Nov. 19, 2013
Finished the classical gallery concerts and the Celtic soujorn in the hollers of the Appalachian mountains. (read more below). Now it's time to focus on the upcoming Christmas shows and settle into my new home in Tryon, NC.
Oct. 12, 2013
Just finished a 13-day run with the brilliant Irish-style guitarist Dan Compton. Our final concert was the best. Brevard, home of the rare White Squirrel, has been a musical home run every time I've played there. Leading up to our pair of concerts at the Transylvania Community Arts Center, Dan and I had already spent 11 hours in the recording studio and performed 5 concerts plus 2 contra dances. The workings were well honed by the time we arrived town.
One of the qualities that is so special about working with Dan is his rich harmonic sense. This is partly due to his classical training. He doesn't, for example, just lay down any old F# minor chord; he'll explore a dozen or more different voicings of any given harmonic space to capture just the right atmosphere. When we rehearse, I can use language like, "In this passage can you create a progression that travels from the flat-6 to the dominant by way of a 5-of-5?", and he knows exactly what I'm talking about. Yet at the same time, he doesn't over-do multiple chord changes just to prove he can.
Among my favorite new arrangements we created together is a suite of tunes from Brittany (Bretagne) known as Gavottes. Bearing no resemblance to their classical music namesakes as might be heard in a suite by Bach, Breton Gavottes are characterized by a pulsing, swingy rhythm with stress frequently placed on groups of 3+3+2. A slow section in the middle of the dance allows dancers to promenade casually in a circle around the room with their partner before striking up again at full tempo. I love the minor mode of many of these tunes.
The new album won't be ready for release until just after the new year, but I'll try to post a short preview soon. In the meantime, here is a video of me performing Gavottes in a different configuration. [Gavottes]
Sept. 8, 2013
A blood red crescent moon reclined nonchalantly above a torn paper silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thought-provoking conversations, visions of smiling children, and harmonious strains of orchestra music flickered through my mind as I neared home. A freshly-picked apple which had been placed on my dash just before my departure from Hendersonville reminded me of the mutual affection shared with my gracious hosts and all of the lovely people whom I befriended during the week.
Impressions such as these can make a memory last forever.
“Success is infinitely divisible,” declared Symphony president Jules Hagymassy, responding to my assertion that my own contribution had not constituted the whole of the success of Hendersonville Symphony concert. Ushers had to show up and do their jobs. The bagpipers had to rehearse and march into the auditorium on command, peeling off into formation to the crowd’s delight. Refreshments were needed, box office organization was imperative. There were emcees, program graphics, CD sales (thank you, Farley!), payroll, media promotions ... the list goes on and on...
Symphony manager Eric Scheider was super human. Maestro Joiner: what else can I say besides “Bravo, you are a visionary!” Soloists: fantastically well-prepared. And to the rest of the orchestra: you rose to the call brilliantly and sounded great. Thank you!
Mine was only one piece of the equation – a large piece, yes – but I am thrilled to report that the show was an unqualified success on every level due to the fine teamwork shown by all.
Planning for the event began a year ago when conductor Thomas Joiner discovered me on YouTube and asked me to be the soloist with his orchestra. Most of my performances utilize an improvised accompaniment of guitar and other instruments, so working with an orchestra requires an entirely different approach. The 70 or so players in a symphony need written out parts to play, and since all the compositions are my own, it’s my job to provide these parts.
I began by reworking many of the scores which I had created in the past, bearing in mind the strengths of the Hendersonville Symphony, which, much to my pleasant surprise, played at a very high level. There were also the brand new compositions to consider, “The Sea Is My Delight” and “Journey Through Mist And Mountains.” My goal for these was to raise the bar of my orchestration skills by writing material that was fun to play and would showcase the unique sonority of each instrument of the orchestra. Composition and typesetting took about 10 weeks, working on an average of 4 to 12 hours per day. Near the end I had to really turn on the juice by staying up all night for several nights in a row until the writing was finished.
