Folk Music Musical Instruments

Hillsdale Fiddlers’ Convention/World’s Longest Garage Sale

Saturday I made my yearly trek to Hillsdale, about a two-hour drive from Detroit due west, to attend the annual Michigan Fiddlers Convention & Traditional Music Festival. Hillsdale has no interstate near by, so to get there, most of the travel is done on US-12/Michigan Avenue. That actually works out for the better, as this same day is the World’s Longest Garage Sale, in which there are hundreds of garage/yard/rummage sales along the two-lane highway from Saline to New Buffalo.

The weather was terrible to say the least at the festival. Previous day’s forecasts stated rain would come in the late afternoon. Well, the rain started as soon as I got to the fairgrounds. And it did not let up. The morning workshops were held in some of the outbuildings, but other events for the day were cancelled. Thus, I was only at the festival for a few hours.

Roger Plaxton teaches fingerstyle guitar at Hillsdale
Mike Gleason instructing fiddle improvisation at Hillsdale
Dave Langdon performing Michigan old-time fiddle tunes at Hillsdale

The rain let up a bit as I hit the road back home, which was to my benefit. I was able to stop at a few of the garage sales to see what junk was available. If I had the time and money, I would probably hunt at these sales every weekend and end up like Mike Wolfe on American Pickers. However, I pretty much narrow my scope to music-related items. This includes records/CDs, musical instruments, vintage stereo equipment, and music books/videos. Even so, I have to remember that space is limited at my mom’s house (I’m still moving stuff out of my house for eventual selling of the place).

It seemed that all of the guitars, violins, amplifiers, and stereo equipment was priced way out of touch. There were a lot of no-name electric guitars that were way overpriced. A Fender Squier Affinity Strat in an obvious used condition that the owner was asking $125.00 was passed on by me and a few others, since I know that a new version can be had at Guitar Center for a few bucks more. As I expected, there were no albums or CD that I was interested in.

I came across one tent that the man was selling a lot of music equipment. The amplifiers were about right for the price, but I am shying away from electric guitar equipment unless it is a really good bargain. I first grabbed some bluegrass-related music books for a dollar each, then saw that he had a Tascam DP-02CF 8-track digital recorder/mixer. As he didn’t have a power supply for it, I was able to negotiate to a selling price of $25.00. A power supply can be had for about $15.00 from eBay, and I already downloaded the owner’s manual from Tascam. So if this thing works, I got a great 8-track recorder for $40.00. If it doesn’t work, I am not out that much, considering that this thing sold for a few hundred bucks new.

Of course, the heavy rain in Hillsdale never made it to the Detroit area, so my garden didn’t get the watering it needed, and I am off to doing it myself. Saturday was also the Blissfield Bluegrass Festival, which is sponsored by the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association. I would have attended, but they always seem to schedule it the same weekend as the Hillsdale fiddle festival, and I am committed to attending that, taking archival photos for the Michigan Old-Time Fiddle Association. I haven’t talked to anyone about Blissfield, but from looking at Saturday’s weather radar, it looks as if that event was hit heavily with rain as well. It is the chance any organizer takes when scheduling an outdoor event.

Last week’s Milan festival and this weekend’s Hillsdale festival were the only festivals I have been able to attend this summer due to a number of factors. Right now, the only other event scheduled for the rest of the year is the old-time fiddle contest in New Boston on October 3rd. It will be difficult to get back to the larger crowds for a lot of these minor events since the pandemic lockdowns have killed attendance. I try to find out what is out there and attend what I can. I hope that 2023 will be better for me and others. I am planning to attend the SPBGMA convention in Nashville in January, I am just waiting on exact dates.

In the meantime, I am going to see what demo I can record on the Tascam 8-track.

Chew on it and comment.

Americana Music Bluegrass Music Folk Music

Pay Attention to Cary Fridley

I have always had a place in my heart for Cary Fridley. That voice is pure beauty.

