Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Marry Me! (a Grey Fox story)

"Pauline, marry me!"
So I go backstage to take some pictures of Tim O'Brien and Cornbread Nation from the back looking out at the crowd on the hill at Grey Fox, you know, being creative. And there's this guy who comes running up the backstage steps; I don't think too much about it. Moments later I'm sitting in front of the stage and am poised to take some photos of Tim, Dennis Crouch, Casey Driessen, Danny Barnes and Doug Billot (sp?) when Tim calls this guy, Glenn, out.

So Glenn gets up there and starts talking about a woman named Pauline he's known for the last seven years and then reaches in his pocket and pulls out this box with a ring in it and starts waving it, drops down on his knees all in one swift motion and asks Pauline to marry him there onstage at Grey Fox in front of thousands. Of course he had this thunderous roar but though we strained to hear if Glenn was a lucky guy, we heard nothing from Pauline. Some time later a little cheer went up and Tim reckoned that Pauline said yes.

Well, I kept a-wonderin' about it all the next day and on into Sunday when I happened to be by the information booth and heard a woman talking about a man asking her to marry him. Incredulous I nearly shouted, "You're Pauline!" and she gave me this knowing grin. So I had to ask the obvious....would she marry him? And she said, "Yes!" She went on to explain that Glenn is usually so quiet and undemonstrative (at least publicly) and she simply couldn't believe he'd done that - or even THOUGHT of doing that. She was absolutely gobsmacked. So she had shouted Yes, yes and the crowd were trying to pass the message down from way in the back, but Tim and them had started another song (I got an email from my darling). Cool, huh?

Well, Glenn did ask Pauline if they could have a long engagement (and I'm thinking uh-oh...) when she grins and said when she asked how long he said he couldn't possibly get married before October. She was laughing thinking of how this "long" engagement was going to be a blur of arrangements for a wedding.

This is just one example of a really unique thing that happened this year up on the hill at Grey Fox. Do yourself a favor and go there sometime. It's a dandy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Uncle Earl Gives It Back!

Somehow I deleted this photo from my last post - it's one of Uncle Earl giving it back to the audience. These girls exude all the good stuff.

(Uncle Earl gives it back to their loving fans)

I just love this band and hope they'll be sharing their own special music with us for many years to come. If you haven't seen them, get out to a festival near you and check them out. You won't be sorry!

Grey Fox - Love on the Mountain v.2

Casey Driessen, Cool Dude Extraordinaire

This time at Grey Fox when I wasn't seriously working and had lots of time on my hands was a great opportunity to spend some time around some of the new stars of the music. I really have to say a whole bunch of them impressed me, not the least of which was Casey Driessen. He's got a sort of quirky sense of humour that really tickles me and he's a cooperative photographic subject who exudes confidence. Besides being a phenomenal musician who can play whatever he puts his soul to, he's just the kind of guy I'd love to have for a brother. Here's to you, Casey! Thanks for the laughs! (I was backstage taking pictures such as the one above of the Uncle Earl girls from behind - looking out at the big crowd on the hill -- I stepped back and turned around and there was Casey and his fiddle and his funny red shoes sitting on the couch backstage silhouetted by the light from the backstage door. I went over and tried in a sort of unobtrusive way to get some candids of Casey doing his thing. But Casey fools with a camera, too, and is aware of his surroundings and he turned on me.....grinned, and went from sitting on the couch to laying down, all without missing a note of the tune he was playing. So here's Casey laying on this leatherette sofa sawing away on that fiddle. He's that kind of guy. 'Course you pay a price for everything sooner or that clever process young Casey managed to overturn his bottle of beer. Ain't he cute? Here's to you, Casey! Are those really 3-D glasses?

The Uncle Earl girls had to be one of the most popular acts of the weekend and I know sales were pretty brisk up at their record table. Besides offering a wide range of music onstage, they have a lot of CDs to choose from at their table, too. And caps and really cool shirts to wear. Check 'em out! The Earl Girls are just sweet! Abigail sprung a surprise guest on us all during her set on Saturday morning -- her sweetie Bela Fleck came out and joined her for a captivating set of music from old time to Chinese. Well I can agree with those who say Abigail isn't bluegrass I must say I'd rather listen to her than most of the bluegrass bands I've heard recently. So there. Your mileage may vary. Seeing the way Abigail and Bela exchanged soft looks in front of thousands of hung-over Grey Foxians there on the hill that morning just melted me and I felt a little tightness in my throat as I listened to their stunning set. I felt like hearing those songs made me a better person in some significant way.

So Uncle Earl received a standing ovation accompanied by declarations of love, war whoops and plain ole hillbilly yells up there on the mountain -- and they sure were pleased. And I liked the way they gave it all back to their fans by stepping around their mics and out toward the crowd and cheering and clapping for THEM. Very classy, girls.

It was late late Saturday night and things here and there had fizzled out (gee, the stage show didn't end till nearly 2:00, a Grey Fox tradition!), even backstage, and I got wandering around with Louis and Cathy and ended up at the Uncle Earl girls' campsite. It wasn't long before Louis and Cathy went off to bed and it seemed to me like I was probably the Senior member of that particular gathering which looked to have about 50 souls in all. Abigail was sitting by a campfire with a lovely young girl gazing up at her adoringly from the ground and a young fiddler sitting across from her eager to accompany her open-back banjo and rich voice. Behind Abi stood Rushad Eggleston, recently referred to by someone whom I trust as "a musical prodigy" ( and I surely concur), most of the King Wilkie boys, some of Crooked Still and the Red Stick was a gathering of (to me) a new generation of musicians, enjoying that special vibe that circles around us up on the mountain and gathers us all a little bit closer together. They didn't want to go to bed. Song led to song and I stood by Abigail not really knowing anyone here very well yet just taking it all in, quietly, savouring the company and the dampness of night, the earthy strains of a young woman's voice and the ties that held us all in place, suspended like the low clouds of moisture that clung over the lesser hills below. I wanted this moment to remain and it lives yet in my heart. This felt like times not so long ago - maybe 15 years when the hill was populated with the likes of Hot Rize and Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan and we all stayed up, just like this, talking and singing, sharing, come together from our separate lives, joined by the night and the love of a common music. I felt a piece of that long-ago time there in the midst of Earls and Wilkies, Ramblers and soothed me.

