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A dilemma-- Greenwood Furnace? Or Fireback?

Posted by bj on Sunday, July 6, 2008

So, I just found out that there are two things I want to do.

One is a three day Old Time Fiddler Workshop at Greenwood Furnace in Central PA,

 and which will focus on PA and WV fiddle tradition (how SWEET!) and has some very fine teachers who will be on board, including the Druckenmillers, who are our local old timey players (and who are playing at Quiet Valley this coming weekend, btw!) The Greenwood Furnace event is three days of workshops and jamming and in the area I'm considering moving to over the next couple years, so it's also a chance to explore the area a bit more and maybe meet some of the local folks and check out the music scene.

The other is the Fireback Fiddle and Banjo Contest in Oxford NJ

which is being run by none other than MY TEACHER, Steve Martin of And I have to say that Steve just surprised the living daylights outta me by suggesting that I enter the contest. (OHMIGOD! I'm SO not ready for that! But he's my very well respected teacher . . . and he wants me to. ACK!!!! Hide the razor blades!) He also suggested that it's way past time I meet some of the local players and do some jamming, and I am sorry to admit he's right about that, but I'm so damned aware of how awful I am that it's embarassing to even think about.

Now the real dilemma. They're on the same weekend.

So, do I honor my teacher and attend the very close to home one day event that horrifies me to even think about as a CONTESTANT, and meet people Steve wants me to meet? Or do I go to the event I really want to go to, but that is a lot further away (approximately 110 miles) with gas prices the way they are, and a much larger time commitment, and is also me travelling that far alone to meet with a bunch of strangers, most of whom I'll probably never see again?

Steve, being the guy he is, suggested I try to talk with some folks who have attended the Greenwood Furnace weekend in the past and try to gauge if it would be a good event for me to attend. In his words-- "Those things are usually either painfully slow, or frustratingly fast. The bigger  the group, the more that is true. But - record record record. Even if  the workshop is just your speed, you'll forget more than you'll  remember because so much is covered in such a short time. As far as this particular camp is concerned, see if you can talk to  someone who's been to get the low down. It's always a gamble on its value going in cold. I played at a camp sometime ago where the  workshops lasted about an hour a day, and no one broke into groups to jam afterward, only cook and shoot the breeze. See what you can find out. I took a class at Swannanoa, and by 8pm it was dead. No jams, no nothing, only crickets. I find the ones folkie oriented tend to be that way. Old Time, bluegrass, and Cajun, nobody ever seems to go to bed." He also said, "If you opt not to go, I strongly suggest entering Fireback. And the one in Howell as well. The stage time, the experience, to 'networking' is worth it. Even a couple simple tunes to play. It's not about winning (okay, it is for some people), it's about playing and sharing the experience. Okay, I'm off my little soapbox."  He strongly suggests. Strongly suggests. Those two words keep repeating in my brain. I mean, the guy is my teacher. And the only other thing he's ever strongly suggested is buying a new bow.

The other issue about going to Greenwood Furnace is that they stress that those participating in any of the instrumental workshops are "for all levels beyond beginner". Steve assures me I'm "intermediate", but damn. I don't feel like I'm intermediate. I still feel like I can barely make any good noise with this devil's box.

My only chance of speaking with anyone who has attended Greenwood Furnace is either at Quiet Valley this coming weekend,or HERE on the Fiddle Hangout. I also value your opinion about the general dilemma too. I just plain don't feel even CLOSE to ready to play in front of people in such an exposed way. It would be much gentler to kind of sit back in a jam thingie and quietly add things here and there and feel my way into playing with others. I've been doing that with Suze a bit, but I know she's totally non-judgmental about things and very supportive. I have no assurances of that with a contest. I betcha if I even start to consider it seriously I'll be having nightmares of getting booed off stage. The workshop sounds easier to ease into, though the drive is more than a bit long, and going alone isn't ideal.


12 comments on “A dilemma-- Greenwood Furnace? Or Fireback?”

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @2:16:33 PM

Oooh.  That's a toughie.
Aside from gas, which is no mean consideration these days
(is your vehicle a gas-sipper or a gas-guzzler?),
you should consider your stamina level and how you sleep in
festival/camping situations.
I dream of going to a big eastern festival, but the reality
is that after the first 6 hours, I would be washed up, done, done, done, and want to go home!
One day events where I get to sleep in my own bed at night
are appealing as well.

Griggsy is a toe biter? I'm glad he's not my cat... we would not get along!