I had mentioned Cary previously in a past blog on titled “The Lost Art of Bluegrass Singing” (, where I talked about the video Vocal Techniques for Old-Time Mountain Music that she did for Homespun Tapes. I fell in love with her voice the first time I heard her singing with The Freight Hoppers. After leaving the band, she recorded a number of solo albums as well as played bass in a few other bands. To see her history, I recommend going to her website at

I recently found her album Down South and put it in the CD player. It hit me why I love this girl’s voice. It is so pure, comfortable singing folk, bluegrass, traditional country, and blues. Looking at her bio, she works with so many bands, as well as teaching vocals and traditional music theory at the Junior Appalachian Music programs and the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. Additionally, she is an adjunct faculty for the Fine Arts at the AB-Tech College in Asheville, North Carolina. This girl keeps busy!

You can tell it is all because of her love and passion for traditional music. Cary truly puts her heart and soul into her work. I have subscribed to her YouTube channel ( For a few years now, and along with videos of past performances with The Freight Hoppers, she has posted a number of lessons that she gives to her classes at the college and the JAM programs. Her latest video is what got me to loving her again, so to speak. It consists of a shot of a CD player, and it is playing her album Fare You Well in its entirety ( I wonder how many other people who are this passionate about Appalachian music work as hard as Cary.

I am going to keep this blog short, as I only really want you to spend some time checking out Cary’s videos. You may learn a few things!

Next week, the blog will be late, as I will be attending the last day of the Milan Bluegrass Festival. Hopefully, I will have a few good stories to tell.

Chew on it and comment.

Folk Lifestyle Folk Music

Quitting My New Job/Appalachia/The Pressley Girls

A few weeks ago, I talked about getting a new job at a law firm doing writing and editorial work. Well, after two days, I quit that job, and fortunately, my old job took me back.

The old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” was the case for this one. It turned out that I would be doing more research, especially phone calls, and on the second day, I was sent to work from home and expected to use my personal phone for business work. Uh, I’m not going to have some angry client have my personal phone number and calling me in the middle of the night ranting. This was another lesson learned.

I should have figured out that it was a questionable job when they called me back only an hour after I took the writing test. The firm was probably looking for any warm body that responded to their initial requests. Alas, it was partly my fault for falling for the trap too easily. You live and learn, and I have lived a long life but still haven’t learned enough. My advice is to approach each new job opportunity with caution. I am way too old and have been through enough crap at jobs to keep taking it. While my current job is not the type of work I prefer doing, I am surrounded by good people, so that makes up for a lot of it. I walked back into the office on Friday, and dozens of people were hugging me and welcoming me back. That mean a lot.

Now on to music stuff …

While I have lived in the Detroit area all of my life, and I don’t think that I could ever permanently leave the city life, I do have a love for learning about life in the Appalachia area of our country. I recently came across two YouTube channels that have been on my watchlist for a few weeks now. The first is Celebrating Appalachia. Tipper Pressley is an award-winning blogger that invites viewers into her life, showing us how to garden in the hilly land as well as how to prepare popular and traditional dishes for breakfast and dinner. So many of the recipes are mouth-watering, to say the least! She has also spent a lot of time documenting the lifestyle of her area in Appalachia, especially curating the language of the locals. The slang and phrases of the people in the area is poetic in so many ways, and while some of it is familiar, much of it is strangely beautiful to hear.

Tipper is also documenting the history of her hometown of Brasstown, North Carolina, particularly of its musical heritage. This leads to the second YourTube channel you need to check out. Tipper is the mother of twin girls, Corie and Katie Pressley. They are known in the folk and bluegrass community as The Pressley Girls. Checking out their YT channel shows them performing a number of old-time fiddle and folk tunes, as well as clogging and dancing. They also post entertaining videos of their everyday life, whether it be thrift shopping, making soap, or hiking. All of the videos highlight their vernacular, which is musical in itself. The girls have that unique Southern charm, and you will enjoy every minute of their adorable videos.

Chew on it and comment.

Folk Music

Trae McMaken’s Michigan Fiddle Website

Trae McMaken is not necessarily a household name with Michiganders or area fiddlers, but he probably should be. A fiddle enthusiast and Michigan history buff since childhood, he has been combining his two loves over the past few years to make sure that the story of fiddle music in Michigan will not be forgotten.