Somewhere after the birds commenced singing and the sun parted the darkness with its delicate pink fingers I slid away for some rest. Another day of remembrances and the discovery of a few new gems in the form of songs and friends.

Grey Fox - Love on the Mountain (Part I)

Grey Fox Kids' Academy

Abigail Washburn

In the old days after I'd made it through a few sleepless nights at a bluegrass festival and somehow gotten myself home I felt like I should have a t-shirt that said, "I survived (insert the name of your favorite festival here)." Upstate New York's Grey Fox Bluegrass (or should I say Music?) festival is one such festival. In the old days it was called Winterhawk and even before that Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival, but never mind. The Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, New York has hosted a bluegrass - or music -- festival for the last 30 years. Let's hope they favor us for another 30 years. Not only that, they also host the local foxhunt, the Rombout, so I double like those Rothvoss folks. You can't imagine a prettier farm to host either a hunt or a festival.

Anyway, just a week ago I loaded up the little Toyota truck and headed east across some incredibly beautiful (and obscure) roads to Grey Fox. Arriving there around sunset, I jumped right into the fray and started my good time without further delay.

Now to me these days a good time consists of some different elements to what a 1986 good time might have been...but bluegrass music, friends, and laughter are common threads that hold the past to the present.

I do hesitate to call Grey Fox a bluegrass festival because honestly folks I didn't hear that much of what I'd call bluegrass music there. BUT (and this is a big BUT) I heard a whole lot of truly great - and eclectic - and even some electric - music there. And that's just fine with me. There was a little bit of bluegrass mixed in with lots of new acoustic, swing, cajun, blues, new age, and a bunch of other stuff I can't even hazard a guess at. There were threads in the form of musicians who tied it all together - past and present, maybe even future...folks like especially Tim O'Brien and then John Cowan and Jerry Douglas...gee, these guys were around the music back in the early 1980's when I was first discovering it and they have been friends to me down through the years. Great stuff.

Watching their shows, listening to their musical journeys (and those guys have been on plenty of musical paths) the memories of the 80s, 90s and 2000s couldn't help but settle in. They say we bring our own experiences to the way we hear music and I sure felt it this year at Grey Fox listening to those guys who are over 50, too.

This is going to take a few blog entries to rehash, but I've got to say that even though I went to Grey Fox for the sole purpose of hearing Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass and shouting howdy at a few friends, I ended up doing oh so much more. I met lots of fun folks, cried a few times (good tears, happy ones of course) and honestly heard lots of great music that, had it been left to me to BUY that music, unheard, in bins titled "Swing" or "Americana" or whatever I probably never would have heard....I listened to a whole lot of bands that I didn't think I'd like. And if I had bought their CDs it's probable that I wouldn't have liked them much -- although surely I would have appreciated their skill as musicians.

But to see them live and onstage - and from the front row. Well, now, that's a whole different story!! There's something magical and timeless about watching the interaction of musicians playing for the love of it...I never tire of it. The crowd was so large and sort of removed that I think it was difficult for the people onstage to connect directly with the crowd, particularly at night, but the crowd made their presence known with applause, encores, and, well, LOVE. Tim O'Brien is a sort of quiet, understated kind of guy offstage, but onstage his casual, living-room-in-robe-and-slippers sort of demeanor creates a bond with the folks on the hill that cannot be severed. He held the crowd in his freckled hand, getting them to spell their names in the night sky with their flashlights and that sure brought back memories of when Red Knuckles (who looked a bit like O'Brien) used to do that some years ago while Wendell Mercantile was dangling off the stage railing with his zany sunglasses and big white teeth.

Anyway, from start to finish there was an attitude of love on that mountain and I heard so many people talking about it that I knew it wasn't something I'd just conjured in my own mind. Surely a high point for most of us on the hill was stopping by the Kids' Academy during some of the many hours they spent each day with their patient and skillful musical instructors - folks like Louis Kaplan and Cathy Goode, Akira Otsuka, Brian Wicklund and Ira Gitlin (to name just a few) and witnessing the determination these kids had to learn the music, master the songs they'd perform on Sunday afternoon and have a good time along the way. Made me cry every time I stopped by the kids' compound. During the course of the weekend about 106 kids participated in the program and though I suspect a few had to leave for home before their Sunday performance, the ample stage was spilling over with kids, fiddles, teachers and well, love, too. If there was a dry eye in the crowd witnessing this performance...well, it wasn't either of mine!

One of the bands that impressed me most over my days on the mountain was the all-girl band, Uncle Earl. Now I've heard them a couple of times before so I had an idea of the kind of music they do (and I surely wasn't disappointed in the least) but I wasn't prepared for their phenomenal performances. It's true that (well especially for the guys) they're easier on the eyes than most bluegrass bands, these girls just well delivered the goods in a way I'll not soon forget. There was sweetness and skill, professionalism and a raw kind of edge, a whisper and a cry....these girls can sing, play and dance. Not bluegrass. No, don't try to call it bluegrass. But I for one didn't care. These girls sing and play wonderful music for the soul, for the heart. They deliver a wide range of material in an uplifting and entertaining manner. I only wish I could have seen them perform another 100 or 200 songs.

(to be continued)