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Clifftop, 2009

Posted by Don Borchelt on Saturday, August 8, 2009

Well, it’s been about a week since I got back from Clifftop.  I still haven’t completely arrived home yet, there is a part of my id that is still back in West Virginia.  When I wake up in the morning my first thought is- I wonder what’s going on over at Chip and Trish’s campsite?  Then I realize I’m home in my bed, and no longer camped around the corner from the Arnold’s on Geezer Hill.  There was no more welcoming and hospitable encampment anywhere at Camp Washington Carver than Chip and Tish’s home away from home.  Next year I'll settle by the watertower again, for sure. 


Around Tuesday or so, Don Couchie arrived from North Bay, Ontario.  I had gotten to know Don from swapping tunes on the Banjo Chat, and I was honored that such a fine musician chose to set his camp up next to mine.  We hung around together quite a bit for the rest of the week.  Don is extremely and equally talented on both fiddle and banjo, a truly gifted picker.  He has an amazing ear, and can pick up a new tune far faster and better than I can. He had only played Last Chance on the fiddle for just a few minutes of warm up before I turned on the recorder, but the result sounded like he had been playing it for years.  Near the end of the week, Don and I fried up a dinner of potatoes, onions, and whatever else we could get our hands on.  It tasted so good to me, I thought we were dining at a five star restaurant!


I stopped off to say howdy to Glenn Carson and his wife, and picked a few tunes with Glenn and his pals.  Those guys played with tremendous energy and drive, and I admit I could just barely keep up.  No doubt about it, I sure belong up there on Geezer Hill!   Glenn is a great picker, and certainly as fine a banjo craftsman as can be found on the continent.


Clifftop provided some quiet moments, too.  I had the pleasure of some very thoughtful conversation and picking with Carroll Smith, a retired oceanographer and philosopher who was camped right behind the Arnolds.  He was picking on one of the fine banjos made by Lo Gordon, who I got to meet and pick with at several of the many group jams that broke out under Chip’s tarp.  It was there that I had the real joy to listen to some truly fine, elegant duet picking by Linda Frank and her son Wes Carter.  I tried my best to follow Wes on some spontaneous improvisational picking; the notes just flowed from his fingers, and it was a challenge to keep up with him.  I’m not sure what kind of job I done, but I really enjoyed it.


There was a great BHO jam and reunion on Tuesday hosted by Dan and Jennifer Levenson.  I planted myself among some fine, graceful pickers, Debbie Lee and Lori Nitzel.  Lori and her husband brought along their little toddler, who was just “cute as the dickens,” as they used to say.  Makes me look forward to being a grandpa someday.


The weather was erratic the whole week, but it did keep things relatively cool, and kept the dust down as well.  It did a number on the neck of my Tubaphone, though, and at one point the action dropped to where it was unplayable.  To the rescue came BHO member Mark Ralston, who carved me a higher bridge on the spot, in about five minutes.  On top of that, I got to pick Drunken Hiccups with Mark, who is also a wonderful picker and fiddler.


I enjoyed meeting a bunch of other BHO pickers, including Phil from Lafayette, Indiana, and Gary from Vinton, Virginia.  A couple of times, I even worked up the courage to leave the safety of Geezer Hill and wander down to the bayou, where I met up with trooper Dean Barber, late of the 1st Alabama Cavalry.  We picked Old Horse and Buggy, and a bunch of other neat tunes.  Dean is a great picker, a real treat to make music with.  Speaking of treats, Dean shared a drink he made up that he called “apple pie,” that had a little more kick than the apple pies I am used to.  I’m thinking I might try to replicate that now that I’m back and settled in Massachusetts, just to tide me over until next year!  Maybe by then I'll be able to drag Britt along with me!


- Don Borchelt



6 comments on “Clifftop, 2009”

GSCarson Says:
Saturday, August 8, 2009 @7:20:06 AM

Don, Very good to see you again, and read of your adventures last week.  Every year is always different. One of my only regrets for last week was not having any quality one on one music sessions, which I had really hoped to do with you and Don as well.  Things seemed to get cranked up in our camp area almost from the first every time someone strummed an instrument.  Comes from being in a band with the guys camped around me, and our only yearly time together.   I did look for you several times after I walked up that way to play with Jimmy McCown and Dave Large who camp above the tower but you weren't around when I was up there.  Patty absolutely loved the soup, and really appreciated your efforts to bring it all the way to Clifftop for her to try.  She has asked me at least three times if I would ask you for the I am hoping you might share that with her.



Don Borchelt Says:
Saturday, August 8, 2009 @9:00:10 AM

I'm going to type it up and send it along today, Glenn, soon as I get my chores done!

chip arnold Says:
Monday, August 10, 2009 @6:27:26 AM

Morning coffee and sleepy eyed conversation with Don. An honor to have this feller in camp. Man, I'm rested and ready to go back now!

Couchie Says:
Friday, August 21, 2009 @6:26:46 PM

Going the this festival and meeting so many nice people like Don Borchelt, Chip Arnold, Glenn Carson, Hugh Hunter, Bill Rickard, Mac Benford, Cristina Houchins Butler and so many others reminded me of what brought me to this music in the first place.  Pure unadulterated joy.  God bless you all, so many good memories....

GSCarson Says:
Sunday, August 30, 2009 @9:11:08 AM

Hey Don,  Lets carry on the soup thing, yet another excuse for us to go back next year.  We decided we will bring you one of Patty's soup recipes in the container you brought us this year, so count on that for a dinner next year...   We'll get Don back to play his #9, which I promise will be in his hands by then!  Glenn


Don Borchelt Says:
Sunday, August 30, 2009 @4:34:56 PM

Sounds like a plan to me.  Maybe I'll bring some of my corn chowder, my kids always liked that recipe.

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