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Banjo versus TV: Week 59

Posted by jrjenks on Saturday, May 16, 2009

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 4/12/2009 through 4/18/2009.
Banjo 365 hrs, TV 348 hours

What a bummer! The Music Choice Bluegrass Channel has been dropped from my local cable. I was really enjoying that!

Here's what the Washington Bluegrass Association has to say about it:

On April 15th, Comcast Cable pulled (deleted) its Bluegrass Channel Broadcast. Many people are understandably upset about this. It may be possible to restore bluegrass on Comcast, if enough bluegrass fans send in a complaint. (Even if you don't listen to bluegrass on Comcast, do it for the sake of those who do!). You can make your opinion count. Take a few minutes and go to Music Choice online and register a complaint. Go to: OR to send in your comments or complaints. On the home page: scroll to the page bottom and select "leave a comment". On the comment page select in the subject line pull down "channel line-up changes" then write your message: 'bring back bluegrass!' Fill out the name info then select digital cable only (or your fav. service). Then check the No box to not receive marketing related stuff. Thanks and a tip of the hat to WBA member Sally Burtscher for reporting this story! Please pass this info on to your bluegrass friends.

Thanks, Jim C, Gazette Editor


The cancellation sparked a discussion at The Banjo Hangout. One of the forum regulars said he received this reply from Music Choice:


Despite your extremely vulgar and rude e-mail, I will try to explain.

The Bluegrass channel and Opera channel were removed from the Music Choice line up due to low listenership.

Music Choice had an outside research firm conduct a survey on which Music Choice channels were listened to the most. Unfortunately Opera and Bluegrass were listed as the least listened to channels. I know this isn't what you wanted to hear, but that is why the channels removed from the Music Choice line up.

Music Choice


Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • We played along with Dolly Parton's version of Cash on the Barrelhead from her album, The Grass is Blue. We also listened to a previous version of the song from the album Snakes Alive! by The Dreadful Snakes (a band who got their name from the Bill Monroe song, The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake).
  • We spoke about the reasons why a song is played in the key it's played in. For songs with vocals, you consider the range of the singer(s). For all songs, you consider the keys that are best for the instruments. Then there's this: Dave once asked Frank Wakefield why he wrote and played "New Camptown Races" in Bb. Frank replied, "Because nobody else was."
  • Dave challenged me to find a I, IV and V for Eb major. And I got it! (My answer: Eb as D form between 3 and 5, Ab as barre at 1, Bb as barre at 3.)
  • My F form is still weak and my D form isn't much better. I really need to make good on my promise to play along with Pete Wernick's "Bluegrass Slow Jam for the Total Beginner DVD, using the F and D forms rather than just the first position chords.
  • We tried string bending. I stunk at it. Too timid, I think.
  • We spent a little time playing Good Old Mountain Dew very slowly, finding a groove and playing with some hammers-on and slides.
  • I'll be playing Good Old Mountain Dew with the Hump Night Thumpers next week and we talked a little about my plans for that performance. What are the cheap tricks available to me if I want to spice up a song for a performance?
    • Playing it faster or slower.
    • Speeding up the tempo in the middle of the song to add some excitement. (I could make this a little easier by starting the song a little slower.)
    • Modulate up a full step for a chorus or a verse.
    • Sing a verse a capella.
    • Play it in stop-time.
    I suggested that I might play Good Old Mountain Dew at a faster clip, or that I might speed it up partway through the performance. Dave liked this idea until he found out that the song will be the second song of our eight-song set. "Don't push it," he advised. "See, if it was the second to last song I'd push the tempo more than being at the third song. I need to warm up, you need to warm up, everybody needs to warm up. Just because you can play at a fast tempo doesn't mean you should."

    (Dave says he learned the lesson of "just because you can doesn't mean you should" from Jurassic Park. See two minutes into this scene.)
  • I didn't like my microphone work at the jug band Seder last week. I was shouting and wasn't really using the mic. I don't want to make the same mistake in next week's performance so I asked Dave for advice. Here's some excerpts of Dave's advice"
    • "Say to yourself before you do this, 'I want to sing this.'"
    • "The adrenaline can cut in but you don't have to follow it blindly."
    • "If you find yourself pushing too hard back off immediately."
    • "Think about what I lot of teachers will do. If a class gets noisy they start whispering and keep on whispering and sooner or later the class gets quiet."
    • "For me, it's observer on my shoulder. Kind of a Zen concept. It serves me as a producer and as a teacher and as a performer because I'm trying to detach from me and just look at everything and feel the Gestalt."
  • Dave says I'm doing well, although he notes that my playing is "way too genteel" and that I "need way more attitude". "What you need to do is put your jazz out there."


Also in the last week:

  • I've been trying to replace my morning turn-on-the-TV habit with a morning turn-on-the-bluegrass-DVD habit. I started with High Lonesome - The Story of Bluegrass Music, which I got from Netflix.
  • Ever take a really, really long time to catch on to something? I just recently figured out where the band Hot Rize got its name.


Cross-posted at J.R. Jenks' blog

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