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.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What It's All About

Jesse Alexander, fledgling mandolinist (TJ Lundy and Donnie Eldreth, audience)

This photo shows in part why I love bluegrass festivals so much. This young man, Jesse Alexander, has taken up the mandolin with a vengeance. At the OATS (Out Among the Stars) festival earlier this summer Jesse came up to Danny Paisley's bus with his folks Andy and Susan (promoters of the Pickin' in the Pasture festival in Lodi, NY - a great festival!) to show the boys, TJ and Donnie, just what he accomplished during the long Finger Lakes winter with his mandolin. I love kids and love to brag on them, too, but I don't have to stretch the truth a bit with young Jesse. He is eat up with Monroe-style mandolin playing and I'm here to tell you he's come a long way in a short time! He was reeling off the tunes like an old festival veteran and TJ and Donnie were tickled to death with his playing.

Earlier today I was thinking about bluegrass music and what it means in my life. I've been pretty involved with this music for 25 years so it's safe to say that it means alot. But it's one thing to LIKE or even LOVE something - and another entirely to foster that passion in others like these guys are doing for young Jesse.

Whether they realize it or not, by taking those 3 or 4 steps down out of their comfortable air-conditioned bus into the hot dusty soil of the festival grounds to listen to a kid play a few Monroe tunes they've heard (and undoubtedly played) a hundred times before, TJ and Donnie are making a big difference in this kid's life, maybe in his future. Not only did they listen, but they smiled and laughed and were engaged with Jesse's comments and his ideas. He is being heard by people whom he admires. Now that's big. And this is a beautiful thing about bluegrass music and its people. Fostering and facilitating the learning of others, passing it on is fairly commonplace. You aren't gonna get that with rock and country stars, but most of the people at the top (and on the way up) in bluegrass are approachable and go a long way to help and encourage those who want to learn more about the music they're so passionate about.

TJ and Donnie are special guys and I'm confident that they'll continue to teach and encourage Jesse and others like him as they explore and unwrap their musical gifts. I salute TJ, Donnie and people of their ilk who take the time from their own lives, regardless of how tired they may be, to encourage kids to follow their dreams and learn to express themselves through music, the truly universal language that transcends all barriers and touches people in the heart.

TJ and Donnie and Jesse, too - thanks for sharing your music with us. You make the world a better place.

Travel: An Explanation of Sorts

Maybe I misnamed this blog; I haven't been traveling much lately unless you count my trip to the dump. But you have to understand that my mind is in a perpetual state of travel regardless of what my body is doing. Some people think I'm spacey, and I reckon they're just about right.

I saw some noteworthy things yesterday besides Bert and Kelly at the dump (always try to remember peoples' names, especially when they work somewhere like the dump). There were five or six road crews along my 100-mile trip through the mountains. They were all _working_. Put THAT in your notes. I know, I know, it's hot out there and folks have to take a break now and then. But how often do YOU pass a road crew where more than one person is working? No wonder things take so long. 'Course I've never worked on a road crew so I may have missed something obvious about all the coffee breaks and butt-scratchings and oglings. I guess to be fair I should spend a week on a road crew. Perhaps I'd earn a new perspective on the situation.

Over in the UK they seem to have small job sites and if the road is blocked at all there's usually someone actually working there. Mind, they whinge about road crews as well. Do people gripe about roadworks in China? Help me, someone.

The reason for all these "men at work" kinds of signs in the Catskills, of course, is because of the recent flooding in this area. But back to my subject line. As much as I'd like to walk in Charles Kuralt's (sp?) big footprints, I don't have a major network funding these travels, so I'm grounded for a little while. Thus my "travels" may amount to walking down the hard-packed dirt road, leaning over the bridge and watching the stream foam its way over the smooth rocks. Okay?

Tally Ho!

Tally Ho!>>

I wish. In the heat of summer my thoughts turn back to so many unforgettable times in Wales with all my friends who ride to the hounds. Following those lovable hounds across sometimes impossible and often treacherous terrain in all kinds of weather is, well, nothing short of addictive. So are the nights after in the pub!

Even in January the colors and textures of the land leave me breathless. The horses and hounds add that special something to an already masterful canvas. I only document what lies before me.

Here's to all my friends at the Roast Ox in Painscastle! Have a pint on me.

Ralph's Rock!

Ralph's Rock >>

Awhile back I was telling y'all about Ralph's rock and I suppose you thought it was just another tale but as you will see I finally managed to master technology, at least this once, and get blogger to upload this brilliant photo (can you hear the sarcasm?)

Seriously, though, this particular rock made quite an impression on me. I saw Ralph at Bean Blossom and asked him about the rock; he didn't know where it had gone. Can you imagine someone taking Ralph's rock? No true bluegrasser would do such a thing!

That elegant stone held down plenty of $20's the day I made this photo. And I got to sit and listen to Ralph for a long, long time. He was eating fried onion rings and grinnin' like a possum at some prank he'd pulled on someone. That's Ralph.