Trae recently started up an educational website called Michigan Fiddle .Com ( The site take a look at Michigan folklore and how much fiddle music has had an impact on the state. In the Introduction page, he cites that fiddle music played in the past few centuries around Michigan has many ethnic influences. Because the state was continually a location for commerce, from fur trading during the 18th century, logging and copper mining in the 19th century, and the automobile industry of the 20th century, so many people came to the area form many foreign lands and brought their music with them. One characteristic of Michigan fiddling is the stress on use of the music for dance, with less flowering and ornamentation and a dedication to keeping a beat for the dancers.

The site includes many papers and articles written by Trae, as well as links to articles and recordings related to Michigan Fiddlers over the past century. He has assistance from a number of state fiddlers and historians to supplement his work. One such person, Jim McKinney, I have known for a number of year, and have supported his and his son’s work at the annual Michigan Old-Time Fiddle Championship held at the Huron Applefest in New Boston every October.

When one thinks of old-time fiddle music in America, thoughts usually go to the music of the Appalachian Mountains, the hills of Kentucky, or the plains of Texas. Michigan rarely gets a notice. Henry Ford loved fiddle music, and Beaver Island off the west coast of the northern Lower Peninsula has always had a strong fiddle presence. I am keeping this week’s blog short, as I would want you to instead spend some time checking out Trae’s site dedicated to Michigan old-time fiddling (see above link). Also check out this video of him performing some Quebecois music for the dancers.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Folk Music Musicians

Phil Leadbetter/Paddy Moloney RIP

Last week just after I posted my blog, I learned of the deaths of two great musicians. This week, I will briefly cover the lives and influential presence of dobroist Phil Leadbetter and The Chieftains’ leader, Paddy Moloney.

Phil Leadbetter was a true traditionalist when it came to the dobro. He kept his feet firmly in bluegrass while others took it to other genres. He began playing the dobro at age 12, and soon after graduating high school worked with country legend Grandpa Jones. He spent his longest tenure with J.D. Crowe and the New South, often serving as booking agent as well, from 1990-2001. He helped form a number of superstar bluegrass bands, including Wildfire, Flashback and Grasstowne.

In 2011, Phil was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was part of trials that tested the drug Opdivo for his type of cancer, and became a five-time survivor. He returned to performing part-time in 2013, working with Dale Ann Bradley as well as his own band, Phil Leadbetter and the All-Stars of Bluegrass. Unfortunately, his health kept deteriorating, and there were a number of benefit concerts and funding pages. Phil passed away October 14 from COVID-19 complications working against his already poor health. He was 59 years old.

While Phil’s work can be heard on the aforementioned bands, as well as work with The Whites and Vern Godsin, if you want to hear probably his best work on the dobro, seek out his 2005 solo album Slide Effects on Pinecastle Records. The cut “California Cottonfields” was a Number 1 hit for two months on the bluegrass charts, and the disc won the Instrumental Album of the Year award that year at the IBMA World of Bluegrass show. He was a three-time Dobro Player of the Year winner, and both Gibson and Recording King released signature resonator guitars in the past few years.

Phil will definitely be missed in the bluegrass community. I had the chance to meet up with him after a Grasstowne show, and he was one of the most humble people you would ever get a chance to meet. Hopefully, there are a number of young dobro players out there listening to his fine work.

My first true experience in watching The Chieftains was when the band appeared on a special St. Patrick’s Day showing of Saturday Night Live back in 1979. By then, the band was just starting to get some notoriety in the US, after much success in Ireland and the UK. This was not the usual musical fare of SNL, and I was blown away. The sound was magical, moving, hitting at your heart strings. And in the middle of this ensemble sitting, playing the uillean bagpipes and with a big grin, was Paddy Moloney. One could tell after just a few seconds of watching that he was the leader, and that his direction was similar to a classical music conductor, but not as obvious. He knew where to guide the music, and everyone in the band trusted his instinct.

Paddy formed The Chieftains in 1962, but the band did not become full-time professionals until the early 1970s. They built up a large following in Ireland and Europe, but it was the band’s work on the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon in 1975. From there, it was international success. They have performed with dozens of other famous musicians and singers, have held concerts for Pope John Paul II and a number of other dignitaries, and in 1983 were invited to perform at the Great Wall of China, the first non-Chinese artist to do so.

