Friday we drove back over the highest point on Rte 81 to play the Charlottesville dance. That's such a beautiful drive, even with clouds and rain a lot of the way. Bill's old 4-Runner is going strong - with over 260,000 miles on it with the original motor we think he should be in one of those Toyota commercials. It's a little slow up the hills, but we're not complaining. When I first walked into the hall at the MAC center, I wasn't impressed. It seemed a little small, no windows, all hard surfaces. I was afraid it would be an echo chamber with lots of dancers in it with lots of white noise to try to hear ourselves through. Boy, was I wrong! It turned out to be a community band room with special acoustic tiling and sound-soaking panels on the wall. The more people there were in the room the better the sound got. There was no beginners session scheduled, but a there was such a big group of new people there before the dance that Bill decided to give a short beginners' session. There was a large group of college age kids that came to see what this thing “contradancing” was, actually, there two groups. One group came from the local university (UofVA). The second group came from further away. They drove up from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA., which is over an hour away. They ended up staying for the whole dance and really enjoying themselves. At the end of the dance we played, as requested, two waltzes - Charlotte's Waltz and (Dennis) McGee's Waltz - and then kicked into Lapin Dans Son Nique (a Cajun two-step). Those who knew how started two-stepping, and the kids looked confused for a minute. I was thinking of announcing it wasn't necessary to two-step, just have fun and boogie, when the kids suddenly formed a circle and started making up their own dance! Those in the circle were dancing around and clapping their hands, hooting and hollering, and then in the middle of the circle each person or couple took a turn doing something fancy. They were having so much fun - it was a great reminder to just move to the music, and not worry so much about exactly how that happens. I have to admit, it bothers me when we play Cajun music and I see a few couples gracefully two-stepping about the floor while everyone else watches because they think they don't know how to dance to this music. Just boogie! As Cajun fiddler Mitch Reed one told me about trying to learn authentic Cajun fiddling - “It's all good, man!” The most important thing is to do it. Of course if you enjoy a style of dance or music you probably want to learn the “right” way to do it eventually, but that shouldn't stop you from dancing or playing in the mean time! OK, off my soapbox..... Our hosts for the night were Paul and Susan Rosen. They threw a great little party after the dance with lots of music playing and new friends for us to get to know. Now comes the insane part....the “little party” lasted until 4AM. We did sleep in a bit, but tonight we play the Greensboro, NC dance, sleep about four hours and hit the road for Arden, DE. We play a dance there tomorrow afternoon, yes, afternoon. Then I'll be giving a dulcimer workshop in the evening. Ah, life on the road! We actually have done this before, so we know it's possible. The first time was years ago with our friends Eric Johnson and Greg Anderson in the contradance band, Scrod Pudding. That time was also in the spring, the weekend that the time changed and we lost an hour. And we didn't realize it until about 2AM Saturday night when someone suddenly realized it was really 3AM. And we had to be on the road by 5AM. To top it all off, Eric's mom, then living in Baltimore, kindly met us at the Arden dance with sandwiches, which was wonderful of her, and a video camera to tape the whole dance with .........luckily for us this was before the era of U-Tube. I hope that videotape is packed away deep in the family archives, subtitled “The Dance of the Zombie Musicians”. By comparison, tomorrow will be a piece of cake!
We headed back to Asheville to play the Old Farmer's Ball at Warren Wilson College. The weather has finally changed and it's cooler and a little rainy - that's a relief for us Mainers. The dance is held in Bryson Gym, which is the only hall I've been in that has a rock-climbing wall at the far end! That and the quilts hung everywhere to absorb sound make it quite colorful. This time we had the rare treat of having Bill just play guitar, and not call. He's amazingly good at calling and playing at the same time, but it was fun not having to share him with the dancers for a change. Mary Keith Cornett called and did a real nice job with interesting dances and a gentle manner. The crowd was a little “small” due to end of semester deadlines, but that means there were “only” 200 people there! There were too many beautiful women at this dance, says Jim – he got a little distracted! There was also a lot of flat-footing on the floor, very fun to watch. We were happy to see Weogo Reed at the sound board, and as always he took excellent care of us. After the dance, fiddler Laura Lenick joined us, Mary Keith, and Sandy Cornett for a little party back at Diane Silver's, once again our host for the night. Thanks, Diane!
