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Bluegrass Music Coronavirus

Is Live Bluegrass Within Sight?

I just found out that a local festival, The Hamtramck Music Festival, has been cancelled due to the continued pandemic. While I have lost interest in bar hopping, seeing dozens of bands playing loud music that I really have grown out of, in sweaty bars and drinking warm beer, I know that there are younger generations that go for it (I was once young, too). This festival was great in that monetary proceeds from the festival went to help music education programs in the Hamtramck school district. Past years raised about $10,000 annually.

While the pandemic is still putting a lot of live shows on hold, many artists, particularly acoustic-based performers, have regularly streamed shows online, whether it is through Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, or some other service. These have either been ports in the storm or band-aids temporarily fixing it, depending how you look at it.

I have seen some great performances over the past year, but have also longed for and missed out on many other shows. It seems that solo or duo set-ups seem to work best. Canadian fiddler April Verch has been doing some wonderful performances with her partner Cody. They set up in the living room and play a few songs, then check in with their audience chat to see if there are any requests. You can then tip her through PayPal if you wish. I know that many others are doing it, but April seems to make it the most like she’s performing at a house concert in your own home. They haven’t done a YouTube streaming show in a while, but I would advise checking in to her website at aprilverch.com for updates.

One thing that many bluegrass bands are learning is that they have to adapt to this situation. Social distancing means that four or five bluegrass musicians cannot be standing close together around one microphone. On the flip side, if they do distance themselves to six feet or so apart,, even with separate mics, the camera has to pull back so far that the performers are unrecognizable on screen. Some bands are downsizing, where only two players are performing together. For husband/wife teams like Darin and Brooke Aldridge, this is relatively easy. I have seen other bands such as Mile Twelve doing split-screen performances to keep the band sound. From the looks of the band’s YouTube page, they are starting to say “To Hell!” to COVID and doing some true band performances. This latest video makes me really happy!

Starting around the new year, I began to receive emails regarding bluegrass festivals for the 2021 season. Of course, all have some note stating that due to the Coronavirus, the schedule is tentative, and there is still a possibility of re-scheduling and cancellation. As of this writing, some states are lifting some restrictions, and immunizations shots are becoming more available. I don’t see hitting a show in the next few weeks, but hopefully, by Memorial Day, I can pull out my lawn chair and cooler, and enjoy an outdoor bluegrass performance. Also, I NEED to get back to jamming with others, even though I am not addicted to it! Performing along with YouTube clips and DVDs is getting to be redundant!

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Guitar Coronavirus Musical Instruments

Tidbits #3: Shure – Part 2, Mandolin Straps, Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar, etc.

A few more ramblin’ thoughts for this week.

For some reason, maybe due to my ordering of the fake Shure SM58 microphone a few weeks ago from Wish.com, I received another microphone in the mail that didn’t cost me anything. This one is labeled a Beta 87a, but it definitely is not a Shure Beta 87a! It came in the same packaging as the SM58, with a faux leather zipper carrying bag, mic clip, cable tie and owner’s manual. Just by looking at the body of the mic, with the poor attempt at engraving the Shure label, one could tell that this was a fake. However, the big giveaway that it was not a true Shure Beta 87a was plugging it in. The 87a is supposed to be a condenser mic, which requires a phantom power of at least 24 volts to operate properly. This fake Shure mic had a dynamic element in it, so it worked without power, and sounded like a dynamic mic. Granted, I got this for free somehow, but true Shure Beta 87a mics list for about $250.00. Wish.com has these advertised for under $30.00. Use common sense when ordering something like this. If you see a Beta 87a under $200.00 new, it is most likely a fake. Unfortunately, some jerks are getting away with selling the fake ones as real. Do yourself a favor if you want a true Shure mic – buy it from a reputable dealer.

Besides doing some lutherie work, I have also been making braided mandolin straps during the pandemic. I learned to braid from a friend a few years ago, and usually while I am resting up in the evening and watching TV, I like to be a bit industrious by making straps. I started making leather guitar straps a few years back when I was gifted a bunch of nice-sized leather hide pieces. Once that ran out, I started using the leftover scraps and some laces to make mandolin straps. I make them for both A and F models, most are black with a different color ends, but I am making a few pink, blue and green ones. If interested, contact me here and I’ll email you some prices.