I called upon my favorite musical comrades EJ Jones (bagpipes), Rosalind Buda (bombarde and bassoon), Roger Gold (guitar), Alice Jamison & Pearl Shirley (step dancers), and Aaron Price (PA sound engineer) to help fill out the front line. The Montreat Pipe and Drum Band provided an exhilarating atmosphere to open the show. As a final tribute to the skills of the orchestra musicians, we devised a medley of soloists who stepped out from the orchestra to join me at the front of the stage. Congratulations Kyra Zhang (clarinet), Beryl Lemmons (piccolo), Mary Irwin (violin), and Matt Waid (bass) for doing a brilliant job with your solos! (Matt, I apologize for making a silly boo-boo in the middle of your solo..let’s try Take 2 next time!)
The show sold out at 770 seats well before concert time and it seemed everybody went away with huge smiles. It was heart-warming that so many of the orchestra players approached me afterward saying how much fun they had had playing this program.
A special nod to the Hendersonville Symphony’s mission of educational outreach to the schools. I was asked to perform for a student assembly at Apple Valley Middle School on the morning before the show. A hundred enthusiastic kids attended and gave me a glimpse into the vibrant strings education program that is going on in Henderson County. Thanks to journalist Nancy Tanker for writing the beautiful article about that school presentation [read here] which graced the front page of the local paper – positioned above the conflict in Syria! Now THAT’s what I call support for the arts!
July 14, 2013
I was amazed and delighted to find that today's classical concert drew such a large crowd. Attendees took a leap of faith on me, since I'm not known to be a classical player at all! It was a joy to perform with brilliant performers Barbara Weiss and Amy Brucksch. Paganini's intoxicatingly operatic melodies from today's charming concert still waft through my head as I transition now into the next big matter: composing scores for the upcoming concert as soloist with the Hendersonville Symphony.
April 12, 2013
Creating a new composition and taking it all the way to the performance stage in front of a large audience feels, I imagine, like an architect seeing his drawing turn into a magnificent building set proudly against a brilliant blue sky.
The ambitiously-conceived second annual Classical Idol presented by the Symphony Guild of Charlotte hit another home run this year with numerous brilliant performances, inspiring motivational talks, and a successful live auction with proceeds going to the Charlotte Symphony, the Charlotte Youth Symphony, and various community outreach programs such as Winterfield Elementary School.
I began writing The Sea Is My Delight several months ago after spending several evenings working with Violet Pan’s classical violin students, helping them put together a light, entertaining performance of spry Irish tunes and amusing choreography such as swabbing the deck and saluting in sailor fashion, making figure 8s across the stage, and skipping while whistling a merry jig.
This inspired me to write an original multi-part hornpipe tune beginning in the unlikely, dark key of Eb, stepping through a number of modulations using a blues-y mixolydian mode, and ending in the splendidly bright key of A.
While working on the composition, I was interviewed by Idol’s publicist who asked what I was doing to stay one step ahead of this year’s competitors (I had been last year’s winner). I explained that competition was and is the furthest thing from my mind, and that even if winning were important to me, it would be an unrealistic ambition to try to win against such disparate and brilliant performers as a comedy cello/marimba act, a classical virtuoso violin piece, or a performance of electronic techno. Instead, my aim was to draw together as many musicians from the greater Charlotte musical community as possible who don’t usually play Celtic music, and to collectively create a fun, light performance that would leave the audience feeling happy and humming the melody on the way out of the building.
It was coming down to the wire and I still didn’t know who the personnel would be. I was on the phone for hours asking various musicians to donate their time, and with each acceptance from oboist or guitarist I would begin writing their score. By the time we took the stage we were 20 players strong, ranging in ages from 10 to 60, three being students, others being top players in the Charlotte Symphony and prominent teachers. Everyone was incredibly cheerful about doing the piece. The violinists in particular could have had reason to grow impatient as I emailed them successively newer drafts of the music – 7 in all! The rehearsal schedule was also unnerving in that we were allowed only a few minutes on stage to work everything out, and this was the first time everyone was collected together!