Rock on, Ralph.

Cool Mountain Air, Deer, A Heron and some Hosses

Even my friends in the UK are sweltering through this summer's heat wave but I've got to brag now: I'm sitting here just a little bit chilly from this cool mountain air. Not only that but earlier this evening when I was going around taking the little spent lily heads off their stalks to make way for fresh new ones and deadheading the roses I heard this funny noise and looked up to see three lovely deer bounding through the trees not far away. I stayed very quiet and stealthily snuck behind the chicken coop and on up past the barn and they were there, staring...transfixed, maybe thinking I wouldn't see them if they played "statue" for awhile. They were nearly right, but that white strip near their tails gave them away. I am pretty near-sighted, though.

The day started out with taking a big load of rubbish to the dump (an hour's drive away) and I thought I'd treat myself to a few hours in the presence of horseflesh, so I drove on up to Saugerties and stopped in at the HITS horse show...whoa, talk about some high dollar hosses! Yikes! I got talking to one woman who informed me that there were some National-level classes at this show - and some Olympians competing! I thought some of them dandies had some fine seats. Tell you the truth I didn't care a lick for the was the horses that caught my eye. They jumped with such heart. But I gotta say I'd rather see them running wild across the Welsh moors.

As a spectator it was quite a walk (knowing me I found the longest, most difficult way to go) threading through the rows of stables and down roads and paths; at one point the path passed through a marshy kind of area and a great blue heron rose above the that was an unexpected pleasure. I didn't get to touch any of those captivating horses, but being around them made me long to be back in Wales once again following the horses and hounds with my buddies Mike and Charlie.

I'm sitting here feeling the cool Catskill night air through the old-timey screens seeing the undersides of about a zillion bugs and moths stuck on the outsides. My light is graciously provided by a deer-foot lamp (yep, real deer feet - 4 of them, including hooves, and no I didn't kill it). The shade is one of those cool fiberglass(?) 50s ones with a pine needle flower motif. It's a good life here on the mountain with the occasional howl of a coyote to break the sweet night air.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grey Fox, A Peace Sign, and Festival Highlights

I spent over 80 hours up on the hill at Grey Fox. During that time there were so many conversations with old friends, spine-tingling musical moments, and amazing sights to behold (you haven't lived till you've gone to the top of the hill, kicked back and watched the sun set over the misty green hills). I'll share a few "moments" with you, just in case you weren't able to be there making your own special memories to return to over those long winter months.

* After the last note was played onstage on Saturday night (and that was around 2:00 a.m.) I was backstage chatting with great bassist Dennis Crouch who hails from Strawberry, Arkansas . We were remembering Roy Huskey, Jr., who left us way too early and trading anecdotes about Roy (he was SUCH a character). Nearby, way up in a big ole tree this gigantic peace sign made of big light bulbs glows in the night (you could see it all across the hillside). A jam starts up behind us with Tim O'Brien, John Miller (of old time music "fame") Mary Burdette and others....they're doing "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" and it seems just right in that soulful late-night heavy air...I love that song. Kit Swaggert (Tim's better half) and his son Joel (of dancing and hamboning fame) are right there and they've been dancing around....Tim slides into possibly my favorite of his songs (though it changes from day to day)...."Like I Used to Do," and the mood goes in two notes from jubilant to attentive, pensive, the huge peace sign is glowing brightly in a nearby tree, the moon is rising full over the hill, a circle of warmth...Louis and Cathy, Libby, Chrissy, Lisa and all are gathered round and I know that soon this circle will break and we'll go our separate ways, away from this cocoon of friendship and great music....I suddenly feel like I'm on an island and this VOICE is surrounding me, reassuring me, making me glad and sad all at once...I'm standing next to Kit and our eyes getting moist, then brimming...I reach out to her and we hug...tears spill down my cheeks. As he sings Tim quietly moves over to Kit and leans forward and kisses her so gently...I've heard him dedicate this song to her at other shows and I feel privileged to stand here, now, a part of this special time. This beautiful sentiment of a song fills the sweet night for a long time. The last notes are sung, Tim comes and kisses Kit again and I walk off toward the snow fence to be alone for a bit. There are people standing there on the other side, straining to hear the music. I turn back to the jam then and it goes on but I'm still feeling vulnerable and sort of weepy (50% marshmallow, that's me).

Not too much later the jam breaks up and we fan out into the night. I wander over to the Uncle Earl girls campsite which is peopled with the murky shadows of King Wilkie boys and Crooked Stillers and even some Red Stick Ramblers and it's the kind of scene I was very much a part of 15 years ago on the hill, but I'm that much older now so I stand back and watch and listen and enjoy a kind of satisfied "elderly" take on the younger scene and hope that they don't mind too much if I just look on and appreciate their own memory-making on the hill. Later, I see the sun rise from the mist over the hilltops below...once again.