Paddy was born in Dublin in 1938. He first picked up the tin whistle at age six, then the uillean pipes at age eight. In 1962 he invited local musicians Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy to his house for a jam session, and The Chieftains was born. The band signed with a local label Claddagh Records, and Paddy served as leader, composer, and arranger for the band’s music. His endless work to promote the band made it an international success. If any big-time producer or film director needed Irish or Celtic music, they would call on The Chieftains.

I cannot begin to list the different artists that the band has worked with. Almost everyone from Luciano Pavarotti and John Williams to Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. While The Chieftains had never had a huge hit in the US, it did score minor hits with Van Morrison and The Coors in the UK. They also performed on the soundtracks for the films Gangs of New York and Bravehart. Paddy was a major reason that The Chieftains have such a huge following. His business head knew that it was important for the band to work with different people to get the best exposure, but his musical heart knew not to sell out. The sound of the band stayed pure and close to its roots, so that other performers gladly adapted to the band’s sound.

Paddy recorded 44 albums with The Chieftains, and there is not a bad one among them (although I can honestly say that I have not heard all of them, but trust me). If you were to pick only one, you might try to locate The Best of The Chieftains from 1992, which contains selections from the band’s 7th, 8th, and 9th albums. The 1993 disc The Celtic Harp is hauntingly beautiful. To hear how well the band worked with American artists, get a copy of Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions from 2002.

I only got to see The Chieftains once live. It was during a tour promoting Down the Old Plank Road with Allison Moorer as a guest. The sound of the band live cannot be described with words. One could close his/her eyes and be transported into a different world. If Ireland had a sound, it would be The Chieftains.

Paddy passed away at age 83 on October 12, and is now buried in Glendalough, Ireland. He was the last original member of the band. There will never be another band like The Chieftains, and definitely never be another beautiful man such as Paddy Moloney.

Chew on it and comment.

Folk Music

The Fiddler of Beaver Island

Beaver Island is one of the few places in my home state of Michigan that I have not visited, When I was growing up, my next-door neighbor, who was born and raised on the island, would pack up his family and vacation there for two weeks in the summer.

Beaver Island has a unique history. It sits in the upper part of Lake Michigan, about 30 miles off the coast near Charlevoix. Initially inhabited by Irish immigrants, a Mormon group settled on the island in the 1850s, led by a man named James Strang. He ruled his congregation like a tyrant, and was eventually shot by men whom he flogged in public for adultery. He became a polygamist, claimed surrounding islands as part of his kingdom, and often forced his power onto other islanders not part of his congregation. He would eventually die from his gunshot wound, and his congregation soon after disappeared, mostly due to threats from other residents.

It was during the 20th century that Beaver Island gained its more positive and popular notoriety. Due to the rise of Irish and other European immigration, the island became a haven for fiddlers and old-time fiddle folk music. Dozens of fiddlers lived there, and my neighbor learned the fiddle and mandolin there as a child. I can still remember hearing him play the fiddle in the evenings.

The most popular fiddler from the island was a man named Patrick Bonner (1882-1973). He blended his Irish background with styles from other Michigan regions, such as the contra dances around Detroit and the Scandinavian lumberjacks and miners in the Upper Peninsula. He played dances on and off the island, and had a great reputation for unique interpretations of standard fiddle tunes. He came to prominence as a folk music icon during the 1930s through the research and promotion of Ivan Walton, a professor of English folklore at the University of Michigan. National musicologist and folklorist Alan Lomax, along with Walton, would go on to record a number of sessions with Bonner, which remain archived at the Library of Congress and Wayne State University in Detroit.

There were a number of other musicians from Beaver Island that Walton recorded as well. Add to that the multitude of hobbyist musicians (like my old neighbor) and you can imagine what Beaver Island was like. The air was filled with music constantly, and there was always a dance or concert going on in the evenings. I truly miss hearing my neighbor. I sometimes imagine him listening to me playing folk songs on the fiddle and guitar when I am at my mom/s house.