The piece began with me playing solo on a darkened stage in spot light. One-by-one, players walked onto stage and took up the tune, beginning with Victoria, then Caroline, Elina, and so on. The stage lighting expanded. In the middle of the arrangement Tom Burge provided an amusing “wah-wah” effect on his trombone with a plunger, while Dave Cook grooved away with a bluegrass guitar riff. Cellist David Meyer remarked that his favorite part was the catchy chorus line-type motif at the end of the piece, which he said was still going through his head two days later! Many thanks to Rosalind for making the trek all the way from Asheville to provide her lyrical bassoon melodies.
The best part of all was that the audience, while clearly beaming from ear-to-ear and applauding with each new entrance of performer, did not try to clap along in time with the music. (Kudos!)
I am grateful to all the performers, many of whom are my dear and true friends, and to the organizers of such a brilliant event. The show was beautifully conceived and was testimony to the imaginative and progressive thinking of the constituents of the Charlotte musical community.
View full gallery of Classical Idol photos [HERE]
Feb. 8, 2013
People turned up in droves. The arrestingly beautiful Great Aunt Stella Center was so crowded that in spite of numerous people standing at the back of the hall, many others had to be turned away even before getting out of their cars. What I thought remarkable was the broad demographic of listeners: classical violinists, banjo pickers, Arts & Science Council patrons, Charlotte Folk Society regulars, the financially successful, the optimistically transitional. Kurt & Joan Widenhouse were among them, along with Davidson composer Jennifer Stasack. And one unforgettable woman whom I met afterward!
Earlier that week, my non-performance-related music biz responsibilities had been so intense that by the time I placed the bow on the string to start the first musical phrase of the show I was close to emotional meltdown. Early morning public school presentations, lack of sleep, posing as my own PA sound engineer, and garnering almost no practice time on my instrument all conspired towards what might have been a recipe for a disastrous performance.
Yet, miraculously, the show came together successfully -- said by Bethli Clemens to have been "Exceedingly high in feel good factor." (ha! that could be a tune title)
In discussing the strange bird we call "professional performer", I said to Jennifer later that weekend:
Assuming one begins with a great tune, ie: the source material is first-rate... And then a very creative arrangement is devised which enhances that source material... And assuming the musical collaborators (in this case EJ and David) are well-rehearsed with the arrangement and they are of sufficient skill and prowess to reproduce their work on command... Assuming the flow of a program has been carefully considered to produce the best musical impact, and that the verbal interludes between musical selections are well-crafted. And the whole show has been performed numerous times giving the performers the necessary experience to be able to adapt to the many distracting stimuli and unanticipated pitfalls of a live performance...
Assuming all of this preparation...
One can walk onto stage, press a mental button, and let the concert play itself out, as if a current is applied to some complex algorithm setting the prescribed elements into motion. This, in spite of inextricable setbacks.
Naturally, a performer strives (even agonizes) to deliver a breathtakingly inspired performance. But the reality of the professional performer is that occasionally he/she is obliged to deliver a show that is high in feel-good factor and only moderate in virtuosity.
Thank-you, Charlotte listeners, for feeling so good about this evening.
Dec. 29, 2012
Ticket-buyers waiting until the last minute is why concert producers have early heart attacks.
One week before the downbeat of my Scottish Solstice Holiday show at the Red Clay Theatre, only 20 tickets had been sold. The 200-seat house needed to be half full just to break even and Eddie Owen was getting nervous. But I assured him that an after-Christmas show would work. And it did! By the time my comrades and I took the stage for the maiden voyage of my holiday show, all but 4 seats were sold and the elements came together for a beautiful, atmospheric evening of stories and Highland music.
The silvery, trumpet-like tone of Rosalind's bombarde rang out above EJ's border pipes. David locked the groove down with his powerful baritone guitar. Kelly Brzozwski added elfin ferrie dust with her delicate Celtic harp, and two Scottish dancers Lindsay and Meredith brought the house down with their cheeky, playful sailor's hornpipe.
Special thanks to Shalom for doing a great job on sound, to Eddie for having courage, and to all the volunteers who helped us sell tons of CDs.
Based on this wonderful success, we will expand in Dec. 2013 to include 4-6 concerts in various southeast cities. Please check back for details.