If you go to the local one, you have the option of NOT
entering the contest... if you aren't emotionally ready for it
(and it certainly sounds like you aren't) don't do it...
better to put it off when you're more likely to have a good experience than fall all apart and be mortified.

Have you ever tried an earplug in your left ear?
You may be extra sensitve to treble, like I am.
In addition to protecting my hearing (I already have tinnitis in that ear and don't want it getting worse) it allows me to hear the fiddle from a little farther away through the right ear, and
it doesn't sound NEARLY as scratchy.  Doing this has greatly
improved my confidence playing in public.

bj Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @4:20:10 PM

Well, the camping thing is a no brainer for me. I worked the outdoor antiques show circuit for many years and camped out for a week at a stretch all summer long. I've got a setup that gives me a camp more like "The General" than the foot soldiers, including a butane stove for cooking gourmet food, a 10' x 10' tent I can stand up in, and camp chairs that are as comfortable as anything in my house. And I do drive a pickup truck with a cap, so if it ends up being wet, then worst case is I KNOW I can sleep totally dry in the bed of the pickup. And the outlay for the whole shebang, workshop fee and camping, is only around a hundred bucks so if it's awful weather or (though I doubt it will be) an awful scene, I can just pack it in and come home without feeling a huge hole in my wallet. Actually, I'd probably blue highway it home and poke in every antique shop along the route home for old fiddles. *wicked grin*

Re mileage, around 20 per. Not great, but not the worst either. It is a bit of a consideration, but not a huge one.

Re the earplug. I think I might try that. I did damage my eardrum way back when on that side. So it's possible that might make a difference. Maybe not. You obviously haven't heard my one (awful) mp3 that I was too embarassed to put in the playlist. ;)

And yes, you're right. I can opt for Fireback without competing. Though in truth, I usually don't fall apart. I've been performing since I was a wee child. It just would be preferable to give a creditable performance, rather than be embarassed. I don't expect to win anything in this or any other contest for many many years. I am just as Humbled by the fiddle as Humbled By This Instrument is.

Re my wayward feline, Briggsy is only a toe biter when he's absolutely totally pissed at me and sure he can get away with it due to my distraction. He only gets that pissed at me when I'm hurting his ears with my fiddle. He's named after the Briggs and Stratton Engine, btw. The name came about because when I'm not playing fiddle he constantly sounds just like a running Briggs & Stratton. He's been getting a bad rap on here since he hates the fiddle. Most times he's the loviest and loveliest cat I've ever had. The fiddle is our only real bone of contention.

brya31 Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @5:28:22 PM

bj,   if I was in your situation I would opt for the local one and not enter the contest.  I think it would benefit you to meet more people in your area that you can eventually jam with and learn new things from.  That is just my opinion though, I am by far not the one to give fiddle advice though.

bj Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @5:53:32 PM

brya31, thank you. Though I'm going to reserve judgment until after my lesson this coming week AND the Old Time event this coming weekend where I'll be able to talk to folks who will be going to the workshop, I am leaning more toward the local event myself, though I'm really wishing these were on two different weekends.

Steve has been great. He deserves my support and respect, especially since he gives me way way more than my money's worth. Once I have more information I'll talk it over with him and make my decision.

coelhoe Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @6:12:51 PM

I don't really understand encouraging even an "intermediate" to enter a well-known contest, unless your teacher feels that you need the anxiety of on-stage performing to improve. Even though we typically have "novice" divisions out here (Wyoming) in local contests, I still would not encourage a new player to enter. What's the point? And what about the cost in entry fees? I wonder if he is trying to build up the attendance since this is his event. Stay in your area and play with friends. Forget contests. They are not about loving the music. Dennis

bj Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @6:16:24 PM

fiddlepogo, a huge wad of cotton in my left ear does help. Though I still can hear the slightly "off" notes that only scales, scales, scales and more scales seem to diminish, I don't sound nearly as scratchysquawky as I do when I have that ear unblocked. The tone sounds much clearer than I expect. So maybe there is hope for me. :)

bj Says:
Sunday, July 6, 2008 @6:33:33 PM

Dennis, I don't think this is a huge contest, just a small but fairly respected local one in its 9th year. And there is no entry fee.

Other than that I'm sure that you're mostly right. I haven't been to this contest ever, but I've been to a few others. They used to be fun years ago, but not the last couple I went to. If I do stay close to home I won't be competing. I don't need that kind of stress. I would like to meet some local folks who play though.