* Del and the Boys did a great set prime-time on Friday and I enjoyed every song they did, but their encore was the best. Del came back out with the boys to thunderous applause, grinning and winking, and laid us flat with "When I'm 64." He was so damned cute. He urged the audience to sing along and predictably forgot some of the words, but who cared? He's DEL. And don't forget it! Their new gospel album sounds like a keeper.

* Jerry Douglas did a set of music I might normally have skipped but I didn't want to forfeit my front row seat. His set was a little far out there for my particular mouldy fig kind of taste, but hey! he's Jerry! and he had a fine band! Those of you who know me realize that I am a fan of great singing, and there wasn't a lick of singing the entire set. But...I especially liked Guthrie Trapp on the electric and acoustic guitar with his smooth head and cool grin...I loved the anonymity of digging his vibe yet knowing that he was completely unaware of me out there in the darkness. And Bernie Velluti on the board (on loan from Alison Krauss)...geez, I've known Bernie a long time. He took time out of his busy night to fix my camera bag with duct tape; stuff had been falling out everywhere! My favorite Jerry line of the night (ain't Jerry the coolest?) was, "I know where the wild things are -- they're on this hill."

At one point Jerry gets out the electric guitar and plays it with a bar...I look past him and there's Bela in the doorway with his banjo (most folks on the hill didn't know surprise guest Bela had been hanging around backstage for hours). Bela comes out and stands between Gabe Witcher and Jerry sporting that sweet sly little grin of his - the one I've loved for like 25 years...and, well, you had to be there.

*Tim O'Brien and Corn Bread Nation. Whoa. Now THAT was a set of not-to-be-forgotten music! Maybe best part was the attitude of it all, like you were sitting in someone's kitchen around a big ole oak table and grandma was making cathead biscuits and you were slurping down cups of coffee - or even something a bit stronger - and the sun was coming up (or going down) and all was well out in the barnyard, chickens and cows dancin' around with plenty to eat and a bright future ahead. You know, just like that kind of glow - "feel good" music. Tim was joined by Casey Driessen (fiddle), Dennis Crouch (bass), Danny Barnes (guitars) and Doug Billot (sp?) (drums). Tim launches right into "Busted." He does that so cool. And then "Come On Boys Let's Go A-Huntin'" which if you know anything about me you know I'm on like the top of the moon when he does that one. I don't know how I lived in Nashville for so long and never heard Danny Barnes, but that man can play a guitar and he's so much fun to watch. Over the weekend lots of great performers commanded our attention but Danny was special...he just looked like he was enjoying himself up there Sooooo much...kind of like someone who loves his guitar and has been stuck on an island without it for oh about 10 years....he was jubilant with that thing. Watch him sometime!

* When Glenn proposed to Pauline onstage (see one of my previous blogs - are the individual writings called blogs?). Geez, that made me catch my breath, too. Has anyone ever loved me like that? Nope. Lucky girl, Pauline! A wonderful public declaration...I'm glad she said yes.

* I had a really nice chat with Eric Gibson (of the Gibson Brothers). He's a man who writes a song straight from the heart and if you're looking for good material give Eric a call. Upstate New York has much to be proud of in young Eric.

* Sunday night was the final fling for the backstage gang. After a great supper of turkey, ribs, salad, potatoes and a bunch of other stuff, we all ran out to watch the sunset. I ran up the hill and met a whole cast of characters, many of whom were on the Site Crew and ended up down at the backstage later on in the evening. By then the snow fence had been removed. Sometime not long before I crawled into the back of my truck I heard a nice blender-wielding guy (he was walking around filling up people's glasses with his concoction of cherry brandy, blueberries, strawberries and stuff) proclaim, "Y'all are losin' the frog. I'm gonna head out." I didn't know what "losin' the frog" meant, but it seemed quite serious. I later learned that he was, literally, The Frog. Go figure. He has some website called "Southside Temple of the Holy Prune" or some such thing in case you want to know more about The Frog and how he came to be lost.

It was pretty difficult to turn in, though, because Lisa and Mary and others were jamming as if there were no tomorrow and it was lovely and there were a couple of fine voices in the mix I didn't know (but won't soon forget) -- a lady named Caroline who lives in Albany and has a gorgeous bluesy voice and a lady named Mary Maguire who has this incredibly calm, relaxed intoxicating sort of voice - you just want to hear more and more - (check her out at: I finally pulled away and spent several happy hours sleeping, at last.

* The staff at Grey Fox are like a really good (non-dysfunctional) family. It ain't Wally and the Beav, but they are close and who wants mom walking around in a starched white apron anyway? Seriously, I've known some of these folks for over 20 years....they are great. Folks like Darwin Davidson, Gerry Katz, Libby and Chrissy made the Green Room and the times backstage flow smoothly and comfortably. Those are great folks!!! I really enjoyed getting to spend some time in their company. It was wonderful to see my ole pals Mary and George Doub, Chuck Wentworth, Pete and Kitsy Kuykendall...they've been constant friends throughout my bluegrass experiences. Grey Fox was, once again, a truly special time. (more later).