My friend Clarke Buehling, of Fayetteville, AR, an accomplished musician focused on minstrel banjo style and 19th century American tunes, rolled into Staunton, VA, on a rainy Monday evening last week, late and wet and tired.
I had set up a chance for him to play downtown in Laurie Gundersen’s store, Appalachian Piecework, but it looked as though the weather would slice through that opportunity and eviscerate our effort to showcase Clarke’s incredible classic banjo playing. We did manage to set up, and Clarke did work his way through a wide variety of tunes – classic, minstrel, popular – for about 2 hours before we retired to my home.
Clarke played for a small group of people assembled on this grey day, and attracted the attention of shoppers who came into Laurie’s incredible store to check out her textile art, antiques, and Appalachian folk art. Clarke’s got an upbeat view of the world, and a positive sense of where he stands in the universe. He engaged in patter with people strolling through the store, offered a quick 15 minute impromptu banjo lesson to a young lady (and a BHO member) who came and stayed for the whole “show,” pushing her beyond her sense of current limited capabilities, and urging consistent attention to learning something new every day.
That evening I had Bill Wellington come to the house. Bill, a local Staunton musician steeped in old time music, is a fiddler, banjoer, and guitarer of note, was “present at creation” for some of the earliest jams and OT groups in the northeast during the seventies, and did his fair share of field recordings of fiddlers, banjo players, and ballad singers in West Virginia University. Bill toured with Caledonia, and in recent years has focused on building an elementary school residency program that brings folklore alive for the school community, in partnership with the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Clarke and Bill spend the evening at my home trading stories and tunes, tracing the provenance of some great old time tunes through their memories of their first encounter with some esoteric music, reconstructing the history of some of the great Midwest, southern and northeastern old time bands, and trading some tunes -- and eccentric tunings, too. I’m going to try and get some of that history down (which bands begat which music, etc) in the next weeks.
Bill is an old time clawhammer player. Clarke whips his way through a variety of minstrel and classic styles, so bringing these two together was an opportunity to see how adaptable and flexible musicians, and music, can be. Though they had never played together, they quickly broke the code and figured out how to back one another up, trade licks and keep tunes moving.
Clarke has developed two books of some very accessible tabs, one primarily on classic tunes and the other focused on minstrel playing, written in his florid, artistic hand. Available from the author:
on “A Day with Clarke Buehling, an Evening with Clarke and Bill Wellington”
Saturday, June 22, 2013 @4:10:09 AM
Thanks for sharing this detailed account of Clarke's visit. Clarke is a gifted performer who deserves greater recognition.
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