During the day Wednesday we slept(!) and prepared for our house concert in the evening in Durham. The heat wave is continuing with temps in the 90s every day. We're still trying to acclimate to it. Jim went for a walk in the near-by Bog Garden, and saw lots of baby ducklings and goslings, big turtles, and a water moccasin that had just eaten – we hope NOT one of the baby birds. The house concert was a hoot! This was the third one we've done at the home of Paul Fackler and Marilyn Hartman. The room was comfortably full, with many dancers from the Winston-Salem dance the night before as well as folks we recognized from past concerts and new people, too! Fun was had by all, especially us, and the party and tune session afterwards was delightful! We enjoyed seeing Linda Cooper, again, dancer, caller, clogger and dance organizer from the Chapel Hill area, David DiGuisseppe arrived part way through the concert with his accordion, and fiddler Buz Lloyd showed up in time for the session. I never got everyone's name, but there was a hammered dulcimer, an electric cello, a silver flute, yet another accordion player (Bruce, from the lowest corner of the state – he got the award for having driven the farthest for the concert), and a smattering of other instruments including our host, Paul, on fiddle. Quebecois tunes reigned supreme, of course, with three, yes, three accordions! Paul and the flutist played some lovely Irish jigs, too. One tune that particularly stood out to me was a Breton tune the David D. and Paul played. We recently did a workshop at NEFFA with a Breton singer, and the two things have really piqued my interest in Breton music. Paul sent us off with a cd of Breton music, which we are enjoying as I type this!
The repairman at Acoustic Corner was very helpful, spent quite a bit of time tinkering with my dulcimer to see what the problem was. It was not a loose brace, which is what I was worried about, just the shell of the pick-up plug had come loose inside the dulcimer. Not serious, but a little bit of a hassle to fix. He wouldn't charge me for it, so I gave him a copy of my “Trestle Bridge” CD as a thank you, and we continued on our way. Next stop was at the Song of the Wood music store. Jerry Read Smith, owner of the store, is a great hammered dulcimer player and maker. His store specializes in mountain and hammered dulcimers. I wasn't going to buy anything, but......there was this walnut and redwood McSpadden baritone dulcimer hanging on the wall that needed a home in the North. Really. I've been wanting a baritone for a long time, and this one had a warm and focused tone that appealed to me. A baritone is tuned a fifth lower than standard, and I think it will lie in a good range for my voice. Again, I left a copy of “The Trestle Bridge”, this time because Jerry's version of “The Strayaway Child” was my source for that tune, and I recorded it on “The Trestle Bridge”. I thought it only right to give him a copy. The Tuesday night Winston-Salem dance was fun, as always. Sadie the tour dog was happy, because she was allowed in the hall at this dance. Her “job” (this is a border collie, remember) at the break is to play with every single person in the hall that is willing to throw her toy, and to lie on stage, tail a-wagging, with the band while the dance is going on. Tim had the sound all set up and waiting for us when we got there - sound on stage was great, and the dancers were kicking up their heels and having a great time. The mirrors along the wall made the hall look twice as big and twice as full as it actually was, though it was a little disorienting for Bill to see half the dancers swinging backwards!Much to Carol Thompson's delight, Bill called “The Wild Woman from No. Carolina”, which he had written for her after our first tour in N.C. After the dance we headed for our “home away from home” at Rod Eden's place in Greensboro. (Rod of “Rod's Grits”, another Bill composition)
Off to Asheville for the Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall! It's about a 7 hour drive, with breaks for us and Sadie to play “stick”. Somehow we arrived in North Carlina just in time for a heat wave. It was hot and humid in Asheville, not quite what we expected at the end of April. The Grey Eagle is quite a contrast to the elegant “Art Deco” of the Spanish Ballroom. It's a very cool, very funky restaurant/bar run by two “twin cousins” from Louisiana. Their “gumbolyah” is to die for! They crammed about 100 dancers onto a plywood dance floor that gave great response on the balances. We love to hear that - the energy on the floor makes us feel very much like we've come home to Maine (just a lot warmer). Great dancers – a lot of flat-footing at the ends of the lines, which run length-wise along the stage. That's a challenge for a caller, but the band loves it. We get to see a lot more of the dancing that way. Callers Beth Molaro, Diane Silver, Barbara Groh and fiddlers Laurie Fisher and Jeff Baker all stopped in to say hello and dance a bit, in fact, Diane ended up taking us home for the night. She gets an especially big thank you from us for being available at the last minute – our original host's wife was ill, and we changed to Diane's with no notice, and without her knowing we have a dog traveling with us! Her two cats were a little miffed, but Sadie is very respectful of kitties, we did not encourage a meeting, and there were no problems. As we arrived Rodney Sutton was rehearsing the Green Grass Cloggers on the dance floor. Later in the evening he was able to steer me in to the right person to help me out with a problem I was having with my mountain dulcimer. I wasn't able to play it at the dance because of a persistent metallic buzz. Rodney and several other people referred me to the Acoustic Corner in Black Mountain. We decided to stop there en route to Winston-Salem for the Tuesday dance and see what they could do.
We lingered at Bridgette and Don's as long as we possibly could, ate way too much at brunch, then headed back to Glen Echo for the Sunday night dance. This is a more experienced dance crowd than Friday's dance, and about half as large. No problem, though – they more than made up for it with their enthusiasm and style! Dave Shewmaker was there providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the band all night as he flat-footed his way through the dances, and we were happy to see many folks who had been at the Friday and Saturday night dances too. Our hosts that night were Jamie and Betsy Platt. Jamie has been our sound man at Glen Echo the last several times we've played there. We always request Jamie as our sound man, and he does an outstanding job. We haven't seen anyone more attentive to our needs on stage as well as the sound in the hall than Jamie is. Betsy hired us for the Friday night dance many years ago the fist time we played at Glen Echo, and is was a delight to see her again, as well.