As to what Steve's motivations are in suggesting I compete, though I don't know exactly what they are, I do know him well enough to ascribe no malice nor "throw her in the deep end" psychology to his suggestion. I'd like to think he might wanna show me off as one of his more successful students, but I'm realistic enough about my playing to know he'd be foolish to do so. Which is a bit of a puzzler, since Steve is no fool.

coelhoe Says:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 @8:15:09 AM

bj: Here's some more thoughts on all this: I read through the contest material. From my experience, it is an odd sort of event in that they divide the contest up according to style. Out west, you play what you play and the best player wins, regardless of style. I am also concerned about contests that don't announce who the judges are, or which are not specific about judging arrangements, mainly that the judges are sequestered and that their decisions are based only on the sound of the playing. "Two tunes, different tempos..." is a bit odd as well, and sounds more like a crowd-pleaser than an actual contest. A typical format is hoedown, waltz, plus tune of choice different from the first two, but maybe things are different in eastern contests. The key to this event is the support they are getting from public funding agencies. I figure they have close to $4,000 in prize money, which is respectable. Judges are typically paid the same as a first-place winner and event like this should have at least four judges, three at a time in a rotation. So add in another $1200, plus a supplement for travel. Then the contest director is probably paid at least that much plus travel costs, so add in another $2000. Even after nine years, this event would not exist without substantial public funding. When I worked for a public funding agency many years ago, we were always cautious about events that had a much larger administrative cost than what they offered in prizes, in other words if they paid a contest director an amount equal to half the event budget, or even more. I'm not suggesting that is what is happening here, but it is odd that the contest organizer lives so far from the event. On the other hand, if you are interested, the Warren County Cultural and Heritage Commission is a public agency and therefore is required to make public the budget for the event. We were also cautious about events that could begin to be self-supporting after three years. From the photos, I estimate about 200 people, pretty small given the population base, which says something about the event's publicity budget. Of course, none of this musing has much to do with whether you should go and enter or not, but I'll bet, given the current economy and cut backs in travel, the organizers are worried about a small number of contestants.

bj Says:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 @8:54:47 AM

Dennis, I think you may be right about the number of contestants and the gas price issues. Oxford NJ is a bit off the beaten path, at least for the Northeast. People are feeling the pinch. And the old time, bluegrass and folk scene on that side of the river is a fair bit less robust than on this side. And for many local people that river might as well be the Great Wall of China. It's weird, and I've never understood it.

Steve lives only around 10 miles from the event location, and plays hammer dulcimer at the Museum once a month. I don't know if he's getting paid for this gig or not. Possibly not. Especially since many of the county agencies depend on the State for funding and the State of NJ is basically bankrupt. I could be wrong, but I suspect a lot of the organizing and work is done by volunteers and there is a very slim budget.

Re the contest being run in an unusual way, well . . . Steve is an unusual guy, who loves playing, and plays Cajun and Celtic professionally, and loves to play OldTime as his "fun" playing. Though I don't know for sure, I suspect he runs the contest the way he runs it because he doesn't like the way other contests are run. It would be in character. And yes, I suspect he tries to run it as a crowd pleaser and pleasant afternoon in the country. Something to bring more attention to the Shippen Manor.

Well, I'm still up in the air about things. I do think I'll get a lot of value out of the Greenwood Furnace event, and it sounds like a great weekend in a beautiful place no matter what my level of participation. But I also feel some need to connect with people who are more local. Though some of the instructors at GF will be from this end of the state, and maybe a few of the attendees, most will be from places far from me. Whereas Steve's event will be a much more local bunch.

bj Says:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 @8:56:02 AM

AARRGGHH!!!! why are these comments all mixed up?????

coelhoe Says:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 @5:01:59 PM

bj: I thought your comment about traveling 110 miles was how far Steve would have to go. I guess I misunderstood. Still. for a state or even a township that is short of funds, this "contest" has substantial resources, six to seven thousand dollars just in published commitments. Arts Councils love to fund stuff like this with the expectation that it broadens their political base into socio-cultural areas that don't normally support the "arts." From the photos, that audience looks a long way form "old-timey." On the other hand,the Greenwood event seems terrific, and a great bargain at the price. That's where I'd go. Good luck. Let me know what you decide. Dennis

bj Says:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 @5:34:32 PM

Thanks, Dennis. I definitely will have made a decision by this time next week.

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