Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rocky Mountain High Pt. 5

Sipping french press coffee from Kinfolk's, I'm inside of the old arcade when all of a sudden, BOOM! Scattered shrieks float into the air as everyone in the vicinity sort of jerks around in the direction of the huge thunderclap that had just pierced the sky. Walking to the edge of shelter, I could see that the sky was a mottled grey. Where the heck had that come from? And how often, or rather, how long was it going to be throwing big bolts of fun at the ground?

I splish-splashed my way back to the park.

Bob Haworth was onstage just ripping out the old chestnuts in his first of two sets during the afternoon and evening. Frailing on a banjo, stomping a foot pedal that pounded a bass drum, blowing on a mouth harp and singing in a crisp voice, Bob swept through an amazing catalogue of tunes even as the wind and rain whipped around the outskirts of the pavilion. As a former member of The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and The Hudson Brothers (remember them?!), Bob has developed a real showman's style and verve that's truly infectious.

Traffic remained constant. People came and went, but always seemed to return. A handful of events were taking place around the area, from a similar festival down at Rockledge Ranch to some sort of charity walk that saw hundreds of people walking through town wearing white shirts and holding up signs. At least until the rain started splatting down, then they were running through town wearing see-through shirts, but they still held the signs up. Over their heads.

During the breaks between sets, I wandered around, taking in some of the artifacts being hawked by the vendors. The CD table, representing the recordings of most artists scheduled to perform, was located near the edge of the stage where I had parked the scooter. Erin Ford walked by and asked if I had any CDs for sale and that she would be happy to put them on the table along with the rest of the discs. I had completely forgotten about the copies of Dulcimerica: Volume 1 that I had brought in the suitcase, so I scootered around the corner to Casa de Laurenzi and swooped back with a stack of them. Bud III, Robert Force and I were scheduled to play about 45 minutes at 11:15 on Sunday Morning, just before Bob Haworth returned for a third set. Seeing neither hide nor hair of Bud nor Robert, I decided to not think about the set at all and sat back to watch my other roomie take the stage.

What a smoothie, that Michael Johnson Prior to the Mountain Music Festival, I wasn't familiar with his music. The YouTube clip of "Bluer Than Blue" didn't ring any bells either; perhaps I was just traveling in different circles during those years. This is another huge dude who's written songs for John Denver, Suzie Boguss and Chet Atkins, Leo Kottke, had huge hits of his own ("That's That", "Give Me Wings", "Bluer Than Blue".)

Exquisite finger-picking guitar and a velvet smooth voice, a gentleness and sense of peace rolls off of the stage as he sings, eyes closed. Some of the tunes are desperately sad in a quiet sort of way. Others dabble in political commentary, a message lurking all around the outskirts of the performances throughout the festival. Michael's skill in drawing the audience to him resulted in a bond that I've rarely seen at a live show. His run-up to a performance of "Bristlecone Pine" was both tender and hysterical. Around the house, he was such an unassuming guy. Laid-back, quick witted, easy with a laugh and a powerhouse singer/songwriter.

Time passed and I made some more schedule decisions because I had yet to see the all-fired Dulcimer Shop or any of the many shops that lined the main drag; I had some shopping to do and needed to find a phone card in order to connect with Jae. The sky continued its yield, prompting a sort of turnover in the crowd as thinly dressed folks moved along to warm their bones while warmly clothed folks shuffled in to escape the unrelenting rain (and maybe check out a show.) A local guy named Josh, whom I'd been talking with, went with me as I hurried down to the Dulcimer Shop and got a chance to see it for the first time. It was everything that I expected and much more. Instruments lined the walls, CDs shouted from display racks, the scent that I remember from the old Dulcimer Shop at Knott's Berry Farm hung in the air, the same scent that would waft out of boxes shipped from Manitou Springs, CO to Buena Park, CA. It took twenty-one years to complete the connection between the scent and the source. It felt like a new circuit had come online in my spirit, just standing there in the place. I'd still have to wait until Sunday for a proper tour, which was bound to be a dilly. Furtively, I was asked "have you seen the basement?" by so many people, the expectations crept up into the red zone.