Before playing the Frederick, MD dance, we visited the National Arboretum. WOW! The azaleas were in full bloom. 15,000 azalea bushes on one hillside, all different shades of red, fuchsia, salmon, orange, yellow, and white and various combinations. I don't know how many different cultivars there were among them. We only had time to explore the azalea gardens, the perennials, and a little of the herb gardens before we had to head on our way. After a couple of days of feeling out of our element on the roads, we finally adjusted to the heavier and slower rush-hour traffic and arrived in time to find our favorite sub shop - “Luke's Pizza” before we had to be at the hall. Bill was delighted to find that this was a community of exceptional dancers – they could do pretty much anything he could throw at them. Jim Hoyt, the dance organizer, was his usual friendly and helpful self. His son, Matt, has joined him at the sound board and they did their best to give us and the dancers what we all needed in a decidedly sound-unfriendly hall. We missed seeing Boe and Mary Lou, the usual hosts of the apres-dance bash at Boe's music store, because they were out of town, but Jim (Joseph) set us up with friends of his from Phippsburg, ME, as hosts that night. Bridgette and Don summer in Maine and have a beautiful home in Maryland the rest of the year. Bridgette is from France, and has promised to help us this summer in our quest to learn to speak French. It was a real treat to stay there and get to visit with them and meet their son, Thibeault, and his fiance. Because she is from South Africa, Thibeault gave her a calf when he proposed to her. There was a lot of talk about how that calf was going to get raised in suburban Maryland! Hearing about Thibeault's program with young people was even more exciting than the calf, though. He has started a program (called B-More) to bring kids with different cultural backgrounds together through playing sports. There are 15 kids each from groups including Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Hispanic youth, inner-city blacks, and... maybe a few others I'm not remembering. The teams are chosen by counting off so that the cultures are mixed and the kids learn to work together in a safe and fun environment. He has done similar programs with great success in Ireland between Catholic and Protestant youths and in Africa between Tutsi and Zulu youths. More than anything else, it shows the kids and their families that there is another, non-violent path they can follow in spite of their cultural differences and gives them hope that things can change. What a needed program this is in so many places!
We left home last Thursday, and drove to Chester, NY to stay overnight with our friends, Mike and Barb Gilman. They are long-time dancers, former dance organizers, gardeners and all-around good folks. The morning was a little drizzly, but we took a brief tour of the farm anyway, said hello to the horses, admired the new deer fence around the garden – for our Maine friends, their asparagus is starting to come up! And Sadie, my border collie, of course jumped in the pond shortly before we needed to leave... visiting the Gilmans was a great way to start off the tour! Our first gig was the Friday night dance at the Spanish Ballroom, at the Glen Echo National Park in Glen Echo, MD. We first played there 12 years ago, and each time we return there have been more renovations of this wonderful and historical place. The ballroom is completely repainted, the roof and ceiling fixed, the carousel repainted, the bumper car pavilion redone into a great outdoor dance space. There were about 300 people dancing Friday night. We enjoyed meeting a bunch of dancers and organizers at a gathering after the dance. These guys are doing a great job growing their community by attracting and educating beginners - there were about 100 people at the beginners' workshop before the dance. I felt a little rusty, after the last couple weeks of not playing because of illness, but the dancers didn't seem to notice!
I just discovered there's a video of one of my bands, T-Acadie, doing one of the things nearest and dearest to our hearts - giving folks their first experience of community contradancing with a fun Quebecois dance called "Une, Deux, Trois, Pousse!" The location is a lovely little studio at the Rock Gardens Inn, Sebasco, Maine, where we do community contradancing several times in the summer. Check it out!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzyF0l4RIAA
Here in Maine we've had a rather soggy spring. I'm suprised by how late my garden is going in, in spite of the mild winter. Good news - the new baby chicks are just fine and growing quickly. My asparagus came up early and last week I did get the upper part of the garden tilled and planted, so soon we'll have spinach. This may not be a good year for tomatoes or melons, though! Musically things are much hotter than the weather! The summer is filling up with lots of gigs here at home (and who wouldn't want to be in Maine for the summer!) One new quirk is that the resort my band T-Acadie has played at for several years has switched our event from Saturday nights to Wednesday nights. That means that for the first time in a long time I am (we are) available for Saturday night gigs, in or out of Maine. It happened a little late to book festivals, but we are still getting calls for private events. Jimmyjo & the Jumbol'Ayuhs has discovered a great venue right in Westbrook, ME at Chicky's Fine Diner. It's the perfect atmosphere for a Cajun dance band, right down to the tiny dance floor! We'll be playing there the first Friday of every month for the foreseeable future. Plans are afoot to do some live recording there this summer. Chicky and Blake are great supporters of live music and we really appreciate their commitment to all the musicians who play at Chicky's Fine Diner.