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Last Night's Contra Dance

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I developed a real head cold over the weekend and then took a decongestant pill Monday night that had me feeling a little groggy.  I thought about passing on playing at the Monday contra dance here in Louisville, but then I decided I would come home early if I didn't feel any better.

I was concerned that my playing might be sluggish and little off the beat because of my symptoms, but I actually played well.  Occasionally, I get a night where Mark, the fiddler who leads this volunteer band, picks tunes that I am more comfortable with and this was one of those nights.  Le Grand Chain/Spootiskerry.  Star Above the Garter/Cliffs of Mohr.  June Apple.  Puff Adder Stepdance/Paddy on the Handcar (or "Puff Paddy" as we call the pair of tunes).  Whiskey Before Breakfast/Red-haired Boy.

Often, Mark will pair tunes in different keys.  Many fiddlers will avoid that to accommodate the banjo, but Mark likes the change in energy from changing keys.  So I play until the end of the first tunes, drop out and re-tune, and then join in at the start of an A or B part. 

Last night, Mark called for Booth Shot Lincoln, a G tune, and Briarpicker Brown, a D tune.  When the transition came, I dropped out, put on a capo and retuned my second string.  Mark, however, had trouble switching to Briarpicker Brown and was struggling to find the melody.  This rarely happens to him, but this was one of those times.  I began playing the A part to help him find the melody, even though my 4th string still was not dropped to a D note.  I just avoided that string.  Mark began to pick up the melody but then we didn't know where the dancers were in the dance.  We looked to the caller who held up 2 fingers and mouthed "B part" to help us get back on track.  After Mark picked up the melody, I dropped out to finishing my re-tuning.

A rare day when a banjo player comes to the rescue of a fiddler in trouble.

1 comment

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Playing Since: 1964
Experience Level: Purty Good

dbrooks has made 53 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

[Teaching] [Jamming] [Helping]

Occupation: Retired Systems Manager

Gender: Male
Age: 76

My Instruments:
Vega Longneck (1927 pot and 1967 neck) purchased in 1969 from Thom Haile, Haskell Haile's brother. Tom was a stringed-instrument repair expert at Shackleton's, a Louisville music store landmark.

John C. Haynes Bay State Model 300 A-scale banjo
Bay State Model 318 banjo (both 1890s)
Bay State Model 352 with recent neck reset

Bart Reiter Regent A-scale (2001)
Bart Reiter Tubaphone (2001)

Prust Tackhead fretless
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Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Pete Seeger
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Dan Levenson
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Laura P. Schulman
Brendan Doyle and Maxine Gerber (on Mark Simos' CDs)
Reel Time Travelers
John Hartford
Uncle Earl
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Created 3/11/2004
Last Visit 6/8/2023

I grew up in Bardstown, KY, the location of My Old Kentucky Home and the Stephen Foster Story, an outdoor summer musical drama. I was lucky enough to meet Mike Lawrence, the banjo player for "the drama' in 1964 or so, and spent much of that summer with him. He taught me to fingerpick the guitar (Saturday Night Shuffle and Freight Train) and to play a little Bluegrass banjo (Ballad of Jed Clampett and Cripple Creek). We spent many afternoons in front of My Old Kentucky Home where I played guitar back-up to his banjo playing. Thank you, Mike, for those life-long gifts. Five or six years later, I returned from college to play the banjo for the Stephen Foster Story. I was even in a black-face minstrel show with E.P. Christy, Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones in the Stephen Foster Story -- a claim that cannot be made by many. I played guitar and banjo through high school and college (the Vietnam years) and met some wonderful folks. In graduate school, I started a family and spent less time with the instruments. This finally led to a 15–20-year period where I played maybe 2-3 times a year. Around 2000, I had the neck reset and refretted on my Martin 00-17, and my guitar playing was revived. While waiting for the guitar work to be done, I picked up my Vega longneck and clearly heard it ask me to play it clawhammer style. I found a Ken Perlman book I had bought years ago for this very day, and the journey began. I slowly learned the clawhammer technique and began to pick up tunes. In 2004, I had a hallway conversation with Dan Levenson at the IBMA meeting in Louisville that led to two summer workshops with him and some degree of reengineering of my clawhammer technique. I derive daily satisfaction from my playing and from the learning I still experience and enjoy.

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