The shop was closing down, Cripple Creek about to hit the stage, my feet were starting to freeze from all of the walking in rain and splooshing through puddles. Without an umbrella, I was pretty much moist. The rain didn't appear to be considering a cease-precipitation, so I took leave of Josh to make the short and hilly walk back to Casa de Laurenzi, where a change of clothes and a bit of warmth would be a great rejuvenator.

Rick and a friend came in after some time. I had been playing with Robert's little Roland Cube amp, seeing what kind of sounds I could get out of it. It has a few knobs with several different effects between settings; delays, chorus, tremolo, a few distortion channels. The idea wasn't to go Dylan in Newport '64, just add a little flavor to the signal as we pushed the envelope a little. Robert was already planning on going through his little amp, a rare Trace Elliot acoustic cube. Bud was braving the surf with a microphone. I had just finished a run-through of "Black Indian" when I noticed them standing there. Apparently, Robert had been looking for me earlier because Bud had cancelled the last two sets due to rain. Since he was closing out the show, he wanted me to go up there with him.

Another opportunity to jam with Robert Force, on his set. What did I do in a former life? How much of a blessing is that?

It was still pissing down rain, so I appealed to my host for something Rocky Mountain suitable that would keep me from developing a death of cold. When all was said and done, I looked like Kenny from "South Park."

Walking down to the park, the idea machine began throwing concepts at the wall to see if they stuck (or stunk.) Having viewed Robert's online videos on technique and having jammed with him for awhile, I was aware of the textures that he manages to get, the give and take of any piece that he plays. There is hard strumming, slow strumming, flat-picking and cross-picking, barre-ing and chording, not to mention a hefty bit of soloing. One of the cool things about jamming with Robert is, he's so damn good, you can just throw backing chords out there in a nice, round progression, and he'll riff not only until the cows come home, but until they leave again the next day.

When I arrived, Robert spotted me and headed directly over. The rain had ceased and we were standing just outside of the pavilion cover, facing the stage as Chilly Winds kicked it up a notch for their third set. To sum up the brief conversation, I'd come up a few songs into his set and we'd do "Wellyn", then one of mine and Jah knew what else. Sounded like a plan. And this time, it wouldn't be a surprise.

I decided to stand this time, so we could play off of each other better. Standing and still playing traditional style dulcimer (frets up) is a trick that I've never seen anyone else pull off; most standing dulcimerists play with frets out, like Robert, Butch Ross and others. To keep the instrument from bouncing around too much, I've developed over the years a way of counterbalancing the body with the ring finger and pinky of my right hand. It still requires a bit of moving around and shifting to keep it from flopping over.

We began with "Wellyn" and put a little overdrive into it. Then, I can't tell you what we played exactly because I have no clue whatsoever; can't wait to see the video. Sunday's performance and Saturday night's performance sort of blended together as far as songs played and moments savored. All I remember is Robert and I had just taken the groove down to something sort of mellow, yet still pulsing and intense. We're both standing there next to each other, facing the audience and he looks at me and says something to the effect of, "should we kick this into high-gear?" I paraphrase - but he was inquiring if I wanted to push the "go" button on this performance and I think my words were "let's go."

So, we went.

And, lordy, I don't know exactly what we did, but it was edgy. And I know we played a glittering assortment of Robert's songs, including "Did Ya?", "Sing Sailor" and "Conversations With The River." But in order to make it across the roaring river, I need to concentrate on one rock at a time. Musicians often go into the much-heralded "zone" when they play - it's a place firmly rooted in The Moment. The Now. It's the bridge between Was and Is. It's a stepping stone towards Will Be. It neatly occupies its very own space consistently in linear time and somehow in non-linear time as well. Ever-shifting, yet ultra-modern, The Moment. It's a snapshot, a laser's burn path. It's solid yet elusive. Holding on and letting go at the same time, like a gymnast or a trapeze artist, timing that swing with the arc of the next, timing that footfall to land on the stones that poke just above the rushing waters. Taking these notes and fitting them into the framework of what someone else is doing with notes and shifting them around, moving them so that they mesh and not collide. Stuff of The Moment.

