Christmas 2020. What a lousy year. Unemployed since April, job prospects suck, and bluegrass shows were practically nonexistent!
Thank God that some of my favorite artists were able to do some performances over the internet. Many thanks to Hawktail, Mile Twelve, April Verch, and my web buddy in Missouri, Jerry Rosa from Rosa String Works! They kept my sanity in place. Festivals were a bust, as well as music conferences, although some were held virtually. Appreciated, but not the same as seeing old friends and networking with new ones face-to-face. Here is Jerry Rosa and his friends doing a bluegrass Christmas jam.
My wish for Christmas (along with world peace, a job, and life back to normal) is to be a better fiddle player, good enough to jam with some people and not sound like a schlep. I try to practice every day, but the last week has been difficult due to getting things taken care of for my mom for the holidays. One thing that I have found myself doing is more research on the history of the violin and fiddle music during the 19th century in America. Interesting stuff that I hope to share in a future blog.
I also need to get back into doing more songwriting. That requires inspiration, and with the pandemic, I haven’t gotten much of that. I need to look harder.
I am not much for the partying and gift-giving with Christmas. I prefer to spend quality time on my own (which upsets the rest of my family). I like to spend time at midnight mass at my church, an old Polish-American Roman Catholic parish where they sing Polish carols (koledy) that echos throughout the building. It is amazing to hear, even if you don’t understand Polish.
I’ll keep this short, so stay safe, and let’s hope for a better 2021. In the meantime, here is the beautiful and talented Sierra Hull, along with the amazing musicians Michael Cleveland and Billy Strings, performing “Santa’s Train.”
Eddie Van Halen RIP – There wasn’t a lot of coverage in the news of his death, but anyone that grew up in the 80s or was a big music fan took notice. I was never a big fan of Van Halen, but I did know that Eddie was an amazing guitarist. He is LITERALLY up there with Hendrix, Clapton and Page. He may have not been the first to try out double-tapping on the guitar fretboard, but he perfected it and made it an art form. There was not a lead guitarist in any hair metal band that did not emulate Eddie. He had his demons with drugs and alcohol, but had a great demeanor. I have never seen an interview with someone that, when asked about Eddie, that person talked about how humble of a guy he was. I remember seeing a cable television tribute to Les Paul many years ago, and all of these guitarists came on stage to laud over Les. Eddie went one step further and hugged and kissed the man. His last years in life were fighting throat cancer, which eventually took his life. He will be missed by many, especially other musicians, but his guitar work on Van Halen recordings as well as others (that was his magic playing lead guitar on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) will never be forgotten. Rest easy, Eddie, you have definitely changed the music world for the better.
Finger contraption – My fretting/fingering hand for guitar, bass, mandolin, and fiddle has never had great dexterity. I could never get that pinky finger to stretch out for that illusive fourth fret, or have enough strength to form a true barre chord. I relegated my fingerings to a lot of open chords and lead playing rarely went past the ring finger. So a few weeks ago, while ordering some music stuff off of the Wish website, there was a deal that if you purchased a certain amount of items (which I did), you get a huge discount on a few other related items. There wasn’t much to choose from, so I ordered a finger stretcher. It is four plastic rings spaced apart in a straight line. You slip your fingers through the rings, and press down on the contraption as far as your finger spread will allow. Yeah, it looks like something from the Spanish Inquisition and was painful the first few times, but I have been doing this every day for about 20 minutes, and I have noticed that the pinky on my left hand does have a little better stretch. Playing the fiddle lately, I find it easier to finger those high notes. I’m not sure if this thing is doing the job, but I got it for next to nothing, and if anything, I feel like it is helping. If you can get one of these things for under a few bucks, and you have trouble stretching the fretting fingers, you might consider trying one of these gigamadoos.
IBMA Awards – The awards were handed out last week, and here is a list of the winners: https://bluegrasstoday.com/2020-winners-of-the-international-bluegrass-music-awards/ . I would have taken the list off of the official IBMA website, but they still have not posted it yet. I’m glad to see my friends Mile Twelve winning Best New Artist, and another good friend Becky Buller winning Song of the Year (“Chicago Barn Dance”) and Collaborative Recording of the Year (“The Barber’s Fiddle”). Talk about a Who’s Who of bluegrass fiddling, check out the video.
Glarry: I picked up another fiddle, this time from Glarry. This is the model GV306, the most expensive violin they carry. At $89.99, that is really not expensive. I based the purchase on a review from my hero, Jerry Rosa at Rosa String Works. I am relatively satisfied with it. There were a lot accessories included (shoulder rest, tuner/metronome) that it wouldn’t matter if they were there or not. One drawback is that it only has a high “E” string fine tuner, not on all four strings like the lower-priced models. I ordered and put on three more fine tuners before setting it up. Another drawback is that the bridge is really thick. I had to file down a lot of wood to make it more like a true violin bridge. I plan to get a better bridge in the future. Finally, the strings that Glarry puts on their instruments are horrible. I’ll be replacing them soon with a decent set. However, the tone of the violin is nice, very woody and low. My other violin sounded like a screech owl compared to this one. It inspires me to keep practicing. The video below is Jerry’s review. The first violin he reviews is the GV306.
It’s Saturday morning, and I just remembered that I had a blog to post. My week has been busy caregiving my mom, maintaining her house, writing a few articles and looking for a job, so I forgot about this. So here’s a quick recommendation.
I mentioned the Rosa String Works YouTube channel in a previous post, but I highly recommend subscribing to the channel, or at the very least, checking in every few days. As a person that likes to do musical instrument repairs, Jerry gives some great home-style tips and advice. He videos some of his repairs, and talks to the audience in a very relaxing manner. It’s like sitting in the shop with your uncle or next-door neighbor and talking about mandolin repairs along with the weather and mowing the lawn.
Every one of his videos is magic. Whether he’s repairing a fiddle or the occasional non-musical instrument like his lawn tractor, Jerry has the answer for everything. I learn something new with every video. I also love that he has an assistant now, Caleb, who has the same Missouri drawl in his speech and is making some of the same helpful videos. There are also times when someone comes into the shop to test out a repared instrument and plays a tune for Jerry while he sits and listens. This is the down-home atmosphere that we all need these days while we are surrounded by fears of Coronavirus and riotous protests.
A few days ago, I was notified of the cancellation of the one remaining bluegrass festival here in southeast Michigan. It irritates me that the Coronavirus has made just about everyone nervous and on-edge to the point that every activity outside of watching TV is being cancelled. Yes, there are a number of virtual concerts online, and one bright side is that people stuck at home have been using downtime to learn a musical instrument.
However, I feel that we are being way too cautious in a lot of areas. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (as well as a few other state governors) have banned singing in church. Really? It was bad enough (and some could argue rightfully that it was unconstitutional) to close the churches in the first place. After opening and limiting attendance, something that has such meaning as singing hymnals can be banned? What is worse, the Archdiocese of Detroit (as well as other state dioceses) are cowering to the governor. When will the people of faith stand up for themselves and not allow an overzealous governor like Whitmer bully them out of their constitutional rights by using the Coronavirus as an excuse?