Just got back from this great event in Altamont, NY. I didn't really know what to expect- I thought a bunch of the same musicians would be there from the Roundhouse event near Greenfield, MA and was a little nervous. The last time I went to that, I went home early after the totally unfriendly reception. This started out a little like that, but the quality of musicianship completely knocked me on my ass. If people seemed unfriendly I think it was because they were so completely immersed in the musical experience. The event was held at the Altamont Fairgrounds. Cars and small tent enclaves were loosely scattered on the hillside near a bunch of long, low barns that were filled with goats and 4H hopefuls. There were no vendors hawking their wares, just great music being played everywhere. I was like a kid in a candy store. I kept hearing great tunes that I wanted to either play or learn to play. Old-Time music great Ray Alden was there. This guy has done some brilliant work with his Field Recorders Collective. His label, Chubby Dragon, has put out some of my all-time favorite CD's including the recent Southern Schoolhouse Rascals recording.
For me the highlight of the weekend was ending up under an awning playing with a bunch of guys that I'd never met while rainclouds trundled noisily across the night sky. One of the guys sang old hank Williams tunes with a familiar ring that I couldn't quite place. In between songs we cranked through some fiddle tunes and shared oddly funny quips. I found out later that the voice was the same voice that I'd listened to a hundred times on the Southern Schoolhouse Rascals CD and belonged to Gil Sayre. There were two terrific fiddlers at this sitting. One was Ambrose Verdibello, also from the same band and the other was Mark Schmidt. Mark was the guy who's been organizing the event for about the last five years of it's ten year existence. He plays with Gil in another band called the Stillhouse Rounders. Other equally talented players drifted in, played through a few numbers and then pushed out into the electrically charged night air, their receding forms momentarily outlined by the the flash of distant summer lightning.
Sunday morning started with a gospel sing led by the Stairwell Sisters accompanied by Ambrose on the lap steel, Mark Wholley on guitar and another great fiddler whose name I should have known but didn't. You couldn't swing a dead cat in Altamont without hitting a really good fiddler.
The jam I ended up in on Sunday afternoon had Ray Alden and Gil playing banjo (Gil's banjo was a fretless that he'd built marked with a silver dollar in the headstock). Once again wonderful musicians rambled in and out of the three hour jam. After helping a group of folks breakdown the admin tent I climbed in my mostly brakeless car and started the long ride back to Boston- completely sated and looking forward to next years gathering. Here's a link if you're interested. If you go, I hope to see,hear and meet you! http://www.oldsongs.org/blackcreek/
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