And then it's gone, *poof*, end of show and Robert and I are hugging each other from center stage and the audience is clapping, hooting and whistling. What fun! The give and take was exciting, the textures were like that which I've never heard in my life. What a joy to combine rhythms and flavors with one of the great dulcimer players, to be challenged and inspired to step outside the usual safe open spaces and head for the dangerous hills.

Or, as Bud Ford announced to the crowd, we'd be heading for the Mariner bar to do a little after-party jamming.

Rocky Mountain High Pt. 4

I rolled into town a little after noon, noticing that the population of Manitou Springs had increased slightly and the sidewalks were beginning to fill up with people, doing this and peering at that. Attendance had been pretty good the previous day, violent hailstorm and all. So a bright and sunny Colorado summer Saturday would be gangbusters.

The first three acts of the day had been second sets by Bruce & Friends, Cripple Creek and Robert Force. I felt a little guilty about missing the shows, but figured everybody would understand the sublime urge to go scooter-tooling around the Garden of the Gods on a shiny morning. The afterglow of performing "Wellyn" with Robert was still doing little hippie dances in my brain and spirit. I figured that sometime during the day, we'd need to get with Bud Ford III and put our heads together about Sunday's set.

The timing was perfect. Rolled up to the covered stage at Soda Springs Park to find Xanthe & Setti cranking into their set. These two young ladies were knocking the crowd out with their sweet, tightly-layered harmonies and textured guitars. They'd look at each other occasionally, as if to assure each other that they were doing alright, then they'd slam it into fifth gear and the crowd would go bonkers again. The tunes were great folky Americana tunes with even a murder ballad or two thrown in for good measure. Folks love murder ballads. Murder ballads and songs about people about to be executed. It's true. I bought a CD. I love that kinda stuff.

So does Chuck Pyle, who came on next. Chuck's a huge dude, as one of my Key West friends would say. His songs have been recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and the late John Denver; he's performed at the house of Bill Gates. And his set was simply stunning; a masterful mix of story weaving, spoken word, sparkly guitar and songs of playful complexity sung with a warm, husky familiarity. The pavilion chairs filled up and Chuck kept it low-key, but captivated everyone.

I caught some more of Chilly Winds and really enjoyed their harmonies and song arrangements, so I stayed for a few before noting that they'd be performing right before Robert's evening set (which I wasn't going to miss for all the dogs in China) and, once again, the spectre of coffee raised its steaming head, sending me walking in search of a cuppa. Little did I know that things were about to turn ugly again, meteorologically.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

7th Anniversary Of The First Show

7 years ago on August 30th, 1999 at the House Of Blues at Walt Disney World, the original Mohave line-up made its debut at David Schweizer's Living Room Jam.

Has it really been seven years?

Rocky Mountain High Pt. 3

Cripple Creek took the stage around 7:30 pm on Friday evening and it was the first time that I'd heard them. Prior to that, I'd only heard Bud Ford playing the tune "Cripple Creek" on the Mel Bay Dulcimer 2000 CD that came with the matching book which KWL from Everything Dulcimer gave to me. That said, the band was great - with lots of delicious harmonies and acapella breaks that gave me goosebumps. Their folky songs ranged from silly to socially conscious, a nice mixture for the crowd that was assembled.

Knowing that I would be able to see them a few more times over the weekend along with Michael Johnson and Bob Haworth, I politely waited for a break between songs about halfway through the set and then walked through the back of the park towards the south end of town. Earlier, I had spied a few places that seemed like good spots in which to soak up the local vibe and I was starting to feel the effects of nearly 24 hours awake, having been through the brain drain of an airplane flight and then the added shock of being a mile closer to the sun than usual. A cup of coffee with additional defibrillators of espresso; that would keep the body moving.

Eventually, I reconnected with Bud Ford III and we decided to go back to Casa de Laurenzi for a little jam session which ended up being not so little and lasted until 1:30 in the morning. Bud and I are kindred spirits, so hanging out with him is easy. He's also a super-talented dulcimer player who pushes himself relentlessly to learn new songs and techniques on the instrument. So as we shared songs in Rick's living room, the flow and exchange of ideas was almost dizzying. At some point in time, I sagged back onto the couch and mumbled something about "lunging upstairs" and "falling into bed" while bidding him a fond adieu. House guests were gathered in the kitchen and I wished them a good night before heading upstairs. I'm not sure what the conversation was about, but during the weekend there was a good amount of talking amongst fellows (it was pretty much a fraternity, nary a woman to be seen in the quarters) and it always seemed to be about Life. Good conversations.