Dec. 3, 2012
Tonight I participated in an charming West Asheville concert benefitting Habitat for Humanity. The event was produced by my good friend Aaron Price, the Ellingtonian genius with an uncanny ability to recognize and draw together the best talents. Some of the cast of performers were musicians I have previously admired, ie: Chuck Brodsky, Red June, etc. But the act which cast me under a spell of musical intoxication was Kellin Watson. [Video1] [Video 2]
Nov. 11, 2012
Several years have gone by since I last performed at the Yachats Celtic Festival and I was delighted to return to find that it was just as magical as ever. The lineup of musical luminaries was almost an embarrassment of riches considering the intimate size of the event. My comrades Zac and Rod and I received a tumultuous ovation befitting of the stormy seacoast backdrop.
The rest of the weekend we were able to sit back and enjoy listening to, and getting better acquainted with, the other artists and craftspeople. My personal favorites were: Lisa Ornstein & Dan Compton, who tore it up in the old-time fiddle tunes and created musical poetry with their atmospheric originals; The Gothard Sisters, an adorably entertaining pastiche of Irish step dance with well-rehearsed multi-instrumental theater; and AnnaLee Foster, a Celtic harper who showed just how grooving a hornpipe tune can be.
Congratulations to Linda Hetzler and all the volunteers who pulled together a beautiful event.
Next stop was Grizzly Peak Winery in Ashland. Phil Kavanaugh lined this one up, and thanks to a combination of his vision, the excellent media coverage and the hosts generously opening up their warmly elegant space, the event was a sellout and an unqualified success.
Special thanks to the parents of the several kids who allowed them to stay up late on a school night to hear the music! Thanks also to Naomi, Al, Virginia, and Doris for all their effort. Note to self: I need to remember to specify in the tech rider, "The PA engineer's finger shall never touch the reverb button"! And to the woman in the red dress and blond curls who was sitting halfway back on the right (didn't catch your name): "Which CD turned out to be your favorite?"
Autumn arrived in Asheville while I was away. As I unpack my bags and answer a hundred emails, I notice that the rhythmic chatter of summer cicadas has been replaced by chirping crickets and the evening air is chilly and crisp. My mind is filled with the beautiful faces and heart-warming conversations shared over the past three weeks while traveling throughout southern California.
Of the 11 concerts, two masterclasses, a university lecture, a radio show and one contra dance, attendance ranged from 200 to just a handful. But even the sometimes sparse audiences consistently made a brilliant show of praise for the music, the story-telling, and the warmth of the concert experience.
Zac and I were reunited after a 1.5-year hiatus and found our groove with ease. Not only is Zac a sensitive and exciting performer, he is an ideal travel companion as well. As I commandeered the wheel during our several-hundred-mile zigzag through the desert, Zac read aloud the short essays of David Sedaris, his voice-over talents eliciting hilarity which brightened the otherwise bleak miles of concrete ribbons that cut through a parched, waterless terrain where no man should live -- let alone build cities of millions!
The tour kicked off with a 3-day excursion to Lone Pine with my buddy Ted Bosley. Each time I visit the weird rock formations of the Alabama Hills where Ted's cabin is located, and with every new trek I undertake in the Mt. Whitney Wilderness, I am repeatedly struck with how bizarre and other-worldly the Sierras are. Certainly not what I would call “homey” like the Appalachians, but crazily inspiring nonetheless. A week later Zac and I made an excursion to the lower Sierras to see the “Walk of a 100 giants”, a stand of breathtaking old Sequoias just north of Kernville. The massive trunks felt like the feet of giant Momekils or something! Everything about the Sierras is extreme.
Following a lecture at Cal State and a concert at the Museum of Making Music in nearby Carlsbad, we unwound with wine and food at poolside in the company of one of my best friends, Bill Bradbury. Bill is a marvelous composer and has accepted my commission for him to write a concerto for fiddle with orchestra accompaniment which I can perform later this season. I’m over the moon about this!
