Posted by caseyhenry on Monday, November 13, 2017
Note: We interrupt our ongoing account of Peg’s beginning banjo lessons with Jill to bring you a report of Kasey Smelser’s first concert! Peg is working hard on her vamp chords and hating every minute of it. Jill told her that vamping is essential to jamming. Peg replied that she doesn’t give a damn about jamming. Jill said she will change her mind. Tune in next month to see what happens.
Kasey Smelser’s Debut Concert
Some of you may remember Kasey Smelser, now 17, our Tip Jar Jam Fashionista. She and her dad, Ben, started taking banjo lessons from Casey Henry when Kasey Smelser was 12. They started coming to the Tip Jar Jam shortly thereafter and while Ben eventually dropped out, Kasey has continued to come faithfully. Why she wants to hang out with a bunch of Baby Boomers is a mystery to me!
I took over teaching Kasey when Casey went on maternity leave last year. Trying hard to keep her interested in bluegrass, we branched out into singing and playing guitar. This soon became her passion. She began stretching the boundaries of the jam with songs like Jolene, Mama Tried, It’s A Lonesome Feeling, and I Still Miss Someone. She began learning to sing harmony. Soon she’d figured out she could sing lead on the verses and switch to harmony on the chorus. She participated in every public performance the Jammers did, even when it meant getting up early Sunday morning for an 8:30 a.m. show!
Then she got The Guitar. Before our beloved Jammer Bob Van Metre died, he had asked me to make sure his guitar—a Martin--went to someone who would love it and play it. I knew Kasey was the perfect choice. Bob’s guitar could not be in better hands.
All the pieces were in place.
Then our son Christopher Henry, who had recently moved back to Winchester, asked Kasey if she’d like to take a songwriting lesson. As she told me later, she was terrified. But she bravely powered through and they co-wrote a song called Tell Me Why. That was in February.
And then—OH MY GOODNESS—it was like the floodgates had been opened and all these amazing songs started pouring out of her. As she said, she was lying in bed the night after they’d finished that first song, and the phrase “teardrops on my pillow every night when I think of you” just popped into her mind. With that line for starters she and Chris co-wrote her second song, "Teardrops On My Pillow." It’s a love song, of course, but the thing that surprised the starch out of me was the “hook” in the third verse, “What kind of man would break my heart and leave with my best friend?” Whoa!
More songs of heartbreak and unfaithful men poured out and then she decided to turn the tables with the song "I’ve Been Cheating Too." I laughed out loud when I first heard it:
You thought you were my heart and soul
You thought you were my world
You thought that I’d be devastated
When you ran off with some girl
You thought that I’d be brokenhearted
And strung out over you
But all this time that we’ve been together
Oh, I’ve been cheatin’ too!
She shared all these songs at our Wednesday night jams. The Jammers began to tease her about leading a double life, since all of the songs were completely fictional. (We think. We hope. We pray!)
She began experimenting with different keys like D and E and B and B-flat and with minor chords and inventive chord patterns. She wrote what she calls her “X Rated Song” in which she can feel her “inner goddess doing flips.” The Jammers were a bit shocked (or perhaps envious?) but we applauded loudly and said, “Great job.” And then asked, “Where in the world did you get that idea?” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” she said. Oh.
Soon she had 15 or 16 dynamite songs. And her voice was getting stronger with each song. She sounded like she was channeling a bit of Winchester’s own Patsy Cline or a young Loretta Lynn.
So, I said, “You need to do a house concert.” She was willing and so we began to make plans. I told her I would book the side musicians, find the venue, and help her make the set lists but she would have to do the rest: schedule the rehearsals, lead the rehearsals, do the advertising, and sell the tickets. She did it all.
We were lucky that when we needed a venue, one appeared. (Shades of Shoeless Joe Jackson: “If you build it, he will come!”) Susie Winkeler was making final preparations to open the historic Fuller House as an intimate acoustic concert venue. She said she’d love for her first concert to feature Kasey. Kasey herself sold all 60 tickets!
We had a diva, we had a venue, we needed a band. In Winchester we are lucky to have a wealth of bluegrass talent to call on. With a few texts, I lined up son Chris on mandolin, Marshall Wilborn on bass, and Gina Clowes, who plays banjo with Chris Jones. Kasey of course would be front and center with Bob’s guitar.
One small aside: Shout out to Bob’s wife, daughter, granddaughter, son-in-law, and brother for coming to the concert. The Village continues to support the child. I remember Bob’s first comments to Kasey and Ben when they showed up for the Jam.
Bob: So, what do you all play?
Ben: We both play banjos.
Bob: Great. Just what we need. More g--damn banjos.
But he said it with a smile and they knew it.
The concert date, November 4, gave us a few months to prepare. I wanted Kasey to be involved in every aspect of putting this show together, so the first thing we did was make chord charts for her original songs. Chord charts are almost essential if you’re performing original songs with a pulled-together band that will only have a couple of rehearsals. So for several lessons Kasey and I were immersed in applying the Nashville Number System to her songs. It was a learning experience for both of us! Soon she was asking questions like, “Is that a two minor or a six minor?”
Then we worked up two 45-minute set lists. Kasey did most of the work—she had great ideas—while I offered practical advice: Write down what you want to start with and what you want to end with. Put in a song each for Chris and Gina. Then fill in the other slots. Include some standards that are easy for you to sing to break up the original songs. None of this is set in stone. One of her best ideas was ending the whole show with the first song she and Chris turned into a video, "Teardrops On My Pillow." (Yes, it’s on YouTube!)
Everything was on track and going smooth.
Then three weeks before the concert Kasey texts to me say she and Chris are thinking about trying to pull together a CD of her original songs before the concert. In three weeks. What did I think? I said, in the nicest possible way, I thought it was too much. She said, in the nicest possible way, “I told Chris yes but I can always change my mind.” This is one reason I admire and respect Kasey so much: She will ask for advice, but in the end, she will do what she thinks is right for her. That girl has got some gumption!
In the end, they got it done, even though they were up till 3:30 a.m. the night before the concert making a Walmart run so they could finish printing the CD inserts.
The concert itself was a rousing success. Kasey handled herself like a pro even down to the emcee work. (To which she had given considerable thought beforehand.) The Tip Jar Jammers were out in force to support their Fashionista who hit the stage in a short red jacket, black tights, and short black boots with sparkly gold heels. Marty and Cheryl Bacon won the prize for coming the longest distance: all the way from Raleigh, NC! And when Kasey closed out the evening with "Teardrops On My Pillow" the audience spontaneously broke into applause. And when she finished they gave her—and the band--a standing ovation. I damn near had teardrops down my cheek bones.
If you’d like to hear some of Kasey’s music, including "Teardrops On My Pillow," she has a fan page on Facebook. Of course she does. Just type in Kasey Smelser. It’s not hard. I just did it! I am now a “follower.” Did I say I am so proud of her?
Teardrops on my pillow
Each night when I think of you
I lay my head down and I cry
I want to hold you in my arms
I want to hold you tight
But your mind is on another woman
It’s gonna be a sleepless night.
--Kasey Smelser and Chris Henry
Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @3:48:20 AM
It was a great house concert Kasey. Keep up the good work!
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