Having left my cel phone at home, like a moron, I had no alarm clock or time piece, so I figured on waking up when my overstimulated body and mind were damn well ready. As it turned out, this was a lot earlier than expected.

I awoke to the buzzing about of hummingbirds outside the open window of the cozy and well-lit room. After getting a good morning into everybody and meeting artist Chris Dysart, one of many people that I had the pleasure of visiting with over the weekend, I hopped aboard the silver and black Yamaha Vino that would be my angel wings for the next few days and headed out in search of breakfast. With no particular map in my head of where one might find something breakfast-y or even muffin-y, I slipped down the steep incline that is Washington Ave. and turned onto Manitou Ave., letting my invisible divining rod do the work and squinting into the bright morning sunshine. Blues skies. A few fluffy white clouds. Cute little town unfolding on either side like two funky ribbons as I glanced at the scrolling landscape and put on the brakes ever so slightly at the sight of food.

Too fancy. Too taco-y. Too boozy. That doesn't even look open. And then, suddenly, I see Ned's On Manitou in my line of sight and it just looks like a good time for breakfast, so I pull up to park on the sidewalk and who walks up but Erin Ford. Well hell. Now I know I've picked the best spot in town to have breakfast. Locals know these things.

After some chorizo and eggs with a tortilla and big-ass latte with double espresso love, I picked up a t-shirt ("I got fed at Ned's") and headed back outside; it was time to restart the mission. Destination: Garden of the Gods. It brought an exclamation of "ooh!" from my lips as we passed it coming in from the airport and Robert Force had talked about hanging out there and playing a little dulcimer. It sounded like a killer place to meditate and be still, knowing God, that sort of thing. The weather was threatening to be a bit wet. A sudden and violent microburst storm on Friday afternoon sent torrents of muddy water cascading down the mountain and dropped astonishing amounts of peanut-sized hailstones all over the place. Not knowing what Colorado weather patterns are normally like, I wasn't going to take the chance of missing out on this treat in the daylight. Without it raining on my head.

Throughout the morning, I had collected a startling amount of data that added up to something which might've been scooter-friendly directions to this place. Surprisingly, as I left Ned's and went shooting down Manitou Ave., left turn at the Sinclair, right turn on El Paso, left again and in less than five minutes, I was riding straight towards world-famous Balancing Rock.

The stunning rock formations within the Garden of the Gods is a result of being smack in the middle of two faults: the Rampart Fault and the Ute Pass fault. During the Laramide Orogeny (a period of mountain-building millions of years ago), a combination of earth and water slowly did the hula and resulted in massive uplifts of red, yellow and beige rock that slant at different angles throughout the park.

All of this history was lost on me, however, zipping along on the ribbon of road, tongue lolling out of the side of my head like the happiest dog on earth had gone Motoguzzi. It was incredibly beautiful. With my dulcimer case catching the wind like a minor sail, I eyed the fuel gauge; half-full, an optimist would say. Not sure how long it would take to see it all, I cranked the throttle and resolved to go for the gusto, see it all, just in case I wouldn't make it back on Sunday.

Siamese Twins. Cathedral Spires. Three Graces. Siltstone and shale, Lyons and Dakota sandstone, gypsum and red clay. Kissing Camels. Cathedral. Sleeping Giant. High Point. From place to place I sped, slowing down or stopping to gape, shut off the motor and listen to the wind whistling over surfaces and through brush. The visitor's center, looking suspiciously like the one from "Jurassic Park", was a good enough place for a bathroom break before shooting around the east side of the park and finding that it wasn't very large at all. If I was able to come back, I'd spend a little more time hanging out.
After hiking a short way off of a trail and finding a nice secluded spot in which to chill, I raised a silent prayer that Sunday morning would be weather suited to communing with the spirits.