During the concert at St. Jude’s in Tehachapi, several adorable Junior High-aged girls got up out of their seats and made a parade of leaping and dancing about the church sanctuary as we played. “You never know what’s going to happen in Tehachapi,” I proclaimed afterward to uproarious laughter. The next morning I arose atypically early so I could squeeze in a private lesson with Iliana Moore, one of the group of enthusiastic dancers at the concert and, as it turns out, an astonishingly talented budding fiddler.
During a stopover in Pasadena I taught two violin lessons over Skype to my good friend Maura Shawn Scanlin, a brilliant 16-year-old violinist who attends UNC School of the Arts and has studied Scottish fiddle with me intermittently for the past several years. The object of lessons was to help put the finishing touches on her competition repertoire. Three days later, Maura Shawn emailed me to inform me that she had won the U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Championship – for the second time! Now there’s a chip off the ol’ block, or something!
The next day my violinist friend Elina Lev, associate concertmaster of the Charlotte Symphony, phoned to report that she had just won a major audition with the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City. Elina is a Russian-trained virtuoso violinist whose success is in no way connected to me other than by way of the pride I feel in being her friend, confidant, musical collaborator, and one-time fiddle teacher.
The lasting impression I take away from this trip is that for the first time in my career I feel I’m leaving behind a legacy. I see the glint of inspiration in the eyes of young students, and I notice more and more newcomers coming to my shows. People thank me after performances for giving them a few moments of peace and tranquility in the midst of their crazy lives. I admit that on some days—particularly if I’m sleep-deprived or have spent too long driving from city-to-city through endless mazes of 12-lane freeway traffic and sprawling, matrix-like housing subdivisions—I occasionally feel dubious about the relevance that traditional Scottish music has in today’s world. But inevitably, and usually in the nick of time before despair, I am blessed with the beautiful gift of seeing my work manifest itself in the hearts of people, and these moments vindicate all the effort and loneliness that accompanies this chosen lifestyle.
A lovely article written by Joe Woodard elaborating on this subject appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press previewing my performance at SOhO. [Read It Here]
Despite the fact that monetary earnings clearly have not kept apace with the meaningfulness of touching people’s heart and lives, and despite the fact that I remain a wonton bachelor ever wishing for the company of a loving female companion, I am nevertheless grateful to overflowing for the wonderful experiences that the rich world of music has provided.
The setting for the Charleston performance was incredible: the stage overlooked a delta marsh with egrets gliding over the rushes and a full moon illuminating the night sky. The hors d'earve table cloth caught fire during our set. A big, warted frog hopped across the stage in front of us as we were playing. When I tipped my glass up to enjoy the last few drops of red wine, there was a disgusting 1.5-inch cock roach (a.k.a. "Palmetto bug") drowned in the bottom!
The "Tennessee Shines" radio show in Knoxville last night was fantastic. Broadcast in front of a live studio audience, WDVX has created a very professionally-run, interesting program which showcases both nationally-touring and beloved local acoustic acts. I was even asked to play the show's theme song during the opening credits! To my delight, the Tennessee audience went wild for the full blast of bagpipes with fiddle! The only down side was that the transitions between station ID's, commentary, and the other performers were fast and nerve-wracking. The count-offs were somewhat frantic, we had to truncate several of the songs, and I wasn't able to get my instrument properly tuned. Nervelthess, while the polish of the performance was not at 100%, my comrades EJ, David, and Rosalind are adept at smoothing over any minor imperfections and I think overall we delivered a strong and effective performance. At least that was the consensus of the audience, many of whom procalimed this to be one of the best shows they've heard. WDVX will replay the show this coming Saturday, so tune in!
April 5, 2012
Tonight I was privileged to sit in with Underhill Rose for 4 songs during their Asheville gig at The Lab. It was like musical confection. Molly's singing voice rips your heart out, and Eleanor's song-writing is rife with harmonic depth and smokey atmosphere.
March 25, 2012
I did my part to help the Charlotte Symphony raise $53,000 in one night to benefit the Symphony's many ongoing programs, and had a huge amount of fun in the process. Read on!