This past week I started working on my bluegrass rhythm guitar playing. Man, am I out of shape, musically! Seriously, I forgot how much of a job it is to keep good timing, proper strumming, and make a G run that doesn’t sound lousy, all at the same time! Since I haven’t worked with any band for a number of years, I have used the guitar almost exclusively for songwriting and recording with myself playing all instruments. Now that I’m practicing along with some jam tracks, I recognize what I’ve forgotten and let drift away from my rhythm technique. Lester Flatt and Jimmy Martin knew how important a rhythm guitar was to a bluegrass band, and as phenomenal of a lead player that he was, Tony Rice always stressed the importance of rhythm, and his was like a metronome. Speaking of a metronome, that is what I will be working with for a while.

Well, it looks like the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA) has cancelled this year’s Nashville Convention, which is usually scheduled for the last weekend of January. Yes, it is due to COVID-19, but they are setting the date for 2022 to be January 27-30. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

One positive note is that the 47th annual Kentucky State Fiddle Championship is scheduled to happen March 20 at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro. With what little has been available, I am SO tempted to make the trek! Go to https://www.kyfiddler.com/ for more information.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Coronavirus Musical Instruments Musicians

Creativity, and Ignorance

A few days ago, I was interviewing fiddler Tom Morley for an upcoming article. We got onto the topic of what he and other musicians that he knows are doing to keep the sanity during all of these pandemic lockdowns. He told me about a creative idea that his friend’s daughter thought of that consisted of purchasing a few small plastic greenhouses, pushing them together, and with one musician in each house, the band was able to perform together and hear each other while still keeping social distance.

https://99percentinvisible.org/article/hothouse-musicians-miniature-heated-greenhouses-enable-distanced-gatherings/

The more that I watch the video, the more that I am amazed at the creativity some people have shown during these strange times. Yes, music can be performed alone, but the idea of two or more musicians creating music together is part of human nature’s bonding. The Coronavirus tries so hard to dishearten people by separating us, but we as humans are smarter than that.

As I still look for a job, I have been trying to keep my sanity by doing some lutherie work. Actually, more repairs are being done on guitar amplifiers than on actual instruments, but it is all good, right? One thing that I have noticed in my search for repairable beginner stringed instruments is that people think that the damaged guitars, basses, mandolins and such are really buried treasures. Sure, a 1959 Fender Stratocaster that has structural and wiring concerns can still fetch over $1,000 because of its pedigree, but there is no reason that an acoustic guitar with a brand name of Magnum, Lotus, Rogue, or no name whatsoever should demand a high price.

I scan Craigslist ads as well as check eBay and other sources, and I am puzzled when I see a 30-year-old Magnum acoustic guitar that has seen better days with a price tag of $100.00! Seriously, a guitar like this did not sell for much more than that when it was new, probably has loads of nicks and scratches, even a crack or two, and the neck is most likely bowing like a hill. One thing that shows like “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow” have done is get people to think that all of the junk they have in their garage is worth something. If I am going to spend 60 or 70 dollars on an acoustic guitar, I would rather go through a company like Glarry, where the guitar is new and has some type of warranty or guarantee with the manufacturer/distributor.

Advice: If you have one of these old acoustic guitars that you bought for your kid decades ago and he never took an interest, and it sat in the closet for 20 or more years, and it does NOT have the name of Martin, Gibson, or Guild on the headstock, it is most likely not worth more than 10 bucks. Go ahead and get it appraised, but there is a slim chance that it is worth something. Instead, sell it at a garage sale for a few bucks, so that either some other kid may try to play it, someone like me might be able to salvage it as playable and give to someone, or let someone else hang it on the wall.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music Coronavirus

Yes, 2020 Sucked!

Yes, 2020 was not a good year for anyone (unless you owned Amazon). I don’t want to lament on it much, so I’ll just go over a few garbage points.

The loss of so many people in the music world. With Tony Rice passing away on Christmas, that was a definite knife to the heart. I will definitely miss him, as I was hoping that by some miracle he would be able to get his strength back and play that D-28 on stage once again.

