We interrupt the continuing saga of Peg and Jill and the Banjo Lessons to bring you this first-person report of the latest Tip Jar Jammers performance.
Last Friday, my Tip Jar Jammers played a one-hour show on stage at the First Presbyterian Church in Winchester. We performed 14 songs, our longest show ever, and every single student stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. Babe Ruthing it all the way. Every Jammer sang a song and every Jammer, except the guitarists, kicked off a song. Kicking off songs and singing solo were huge steps forward for these folks. They continue to amaze me with their courage, their dedication, and their unwavering support of each other.
Singing their hearts out were George, David, Betty, Gregg, Kathy, and Dan on banjo; Laura and William on mandolin; and Kasey and Chuck on guitar. I played guitar and son Chris played bass. And just so you know, most of us qualify for Senior Coffee at McDonalds. Why Kasey, who just turned 17, continues to hang out with us is a mystery.
This bunch has been playing together every week for over two years with Laura and William joining us about a year ago. And in case you’ve forgotten: This is all being done BY EAR. I don’t even allow words in the Jam. We do many of the same songs every week. I’ll bet that during the four years the jam has been going we’ve played Banjo in the Hollow over 200 times! We work in new songs VERY SLOWLY. And we always keep coming back to the old ones.
It was from this “old” list that we chose most of our performance songs. Okay, I did the choosing. Here I am reminded of Dan, our banjo-picking preacher. When he hears a good phrase he often remarks, “That will preach.” As Jam Leader, I know this about songs: “That will perform.” The songs that will perform are those that we have “done to death.” They are the songs we can do without thinking because on stage there is no time to think. You don’t go on stage and do a song that you are working on unless you are a consummate professional and have the skills to cover up mistakes. When all you know is what you know, you have to be sure you know it! (I feel like I’m channeling Yogi Berra!)
So, how does a 12-piece, banjo-heavy bluegrass band with 10 lead singers perform? In a very orderly, pre-determined fashion! Although the kick-offs were solo, we took group breaks with banjos in one group and mandolins in the other. The lead singers sang the verses then we all jumped in on the choruses, doubling the lead or adding harmony.
For the sake of the show, and to reduce capoing and tuning issues, it was important to stay in one key as long as possible. So our first 6 songs were in G. Unfortunately, this means the womyn don’t get to sing lead early on, except for Laura who sings Dark Hollow in G. I’ve struggled with that issue all my bluegrass life. Maybe next time we’ll start in C! (Which has its own issues.)
After G, we went to A for two songs, then to C for two songs, then back to G for three, and for our surprise encore we went back to C.
The surprise encore was my idea. I had decided on the drive over that our encore would be Kasey singing Will The Circle Be Unbroken. It’s a song we have played hundreds of times together. So as the audience applauded for our last song, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, I caught Kasey’s eye (she was sitting across the stage from me) and pointed to her. Later she said she knew that meant she was going to have to sing, but she didn’t know what.
I told the audience that since we had 30 seconds left (!) we’d do one more song. That’s when Kasey found out she’d be singing Circle. Since we didn’t have a kickoff planned, I used the Mac Wiseman kickoff: I strummed a few chords on the guitar to set the rhythm and then Kasey jumped in with “I was standing by my window…” It was magic. And when we all jumped in on the chorus, it was even more magical. A perfect ending to what was pretty much a perfect show.
The icing on the cake for me was that after the show, some of us walked down the street to attend the CD release party for Gina Clowes and her new CD True Colors. Gina was a banjo student of mine back in the day. She now plays banjo with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers. I am so proud of her! Her opening act was The Fly Birds, one of my favorite groups. The two fantastic lead singers are Elizabeth Baker and Sarah Twigg. Bass player, Mary Dunlap, used to play some with the Jammers.
The Tip Jar Jammers will be performing again Saturday October 14, at 7 pm, in the Strasburg Presbyterian Church coffeehouse. Dan McCoig will be leading them. Y’all come.
Kasey Smelser will be performing her first house concert, Saturday, November 4, 7-9 PM at the Fuller House in Winchester. Advance tickets only. Contact Kasey through Facebook. Backing her up are Chris Henry, Marshall Wilborn, and Gina Clowes. Quite a band!
Our Set List
In case you got this far and want to see our set list, here it is!
We started off in the Key of G:
Banjo in the Hollow: Kicked off by David, then individual breaks.
Jesus on the Mainline: Dan kicked it off and sang lead. We even did one chorus a cappella!
Cripple Creek: Kicked off by Gregg, then individual breaks.
I Saw the Light: Kicked off and sung by George.
Boil Them Cabbage Down: Kicked off and sung by David, group breaks.
Dark Hollow: Kicked off and sung by Laura, I sang tenor.
Then we moved up two frets to the Key of A:
Paradise: Kicked off and sung by Betty, who had made up her own break. This song is in a fast, three-quarter time, so it ain’t easy on banjo!
Love Come Home: Kicked off and sung by Gregg.
Then we moved to the Key of C. Some folks capoed, some played open.
Nine Pound Hammer: Kathy Holliday kicked it off (open C) and sang lead, I sang tenor on the chorus.
Are You Teasing Me: Kasey Smelser sang it and Gregg kicked it off; Laura and I sang harmony on the chorus.
Then we went back to G:
Roving Gambler: William kicked it off and sang, I sang tenor on the chorus.
Ride Me High: Dan kicked it off and sang lead.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home: Gregg kicked it off, Chuck sang lead.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Unplanned encore. Kasey sang the lead.
Friday, September 15, 2017 @5:34:32 PM
Sounds like fun to me. The only problem I lie in the wrong state or ya'll need to move o Western North Carolina.
Saturday, September 16, 2017 @7:23:50 AM
No, No, No SallyAnn, the move should be to central New York!
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