I've never owned a T.V. set and never seen the show "American Idol", so when the president of the Charlotte Symphony Guild asked if I would do a performance at the Knight Theatre to benefit the Charlotte Symphony, I had a hard time envisioning how this "Classical Idol" format would look. But as preparations unfolded, I came to understand that the concept was to create a broad-spectrum gala featuring top performers in many disciples, in combinations that were new and inventive, highlighting some of the area's talented youth performers as well as professionals in the symphony, ballet, and opera.
For my commission I set about writing an 8-minute fantasia on Celtic melodies for string septet. The lineup was a veritable dream team of performers: Elina Lev, the Russian virtuoso/associate concertmaster; three other terrific symphony players; Annika Bowers, the splendidly talented 13-year old Youth Symphony violinist/fiddle enthusiast; Christine Vanarsdale, a lovely (and rare) Celtic harpist; I was at the helm. I wrote the score with each individual player in mind so as to capitalize on each of their strengths. Due to my regular performance schedule, the only uninterrupted time I had to write was late into the wee hours; this continued for over a month. I experimented with some new polyphonic scoring techniques which I think were ultimately quite successful, such as having one instrument play in a major key while another instrument playing simultaneously in a minor key, or avoiding the boring "boom-chuck" effect by weaving short motifs between all the instruments.
By the time the curtain went up on March 25, the production was nothing short of impressive. There were tango dancers accompanied by sultry strings; a ballet troupe in outlandish costumes accompanied by a woodwind trio; an opera singer accompanied by a community ladies choir; a string sextet performed a frenetic chamber piece by Tchaikovsky; a stunning young concert harpist performed two fascinating avant garde pieces. There was a gospel choir and a kid's drum circle. And of course, the Celtic septet.
Each performance began with a screening of a short film with interviews by the upcoming performers talking about their passion for the specific genre. The stage crew scurried around in the dark setting up each act and the performers stealthily took their positions. Very slick, I thought.
The film of Annika ended and a spotlight came up on the seven of us fanning out in a semi-circle. Delicate, angelic arpeggios in the Celtic harp set us off-and-running.
What is really weird about the Knight Theatre is that it looks hip, cool, and groovy -- yet it has the worst sound of any space I've ever played in! It would be wrong to say the acoustics are bad. They're worse than bad. The hall has "anti-acoustics": the sound evaporates the instant a bow makes a string vibrate, as if there is an acoustic suction device mounted above the musicians. The designers must have had a special talent for creating the most unmusical space in the history of EVER. (But it sure looks good.)
Thus unfolded my piece, growing in intensity in spite of 98% of the tone being sucked into never-never land by the acoustic suction device. Annika took a 64-bar tap dancing break which was "cute as a bug’s ear" (as my grandmother used to say). Once the tempo really starting to cook, I called for a sudden key change to the demonic A mixolydian; this gave the arrangement an extra shot of adrenaline. I tapped my feet madly and the audience clapped along merrily.
The audience was polled via numeric keypads.
At the end of the show, Christopher Warren-Green, the Charlotte Symphony's conductor, took the stage with envelope in hand, tore it open and read, "...And the winner is... Jamie Laval with Annika Bowers and the Celtic Septet."
During the wine and cheese reception afterward there was a flood of congratulatory hand-shaking, with a multitude of board members and VIPs conveying their fondness for Celtic music by way of their "great-great so-and-so" being from Ireland.
It was certainly a night to remember. But more importantly, the event -- brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed -- fostered good will and respect between a wide array of the arts community. It connected musicians who normally don't get the chance to work together due to their busy professional obligations. Younger musicians rubbed shoulders with pro players which intensified their daily practicing regime and got them noticed by the ticket-purchasing public.
For my part, the biggest "take home" of all was a renewed inspiration for developing what I see as a wide-open potential of crossing Celtic folk music with classical composition. A self-imposed task is now to find the time compose the other 3 movements envisioned for this Celtic Septet.
March 16, 2012
Every concert since Jan has been to a packed hall, which is starting to make me think there is something bigger is a work that I don't fully know about. Normally I invest a great deal of energy into putting the word out about performances via social media, radio interviews, emails, newspaper press releases, etc., but presently I've been so slammed with projects, developing new material, and music biz infrastructure that I've been able to do only a perfunctory amount of my usual gig biz. Yet wherever we've enjoyed the buzz of a terrific buildup, with new fans coming into the fould all the time.