With each new minute, it seemed that more tourists were beginning to show up, so I saddled up and headed out, back towards town where I was looking to catch some more music at the festival.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rocky Mountain High Pt. 2

Innocent Bystanders
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
My experience at the Mountain Music Festival can be summed up by how it began; with me bouncing along on the back of a scooter driven by Robert Force, an exciting-yet-comforting ride. When we arrived at Soda Springs Park, we were met by Bud Ford's daughter Erin, who had picked me up from the airport. Having only communicated a couple of times through MySpace, it was our first time in actual conversation while on the way into Manitou Springs. It didn't take long to figure out that hanging out would be an effortless thing; we're both peace-loving hippie types that like making music, reading Douglas Adams books and marking 4:20 appropriately. We hit it off.

At the park, as Robert and I dismounted from the scooter, Erin walked over and held up a small, familiar-looking type of key and gave a slight glance to the silver-and-black Vino that we'd parked next to. I hadn't even given much thought to mobility and now I definitely didn't need to. The girl rocketh. Her friend Janeen told me much later in the day, it hadn't even occurred to her that maybe I hadn't the foggiest clue about how to ride a motor scooter. Fortunately, I've owned a Yamaha or two in my life, so it didn't take long to start swooping around town like a man with a mission. And I was. On a mission, that is.

To soak up the essence of the weekend.

The first act, Bruce & Friends went on a little after 5 pm, acoustic blues and folk that was the soundtrack of meeting all kinds of cool and interesting people, including, at long last, Bud and Donna Ford.

Bud is about as laid-back as they come, bearing no slight resemblance to Santa Claus while Donna is a trim, energetic sprite with a hilariously blunt edge. They are down-to-earth and very real with sweet spirits, just as I imagined them, only more so.

Chilly Winds hit the stage around 6 pm or so, doing old Kingston Trio songs that had the crowd singing along. Each of the acts performing throughout the weekend were scheduled to play on each day, one or more shows, so I was planning on marking blocks of time during which to slip away from the festival and check out historic Manitou Springs, especially now that I had a way of zipping around. A beer was sounding really good and I needed to pick up some water to keep hydrated at the higher elevation, so after listening to Chilly Winds for a while more, I headed over to the little Vino, fired up the engine and headed out towards the main drag through town. I'd be back in time to catch Robert's set at 7 pm.

Manitou Springs is a trip. It reminds me very much of Topanga Canyon in California; a little sequestered hamlet with an eclectic populace and a strong artistic vibe. Dare to call it "arty", there's something mystical about the place, which is exactly what the Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Kiowa indians thought when they first discovered this land with the towering mountains and the bubbling healing springs. Lots of odd little shops, western and indian trading posts, bars, coffee houses, food joints and a great old arcade containing some games that were over fifty years old! It was hard to pull myself away from all of its quirky excess, but it was getting close for Robert to take the stage and I was looking forward to seeing him live for the first time.

Back at the park, I hung out with Bud Ford III towards the back of the covered stage area. Sitting on a picnic table with the dulcimer case strapped to my back, just in case I felt the need to noodle or wanted to jam with someone. You never know.

Robert was fantastic. I'd seen him perform via the videos on his website, but this was a whole other experience; better sound, better vibe and a great setting, full of flavor. His dulcimer style is unique, when you hear it, if you're familiar with his music, you recognize it immediately. His six-string technique, alternately switching between full on barre chord strumming to ethereal flat-picking and cross-picking. He makes the dulcimer shout and sharply cry out, then has it harmonize with itself with floating notes that blend in to one another. Maximum sustain of beautiful melodies, dramatic changes of color, simple refrains. And his songs just begin from there - add his whimsical, heartfelt delivery and lyrics that are playful, knowing, silly and wise, powerful and gentle for the spirit. His presence on stage is kinetic, always moving, always swaying, sometimes bouncing from one foot to the other, nothing show-offy, just incorporating whole body energy into the performance. He's a captivating dude - which is why I was completely caught off-guard when he invited me up on stage to play "Wellyn."

Insert sound of scratching record here.