The COVID-19 pandemic screwing up the lives of so many people. I am on my ninth month of unemployment, and compensation ended last week, so I am turning in pop cans and beer bottles to supplement food costs. In the music world, especially in bluegrass, live shows took a dump. So many bluegrass musicians rely on those live shows, not only for the performance pay but for sales of merchandise. A few musicians that I know had to take on part- and full-time non-music jobs to get by. Others resorted to online concerts with tip jars, Zoom music lessons, and creative alternatives such as selling music-related gifts such as jewelry and pictures. I cannot imagine what the pandemic has done to the other music-related jobs such as studio musicians, audio engineers, and roadies. The year has been a big test for the “blue collar” music workers.

I won’t even get into how our political environment is so divisive.

My hope for 2021 is getting back some more live music (I do miss going to The Ark in Ann Arbor), I can secure a decent job, do more writing (both song and articles), and practice, practice, practice my guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. It is an enjoyment and therapy for me. Unfortunately, with spending hours on the computer looking for a job, taking care of my 88-year-old mother, and trying to stay healthy with no access to presecriptions, musical instrument practice falls lower on the list.

Enough griping! It’s New Year’s Eve. Be safe tonight, since the bars are closed, keep the home celebration respectable. With that, I leave you with a holiday message from the beautiful Russian ladies of Beloe Zlato! I love these girls!

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music Coronavirus Musicians

Enjoying Music Visually

With the COVID thing going on, most musicians and bands have had to cancel live performances. To make up for the lost income, the more industrious performers are either doing virtual concerts, stepping up to online teaching, or being creative on sellable swag.

So most of you know that I am a contributing writer for Fiddler. In my years of writing for the magazine, as well as my involvement with the bluegrass music scene, I have become friends with a lot of bluegrass fiddlers.

Two fiddlers that stand out in my friendship are Brittany Haas of Hawktail, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Mile Twelve. Both are amazingly talented, as well as absolute sweethearts. They can call me any time if there is something that I can do for them, and are always there if I need a quick quote for an article. Something both of them have done (apart from each other) that I absolutely applaud can prove to be a great gift for the holidays.

Fans can only purchase so many CDs and T-shirts to keep bands afloat. A few months back, Hawktail made available 12-by-18-inch prints showing musical notation of songs from the albums Unless and Formations. Printed on parchment style paper, it looks as if it was taken from sheet music printed over a hundred years ago.

As for Bronwyn, she has recently released her solo album Fiddler’s Pastime. One of the more clever items available on her website is a handwritten page of musical notation from one of the songs on the album. Viewing it, you actually see what Bronwyn sees, hears, and thinks as the pen meets the paper.

Why do I bring up these two visual items up? Because they are awesome to say the least! Frame them, and you have a fantastic gift for someone into either or both artists. If you cannot find a fan, them get them for yourself!

Hanging a painting of a portrait or landscape on your wall is so typical. As I am a music aficionado, what hangs on my walls is mostly music-related, such as concert photographs and posters. Now, I will include framed music notation. There are a number of reasons why putting this on your wall is a plus. Here are just a few:

  • It is a lot more eye-catching than the typical painting.
  • As you look at it, you tend to create the shown melody in your head.
  • If you are not so competent on a musical instrument, you can at least follow what is written when you listen to the song.
  • You are getting inside the performers’ heads.

While some people do frame and hang old piano music, it is usually done as more of a historic representation, or perhaps enjoyment of the cover illustration. That type of printed music was meant to be read and performed, not framed. However, in the case of Hawktail and Bronwyn (and perhaps any other musician/band doing the same thing that I am not aware of), the music has already been presented in a listenable format. Now, these artists want to show you what the music looks like, perhaps even why they took it in a certain direction.

The most heartwarming thing about these printed notations to me is that the artists wanted the listener to be a part of their process and outcome. It makes the music more encompassing, just like reading liner notes of an album WHILE you are listening to it. There is so much more to soak in from the music as you look at the notation. I hope that others appreciate these personal connections like I do.

For more information on the music notations:
Hawktail – https://hawktail.bandcamp.com/merch/sheet-music-print

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes – https://www.bronwynkeithhynes.com/shop

Chew on it and comment.