Dec. 31, 2011
[Watch Video Here]
A new band was born tonight at Jenny and Randy Boyd's classy Scottish pub, the Jig & Reel, in Old Town Knoxville. Friendship, respect, skill, preparation, and crazy energy mingled to produce the merriest, dancing-est New Year's Eve in memory.
The lineup consisted of the superb Asheville piper and my great friend EJ Jones; EJ's girlfriend Rosalind on bagpipes, bombarde, and bassoon; Frances Cunningham of Nashville playing bouzouki; and Chad Melton, the ultra-creative Knoxville percussionist.
An amusing side note: after the show several fans remarked with admiration over our ability to simulataneously march and play as we processed into the club peeling the tune, "Scotland the Brave." I wonder: marching and playing, is that considered a feat of extraordinary prowess? What of breathing while playing?!
During the afterglow, as the bar staff was gathering the empty pint glasses and the dancing college students had drited away to some continuing frivolity, the five of us happy musicians mutually agreed that this combination was too good to let slide into the annuls of gig memorandum. It seems it's time to break out a bottle of Champagne and start thinking up band names!
Dec. 20, 2011
Iron skulls persistently bobbing for oily libation, mindless paleo-robotic creatures fixed upon the featureless landscape of a garishly mechanized futuristic world. But this is not the future, it is now.
Just down the road I pass frenzied holiday shopping activity at Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's, and Toys-R-Us, whose parking lots are crammed with Suburbans and pickups. In the next block, several gas stations, corporate sellers of ground cow parts laced with MSG, and a neighborhood refinery.
Suddenly I hear mad honking behind me. In my rear view mirror I see the face of a snarling woman behind tinted glass of a big black SUV. She's frantically swerving, screaming, flipping me off, trying to get around me. There's a car in front of me and another to my left -- don't know what I'm supposed to do, exactly, or what I might have done to make her so upset. She squeezes up beside me, rolls down her window and screeches at the top of her voice something about "... F * * * ing ... F * * got...", then roars away.
Such was the backdrop for the final engagement of my California Solstice tour.
The Kern Council for the Arts represents the flip side of Bakersfield. Thanks to Jill Egland and a team of devoted humanists, an impressive program for elementary education is in energetic motion. Bakersfield is home to over 500,000 souls, and Kern Arts wants to give the kids a better future. Artists and performers are preened to visit marginalized public schools and work with kids to broaden their scope of creativity, empowering them to think outside the box, develop skills the didn't know they had, round out their knowledge of geography, cultural history, and (indirectly) improve their math through learning about music.
When I set about the task of planning my tour bookings, the inevitable question always arises: "With so many lovely areas throughout the U.S., and so many hamlets of well-informed audiences from which to choose, should one willfully plan a tour into a down-trodden, bleak and struggling area? Doesn't it make sense to go to cheerier, greener places where success and happiness is assured?
My response to that question has to be this: "Should one abandon a kicked puppy?"
I've decided to return to Bakersfield in September to spend a week working alongside Kern Arts, hoping to make a difference in the lives of some of those youngsters. I think the way of the world comes down to balancing all the forces.
Dec. 6, 2011
In normal circumstances I would have been due for a break after so many consecutive performances throughout the Southeast. Instead, I shipped off to southern California and hit the ground running.
First stop was San Diego, where I delivered three lecture/demonstrations at Cal State San Marcos. Bill Bradbury's recording techniques class was exceptionally fun. The students conducted microphone tests with me in the studio, and then we all sat together discussing the ins-and-outs of recording stringed instruments. In the process I even learned several new ProTools techniques from Bill.
