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Tip Jar Jammers Are Gigging! By Murphy Henry

Posted by caseyhenry on Tuesday, September 20, 2016

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Beginning Banjo Camp: If you want to take the first steps toward learning to play banjo and jamming, we suggest our Beginning Banjo Camp, October 28-30, 2016. We offer a novice class, as well as two levels of beginning classes. Here's the link for more details.

Mandolin Camp: We still have a few openings in our Mandolin Camp, September 23-25. Teachers include Chris Henry, Red Henry, David McLaughlin, and me. I’ll be teaching the beginners. Here's the Mando camp link.


My Tip Jar Jammers now have three gigs under their belts. In July we played five songs for the Sunday service (8:30 a.m.) at Dan’s church. Dan made his singing debut here, taking the solo lead on Jesus On The Mainline. He also had to preach twice that morning so he was a whipped puppy by noon.

Out of curiosity, I asked Dan what he ate for breakfast to fuel up for such a stressful morning. I was imagining bacon, eggs, and toast, something that would “stick to your ribs.” His answer? “Nutella on an English muffin.” “What’s Nutella?” I asked. “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT NUTELLA IS?” came the response from the Jammers. I did not know what Nutella was, so someone explained that it was a chocolate hazel nut spread.

Ah. We didn’t have anything called Nutella when I was growing up in Georgia. Our “spreadable” was Peter Pan peanut butter which came in stemmed and patterned glasses. When they were empty and clean, we used the tall ones for ice tea* and the short ones for ice cream. This prompted a line in my song My Everyday Silver Is Plastic: “My everyday crystal makes great conversation/Do you think that the crunchy or smooth look the best?”

My lack of Nutella knowledge was evidently disturbing to George because he showed up at his next lesson with a huge jar of Nutella and a big bag of pretzels. “You can make a meal of this!” he said. OMG, was he ever right. YUM! Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so as the Nutella level in the jar has fallen to such a dangerously low level that I can no longer dip my pretzel into it. But I digress…

Our second gig was also at Dan’s church. Every Saturday the church offers a free lunch for those in need, so we played while folks ate. This gig was different from the first one in that we didn’t have a sound system. (Next time we will!) It was hard for the lead singer to be heard above the din, so we all sang together and played our breaks together. It was fine. Kathy Hanson got a real workout on guitar while I played banjo.

But it was Gig Number Three that really gave the Jammers an idea of what being a bluegrass musician is all about. We played outside. It was hot. We were sweaty. We had someone sit in on harmonica. We had a request for a song after we’d finished. (I declined, pleading exhaustion!) Just your garden variety bluegrass gig!

The event was the Sweet Sixteen birthday party for Kasey Smelser, who has been a regular Tip Jar Jammer for four years. We have watched her blossom from a shy twelve-year-old banjo player who always sat by her dad and texted between songs into a strong young woman who also plays guitar and mandolin and still texts between songs! She is our only young picker and, bless her heart, she invited us all to her party! Eleven Jammers showed up, counting me. We and about 50 other people were treated to a huge buffet of fried chicken, BBQ, baked beans, watermelon, deviled eggs, potato salad, slaw, and home grown tomatoes. Afterwards, we filled in the corners with birthday cake and ice cream. Then it was time to pick!

Side note: Neither Kathy Holliday nor I wanted to get up from our comfortable seats at the table to go get our cake. So we did “rock, paper, scissors” to see who would go. I lost!

Kasey’s dad, Ben, had set up an awning for us to pick under and we were most grateful for the shade. We lined up our armless chairs in a semi-circle with me in front, facing the group. (My back was to the audience, but they could see the Jammers, which was more important.) Kasey was still raking in the loot (aka opening her presents), when we started with our customary opener, Banjo In The Hollow. We did it Tip Jar Jam style, in which everyone takes a solo break and then we all play together at the end.

Ben, who normally does an outstanding job on bass, seemed to have trouble finding the notes. I gave him The Look. He laughed and said, “I’ve got chicken grease on my fingers!” Note to pickers: Wash your hands before playing, especially if you’ve been eating fried chicken! (One wonders if Paul McCartney and Missy Raines have this problem!)

The heat was making it difficult for folks to keep their fingerpicks on. Trying to play with your picks slipping off your fingers is exasperating. Even if you push them back on after your break, they usually start sliding off again while you’re vamping. You can wipe your hands on your pants, on your shirt, or on a towel but nothing seems to help. Banjo heads were sporting rivulets of sweat running off hands and arms. (Yes, that’s how banjo heads get so dirty!) And though Southern women are only supposed to “glow” in the heat, the upper bout of my guitar was developing a big white sweat stain. I was glad I had worn my Secret, even if I didn’t feel cool, calm, and collected!  

Though we did have a set list for our first gig, I never make a set list for our jams or for our casual gigs, so none of the Jammers ever knows what I’m going to call for. I appreciate their trust in me and their willingness to roll with the flow. So when I asked George if he’d sing Do Lord for our second song he said, “Sure!” As Dan said yes to Jesus On The Mainline and When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again and as David said yes to Mountain Dew and Old Joe Clark which he sings Gid Tanner style. When Kasey joined us she sang Mama Tried, Jolene, and Rocky Top. Somewhere in there we also did Circle, Lonesome Road Blues, White Dove, and Roustabout. We closed out with the Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I was whipped. I needed Nutella! Everyone else was looking a bit wrung-out too, except for Kasey who still looked cool as a cucumber in her 1960s-looking A-line dress complete with Nehru collar.

Playing outside was a new experience for the Jammers. Many of them said they now have a new appreciation for musicians who routinely do this.  That’s one reason I like doing these occasional gigs with the Jammers. It helps move them along the path from “student” to “jammer” to “musician.” Plus that, we do have a great deal of fun!

Note on “ice tea”: Yes, I know the correct spelling is “iced tea.” In Georgia, we pronounced it without the “d”. In fact, we mostly pronounced it without the “ice” because nobody drank “hot” tea in Georgia, even in the winter. We also didn’t say “sweet tea” (as folks do now) because no one had ever heard of “unsweet” tea. There was just tea and it was always sweet. If we felt the need for a modifier we would have said the whole thing as one word: icetea. And that’s all I have to say about tea.

1 comment on “Tip Jar Jammers Are Gigging! By Murphy Henry”

pickn5 Says:
Friday, September 23, 2016 @6:06:51 AM

Great story. Makes want to move to your neck of the woods.

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