I must've looked like a deer caught in the headlights and Robert, shading his eyes a bit from the glare of stagelights, said that he'd do one more tune to allow me time to get ready. I had to take a leak something fierce and needed to tune Joline, so I beat feet across the park to the restroom building, then bounded back and tuned up in time for Robert to start introducing me to the audience. I wasn't nervous. But I was buzzing with excitement because my wish had come true! I was going to perform "Wellyn" with Robert Force onstage at a festival. How cool was my life?

Choosing to sit down rather than stand, in order to get enough pressure on the barre chords, I scrambled to get comfortable and on the mark as the sound man got me situated with a mic for the dulcimer. After Robert introduced me again and I gave a small, excited bow to the audience, he snapped off a quick eight counts and it was on.

Chaos in my brain, then razor-sharp focus. I wanted to look up and acknowledge the audience, or look at Robert, but nothin'doin', I wasn't gonna slip up and blow it. Locked in. Objective: not to blow it. And somewhere in there, I was floating in it, having fun with it, grinning like a mad dog to it. All the practice with the video paid off; I took Albert d'Ossche's parts, which provide really cool chord combinations at specific points of the piece. It's also a highly rhythmic work, with very small gaps during which to sort of let your fingers stop and catch their breath. Robert was playing to me, standing close and grooving to keep the connection fresh and glowing. When we hit that last big rock chord and raised our pick-clutching right hands slowly and gracefully into the air, something inside suddenly went "holy cow!" and it's like I beamed into my own body right then and realized where I was and what I was doing. I appreciate things like this freely. The audience was highly appreciative as well.

And if that wasn't enough to send a guy to bed happy as a fruit bat, then Robert asks if I'd like to stay up there and do one of my songs by myself. I would've asked somebody to pinch me, but the only person standing there was Robert Force, so I wouldn't have believed it anyway.

Went with "Georgia Peach" which, despite not having time for a vocal warm-up and being tuned to the key of D, went about as well as one could expect from someone who had just gotten his mind blown. It felt good, it was comfortable, I dedicated it to Jae. Robert danced with a lady.

I left the stage to applause and ended up talking in a circle with a group of musicians and friends of the Dulcimer Shop, but so much of it was a blur. Maybe I was getting dehydrated and the 6,000 extra feet of altitude I was flitting around within was starting to have some effect on my faculties. In retrospect, the entire weekend was a solid mass of pulsing, fortified, natural water. As a spiritual and physical vessel, I am a sponge with immense capacity for run-off, which is to say, a lot of the experience simply washed over me. A full immersion. That's what I was aiming for. I've soaked up so much that I fear I'll simply bust.

And the blessings kept coming.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rocky Mountain High Pt. 1

Pike's Peak
Originally uploaded by dreadmon.
Less than 24 hours ago, I was riding a scooter along in the brisk morning chill, winding around the curves that weave through the Garden of the Gods at the base of Colorado's Pike's Peak. Now, I'm back in Florida with Tropical Storm Ernesto making a wet and woolly beeline for Orlando. How's that for extremes?
The trip to Manitou Springs was everything that I had hoped it would be; pure magic and great times. The Mountain Music Festival was a blast, great performances all around and real "A" list stuff! Manitou Springs is an endearing little town, blessed with a certain kind of magic that's hard to place. It's not just the artsy culture that exists there or the friendly and laid-back people, and it's not just the beauty and majesty of the landscape combined with the healing properties of the mineral springs that run down from the mountain; it's something else. Some kind of energy that fairly sets your body to humming. Or that could just be me trying to breathe differently at an elevation of some 6,000 feet. It's like having a cat sit on your chest as you try to sleep.

So, the setting for this amazing weekend is pure heaven anyway, then add to that a dream come true; finally meeting the Fords and visiting the Dulcimer Shop. Does it get much better? Add Robert Force to the mix and the whole reading goes off the chart. I could blog thousands of words which would come close to almost beginning to approach resembling, in some small way, a reasonable impression of what the experience was like, but without going all Michener on you, I just don't see it happening.

Meeting Robert was a pure joy. Literally, within minutes of our meeting, we were seated in Rick Laurenzi's living room making music. Unbelievable.

