't like all that attention. Never did, never will. Whenever I got offstage everybody wanted a piece of me one way or another, and if I wanted the gig owners to keep paying us I had to keep my mouth shut and smile, even though I just wanted to tell them all to go to hades and leave me alone. :-) Which is eventually what I did anyway, which effectively ended my gig with that band. And it was a huge relief. I love to sing, don't get me wrong. I even don't mind doing it in a jam setting. But with the Bluegrassers, whose music is focussed on a good vocalist, they hear me and the dollar signs appear in their eyes, and all of a sudden they're trying to make me into a commodity again.

Fiddlechickaroo Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @8:02:17 PM

That's funny. You made me laugh! (You are a good writer, by the way!) :)

bj Says:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 @8:11:40 PM

Thanks Jen. And I'm not the funny one, janepaints is!

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