Posted by jrjenks on Sunday, December 13, 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 12/06/2009 through 12/12/2009.
I went to Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival at the Congress Theater. Not all of it, but a bunch of it.
There was a lot of good stuff which I'll get to in a moment, but let's start with the big disappointment: no jamming. We were promised jamming. See?
What can I bring, and what can't I bring in to the theater?
There's two things we strongly encourage you two bring: Chairs and Instruments. It's a long day, so bring your camping chairs to pop a squat on when your dogs are barkin', and there'll be an open jam session and picking circle from the second the doors open. Musicians are all invited to bring their instruments and participate. Therell be an instrument check along with the coat check so that you dont have to lug your noisemaker around with you all day.
But somebody dropped the ball. There was no open jam session and no picking circle. I tried to get some jamming started but there wasn't even a quiet corner in which I could gather the several people who brought instruments. What a bummer. I hope the organizers get it together for next year.
On to the good stuff. The best part of the night, for me, was learning about slap-style instrument play from Lucy, a hula hoop vendor and drummer from Hawaii. Here she is, using my Nechville banjo to illustrate:
Yeah, it was a dark (and noisy) hallway. But her slap style of play sounded AWESOME!
What she was doing was similar to a slap bass guitar technique that Chrisophe Godin teaches, but Lucy uses her whole left hand while Christophe mostly uses his thumb.
Anyway: Sounded great. I'm going to learn more. Stay tuned.
The rest of the good stuff: act after act after act. Here's a smattering of photos to show you what I mean:
The night's big headliner was Bla Fleck & the Flecktones, but I have to admit that I missed most of their main stage performance in favor of the act playing on the pavillion stage: Holy Ghost Tent Revival. I figured that (a) I've got tickets for Bla and his crew for their February show at the Old Town School and (b) Holy Ghost Tent Revival was really terrific! I mean it. They've got this incredible mix of electric bass, drums, guitar, 5-string banjo and trombone that's full of energy. It's a mix of different musical styles that reminded me of both Squirrel Nut Zippers and riverboat banjo jazz.
I didn't miss all of Bla Fleck's stuff. After the Holy Ghost Tent Revival performance and after I purchased the HGTR's two CDs...
...I joined the huge crowd in the main room in time to see Alash, a Tuvan throat singing group travelling with the Fleck brigade. The raw strength of the throat singing is hard to describe. Here's a video I found of a show from Christmas Eve of last year that will give you a feel for it:
I also caught Bla Fleck wrapping up his part of the show with my favorite thing that he does: beautiful Scruggs-style banjo play. (I must admit that Bla Fleck's jazzy stuff leave me cold. It's a little too John Tesh for my tastes.)
All-in-all it was a nice evening. This is an annual event and I'm sure they'll do it again next year. Hope there'll be jamming.
Also in the last week:
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'Good Saturday Morning' 3 hrs
'Boston March' 5 hrs