I had hoped, you know - to maybe steal a bit of his time and play "Wellyn" with him, chording the late Albert d'Ossche's parts, or to sneak in a brief jam or something. Hell No! Not only did we play "Wellyn" (with Michael Johnson looking on!), but we jammed for over an hour straight. Some of my stuff, some of his stuff, some stuff that came from out of the atmosphere and in from the spiritscape; my only regret is that we didn't record any of it. Rick got plenty of pictures though.

Three of us were staying at the cool old house that I call Casa de Ricardo, which was built in 1893 and was the abode of a former mayor of Manitou Springs. Robert and I and Michael Johnson, who had a big hit in the 80's with the song "Bluer Than Blue" and also performed with John Denver. Rick was a fabulous host, a highly interesting man with a sweet spirit and oodles of creative talent. The atmosphere in the place was super-charged with love and some of that magic I was talking about earlier.

Bud Ford III stopped by in the early afternoon to drop off a scooter for Robert to use over the weekend. We had talked briefly online through MySpace, but had never met. As it would turn out, Bud and I hit it off like gangbusters (and for some of the screwiest reasons - perhaps more on that down the road) and did a little jamming before he took Robert downstairs to demonstrate how to operate the scooter (he works at a scooter store.) After awhile, it was realized that the first musical act was about to hit the stage down at Soda Springs Park. So Bud excused himself to head for work while Robert and I hopped on the scooter and wheeled down to where the action was at.

More in a bit.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Gone To Colorado

I know from past experience that phone blogging is sort of a waste, but if it absolutely positively must be blogged, we'll give it a go. In any case - it's off to the airport at this bright and early time - ready for a grand adventure!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

David Schnaufer: Forever Alive

The sadness we feel at the passing of a special person is usually a selfish sadness; sad for us, for the missing, for the grieving, for the fact that we're now without their living presence. It's also an empathetic sadness; sadness for those left behind, sadness for the impact that one person's death will make in a great doppler effect of emotion.

I'm saddened by David Schnaufer's passing for so many different reasons. The great work that he's accomplished as a historian and teacher of the mountain dulcimer, it was only just beginning. Though many will carry on his work, who will have the passion that David had for the instrument? Fortunately, he taught and trained many in the ways of Dulcimer Discipleship, so the torch is far from going out. Still - they say when the old wise men, the griots of African tribes, pass from this earth, it's like an entire library burning to the ground. So much insight, wisdom, experience, knowledge, gone with a breath of fire. Ashes to ashes. I'm sad that David won't be able to continue his quest.

Having never met him, I'm sad to say now that I never will. Although he is part of his music, and in that, I know him well. And he is part of every performance captured on film or video, he's part of the teachings of others who have learned directly from him and he's a part of the very fabric of Dulcimer Culture.

In this way, he'll always be alive and available for future generations of dulcimer players. For having lived, he is perpetually with us.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Play In Peace: David Schnaufer

> Dear Friends and Fans of David,
> I wanted to let you know, personally, that David passed away at 3:00
> this afternoon. He was very peaceful and had a wonderful few days with
> all the love and prayers and wonderful greetings pouring in.
> I am going to make this a short note. Remember we are still very
> interested in stories, videos/DVDs, and photos for David's archives.
> There is also a fund to continue David's work at Vanderbilt for all of
> you who are interested. That is what David wanted more than anything.
> Peace to you all,
> Deb

Monday, August 21, 2006

Here It Is

The past ten months have been great; like warm sun on your face in the morning and the scent of last night's sex mingling with an ocean breeze that wraps around your head. You know. That good. This woodshedding walkabout that I've been on has been a crazy trip, like a musical whirlwind in a sheet music store. I'm out of my head with music. It's taking roots and forms that I hadn't even anticipated, all due usually to me bumping into and exchanging energies with these incredibly talented and dedicated musicians. Can a person die from inspiration? Over-inspiration? I think I'm about to be inspired to death. Man, that is a great song title. [Jots that one down in a bound note book.]

