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A Strange Bluegrass Jam... and a Strange Experience.

Posted by fiddlepogo on Saturday, May 22, 2010

Today was the day for the monthly Bluegrass jam.  I knew it would be different, because the lady guitarist who hosts the jam said she'd be at a family wedding.  But I expected it to be business as usual otherwise.  Expecting the usual, I warmed up on all the popular fiddle tunes they were likely to play at the Bluegrass jam.  I was going to skip the first hour because it's so intense I can't handle three straight hours of it!   Then I remembered the trunk was filled with recycling (I drink a LOT of mineral water), and I HAD to drop that off first!

So I got there a bit after 3, expecting the place to be packed...and there's 3 people there- an intermediate guitarist who wasn't playing much, a friend who plays clawhammer banjo and harmonica, and a southpaw guitarist who hails from the Ozarks originally, and does as much Nashville country as bluegrass, and also likes to sing bluegrass gospel.

I brought two fiddles, Booker the Bucharest for fiddle tunes, and the Eastman (my newest one) for improv on songs.

It came my turn, and they asked me to sing one.  Using a guitar puts me more in bluegrass singing mode, so the intermediate guitarist let me borrow his.  And the southpaw and I did "Wabash Cannonball" right next to, actually facing each other.

And our guitar motions were matched almost perfectly, and when we were singing harmony on the chorus, we were reading each others lips to get the timing right, so our mouths were moving in synch- it was as if I was watching myself play guitar in the mirror, except it wasn't my face!!!

WEIRD feeling!!!

From what he said, HE'S used to it, happens to him all the time- but it was a new one on me!

Then, a lady came by who's a singer who mostly does female barbershop, but she likes all kinds of folk too.  She sang a song that sounds a lot like "Wayfaring Stranger" IIRC, but different words, and a slight tweak to the melody... it didn't sound very promising as we tried Em... then Gm... but when we tried D minor, it clicked, way better than it ever has (I've tried playing that with her a couple of times, I think in E minor)... a kind of spooky Shady Grove style fiddle part just fell into place.  Then she had to go.

Later, Ed the southpaw got into a gospel mood, and sang a few I knew, so it was easy (and fun) to do harmonies on the choruses.  (There were two albums that really imprinted bluegrass harmonies on me, including gospel numbers- one was a Stanley Brothers album and the other was a Blue Sky Boys album.)

The way the jam turned out was totally unexpected, but it was kind of nice to really try and match my fiddle playing and harmony to one singer.

It did occur to me to sing "Where the Soul Never Dies" with the fiddle- I'd never tried that before, and it worked really well... I'll have to remember to do that one again that way!!!  And Ed knew it, so he did the harmony part, which is really cool for that one.

It's funny how well the new fiddle works for bluegrass jams, and really any time I have to do improv or something I'm not really confident on- the mellower tone allows me to relax, and take risks.  But for well-honed fiddle tunes, or anything Old Timey, I like the bite that the Knilling Bucharest has... it just sounds right, and the Eastman sounds wrong.  And because I practice mostly fiddle tunes at home, the Eastman stays in its case most of the time.

I had heard of fiddlers who kept a different fiddle for waltzes and a different one for fiddle tunes- I didn't understand then, but now I do.  (The Eastman is also good on waltzes)

5 comments on “A Strange Bluegrass Jam... and a Strange Experience.”

bj Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @5:39:44 AM

I used to think that a lightly attended jam was a sign of failure on my part as an organizer. Now I just go with the flow, and realize that magic can happen when there are only a few players. Or it turns into a great teaching/slow jam if only the novice fiddlers show up. It's all good.

mudbug Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @6:02:54 AM

That's a great feeling, when you mesh with anouther musician. Takes it to anouther plane.

Feodosia Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @6:07:15 AM

For me , the smaller the jam - the better the jam .
Especially if we're all on the same wavelength :-)

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @7:41:11 AM

Yep, I've had that feeling too, that connection. It's like you don't need to say anything; you just know that the two of you have some sort of connection.
And I've met a few fiddlers who always bring two fiddles for different songs, etc. Glad you had a good time.

frogeyes Says:
Monday, May 24, 2010 @7:49:17 PM

Awesome its great when you have those moments and sometimes the smaller jams are the better ones

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