I had nearly forgotten about the island’s fiddle history until a few years ago when I came across the book An Island of Fiddlers: Fiddle Tunes of Patrick Bonner, Beaver Island, Michigan at Elderly Instruments in Lansing ( Written and self-published by Glenn Hendrix, another fiddler from Michigan. Ringed-notebook in style, it contains a short biography and interview with Bonner done before his passing, as well as a number of tunes transcribed by Hendrix from old recordings of Bonner. Some tunes are variations of standards and public domain samples, while others seem to be semi-original compositions by Bonner. I felt that this was such as treasure of a book regarding the music of Beaver Island that I purchased a second copy and gave it to the daughter of my old neighbor. It turns out she gave his old fiddle to one of his grandchildren who now performs with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Nice ending.

Chew on it and comment.

Folk Music

Na Zdrowie! Eastern European Folk Music (and Comedy)

Like I said before, not everything on the blog will be related to bluegrass music. While it is still my Number 1 passion in music, I still love to discover other forms and genres. I will always love most of the stuff lumped under Americana, but lately I have been getting into listening to Eastern European folk music, especially performed by female vocalists.

First, Let us look at Rokiczanka. They sing Polish folk songs with a small ensemble backing them up. They are a combination of male and female singers, but it is the two female lead singers that garner much of the attention from the audiences (at least from what one can tell by the videos). This is pure Polish folk music that has been polished up to be presentable live to all audiences. The whole group looks like they are having fun performing the music at concerts. I especially enjoy their interpretation of the folk song “Lipka.” Just an enjoyment to watch. The website is .

About two years ago, I found Beloe Zlato on YouTube, and continue to be amazed by their harmonies. Over the years, the lineup has changed, but three of the ladies have been there for a long time keeping the group active (Daria Luneeva, Valeria Grigorieva, and Maria Baranenko). Besides being very easy on the eyes, they harmonize so well that it sounds more like a human pipe organ. This literally sounds angelic. If they ever were to come to the US, whatever city, I would make the trip just to hear these beautiful voices live. They almost do not seem real. They make videos singing around tourist spots in Moscow. Most of the early videos were a capella, but more recent ones include being accompanied by an accordion or balalaika. Sometimes they appear in traditional dress, sometimes in jeans and t-shirts. They are as addictive as potato chips. The website is . Be sure to check all of their YouTube videos!

While looking around for other Polish folk groups a few weeks ago, I came across Trio Mandili. Wow! They are actually from Georgia (the country in East Europe, NOT the southern US state), but sing Polish, Russian, and Turkish folk songs as well as Georgian. They are like a Cossack version of The Andrew Sisters! They have been around for about six years, but have only recently been putting out videos, which consist of the one original member, Tatuli Mgeladze, filming them with her iPhone. They walk around sites in Georgia singing, with one member, Mariam Qurasbedian, playing the three-stringed panduri (a cross between a dulcimer and a cigar-box guitar). The third member, Tako Tsiklauri, dances around in the background and is always smiling. The group came into notoriety when in 2014 they posted a video of them singing a folk song while walking down a dirt road. The harmonies were beautiful. The video has had over 6.5 million views on YouTube! About two years later, a punk metal trio added backing music to the video, and it came out sounding really cool! You have to check them all out! Their live shows are a bit tacky, with choreography that definitely looks Eastern European or Middle Eastern and not from New York, London, or Paris. I have seen a few other Georgian “Trio” groups on YouTube, but none compare to the originality of Trio Mandili. Unfortunately, the website is extremely slow to upload – I have yet to get it fully up to see anything. So trying to order a CD is impossible. Good luck at trying it yourself: .

Last on this list is not really a musical group, but a comedy troupe. I don’t know exactly how I came across Kabaret Hrabi, but I am glad that I did. Think of a Polish version of Saturday Night Live or Second City. The three gentlemen and one lady take on modern topics and satire them to the fullest. Yes, it is all in Polish, and I can only make out about 10 percent of what they are saying, but what I can make out is hilarious. If you do understand Polish, you will not be disappointed. The one skit that got me rolling on the floor crying from laughter was “Kultura Naradowa.” They recite old Polish folk songs as if they are seriously reading Shakespeare! Hearing “Miała Baba Koguta” (About a woman that puts a rooster into a boot. My father, God rest his soul, used to play a 78 of this all of the time!) read like a soliloquy just gets to me. The website is .

Chew on it and comment.