Next up was Encino, where, in spite of smaller-than-usual numbers, I was given a very warm and appreciative reception. Among the several regular fans in attendance, Jessica Sterling, my talented photographer friend from L.A., flattered me by her presence. Afterward, as I drove down the streets of Pasadena en route to my lodgings, I was flabbergasted to see the mountains of debris and fallen trees strewn recklessly over the streets by the by the tremendous wind storm which had just hit the night before. Power was out, so we went about by candle light. I read somewhere that the amount of energy released by a hurricane in 10 minutes is equal to detonating all the nuclear bombs on earth simultaneously!
The Harveys are a charming and generous family who hosted a concert for me in their Ventura home. Beforehand, I greatly enjoyed teaching lessons to Katie and Thomas, who struck me by their skill and aplomb in playing Cape Breton music. After the concert a late night jam session ensued, with Katie switching effortlessly from fiddle to exceptionally well-played Cape Breton-style piano!
Early the following morning I blasted off eastward to Tehachapi, arriving in time to teach a fiddle workshop. To my delight, Morgan and Taylor Welch were there, along with four bubbly, enthusiastic new students. The concert that night was organized by my splendid friend Andrea, and it all came off beautifully. I appreciated that several prominent local musicians attended the show. Later in the week Andrea took me to visit the Buddhist temple which is nestled idyllically in a hidden canyon flocked with black pine and oak. Although I am not (currently) Buddhist, Andrea and several other friends have introduced me to this very down-to-earth spiritual practice.
Brilliant blue wintery skies over the soaring Sierras greeted me as I arrived Bishop. The matinee performance at the Inyo Arts council met with a moment of drama. Just as I had finished reciting a poignant Orcadian poem about the unity of people and earth, the lights and sound system went dead. I proceeded, unplugged, to play the haunting tune, Da Day Dawn by the light of the twinkling Christmas tree. The mood couldn't have been sweeter if it had been planned. Only problem was that about 3 minutes into the arrangement the techie flipped on the breaker -- right in the middle of the song. Alas, the chilling effect was lost!
Nov. 29, 2011
EJ Jones, David Brown and I just taped a Christmas T.V. show called "Heartland" which will be aired in the greater Knoxville area on Dec. 22 and Dec. 24. The location was a beautiful spot in Tennessee called The Museum of Appalachia. The principle backdrop was a huge fireplace with an unbelievably big Yule log meant to burn for 12 days. What a broiling place to be standing during take-after-take clad in a heavy wool jacket, kilt, and thick wool kilt hose! Supplemental shots were taken outside among the authentic Appalachian chink log homestead structures with sheep and guinea hens ambling about. For posterity, they even captured a shot of us playing as we walked away into the sunset!
Nov. 16, 2011
Day off: breakfast with a board member of the Charlotte Folk Society, drive to Asheville in time for lunch and planning session with piper EJ Jones, conference call with agent Janet Kenworthy, reunion with my accommodation hosts Chari & Bruce, conference call with social media consultant Sarah Bhatia, several calls to students, conference call with a new venue in my upcoming California tour, wrapping up the day with 4 hours of emails and website updates.
Enough of this laziness, now it's time to get to work!
The North Carolina Presenter's Consortium in Durham proved eye-opening and yeilded a number auspicious musical connections. Almost without exception, the showcase performances knocked my socks off with beautifully-prepared "thumbnail sketches" of each artists' act, complete with "Let-Me-Entertain-You" stage craft and amusing dialogue.
Friday's engagement was a wine dinner concert at Stonefield Cellars. The slightly chilly but atmospheric barrel room fit nicely with the story line of a Scottish Celidh held in a highland whiskey distillery. The next day, Bill and Nora Yearns hosted a very classy musical gathering in their lovely Greensboro home, the guests responding rapturously to the program. Their guest room was fitted with a sumptuously luxurious bed that felt like I was sleeping on a cloud.
The highlight of the weekend was the performance and lecture at Davidson College. Thanks to the expansive view of the relevance of global music held by Jennifer Stasack, chair of the music department, as well as numerous other faculty, my performance and discussion of the origins of Celtic music was received with utmost respect and praise. I have long hoped for the marriage of a global view of music with the changing strategies that have developed in education. Davidson college seems to be on the front edge of this curve, and it's clear that my weekend's introductory engagement will lead to some very exciting future collaborations.