Final mixing, mastering, package designing - I'm trying to get something together in time for the Mountain Music Festival. Dulcimerica: Volume 1 can be pretty much called a wrap and I'm really super-happy with the way that it turned out. The students at Full Sail did an excellent job running the sessions and engineering the recording - we got some really great material - and Charles Stansell laid it down again and his particular brand of rhythm harmonica playing really compliments the dulcimer on "Cotton Eyed Joe", "Gold Trails Hotel" and "Sunday Morning." There are also a few tracks recorded here at Dark Studios that I just couldn't bring myself to record again, I liked these versions so much. One is a sweet reading of "Edelweiss" and the other is an overdubbed arrangement of an original tune called "From The Hills To The Sea". All in all, I think there are 16 songs, 16 or 17 songs, all instrumental and mainly solo dulcimer, since people have been asking for more of the traditional/acoustic music.

The next version will have more instruments and bigger arrangements, but I wanted to start off the series with the bare basics and just a little hint of what's to come.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

David Schnaufer

One of the first dulcimer cassettes I bought in the 80's was David Schnaufer's Dulcimer Player. It was during this formulative time, as I tried to figure out how the heck this instrument was going to work into the musical picture, that I soaked up these performances and cried, thinkin' how far away I was from ever sounding like that. Schnaufer to dulcimer is Clapton to guitar for most people. I dunno. Maybe more Phil Keaggy.

David's been diagnosed with a "rapid growth type of lung cancer" and the disease has spread quickly; so there are the usual good days and bad days, with plenty of prayers pouring in from all around the world. Folks who want to send cards and letters can do so here:

You may send a card or note to:
David Schnaufer
9 Music Square South, Suite 135
Nashville, TN 37203

You can send David a special story or memory of his impact on your life by sending it to Debbie Porter (

I just picked up the album Adieu False Heart, a collection of hauntingingly beautiful Americana songs performed by Linda Ronstadt, Ann Savoy and an ensemble of string players including David Schnaufer, who plays both standard and bowed dulcimer.
The album is incredible; the stories and songs are so dark for the most part - it's the performances that provide shafts of sunlight. Themes of loss, loneliness, love in vain and impending death; a real party right?

David's playing really blesses this album - and it makes the song "Too Old To Die Young" particularly poignant with its lyrics:

If life is like a candle bright
then death must be the wind
you can close your window tight
and it still comes blowing in

so I will climb the highest hill
and watch the rising sun
and pray that I won't feel the chill
till I'm too old to die young

Prayers and blessings for David Schnaufer - the good of the world that you've given comes back to you always.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Musical Mecca

Having just recently leaped into the rushing stream that is this country's grass roots music scene, I find myself succcumbing to drooling fanboy-ism every now and again. Keep in mind that, for many years, I had no idea who Bud and Donna Ford were, besides two people who made beautiful wooden instruments and ultimately signed my checks when I worked at the Dulcimer Shop's location within Knott's Berry Farm theme park. It wasn't until about ten or twelve years later, with the birth of commercial internet, that I was able to fully grasp how wicked cool that was.

And maybe it was better that I sat out there on the outskirts of the wooded camps and bonfires blazing with the sounds of flamin' mountain dulcimers in the sky (thanks Tull, for cementing that within my head for now and eternity). It was just me and Dulc. Two instruments, one tuning. DAA. And it wasn't even DAA, because I tuned down in order to facilitate my baritone voice. CGG.

In any case - by the time I had jumped into the scene care of The Lippy's Dulcimer Central group, where I finally had other dulcimer players to socialize and jam with, the dulcimer and I had shared many roads together and were comfortable in one another's company. Then DAD tuning came along and effed all that up, so it was like starting from square one; no repertoire, no originals. Curses!

Kidding, a gentle kid. So the trips out to Kentucky and now Colorado are the kind where you spend the whole time grinning your ass off because you just can't believe your good fortune be doing the very thing that you're doing. Talk about kid in a candy store. It's like going to stay with someone up north during wintertime, waking up and finding snow on the ground, running out to lay in it and play in it, meanwhile all the neighbors are sayin' "they're not from around here, are they?"

That'll be me in Colorado. Just silly smilin' and pinching myself.

So now, I'm wondering what to bring to The Mountain Music Festival? Should I bring a couple of acoustics? Should I bring the electric? If they have an amp there, should I bring a distortion pedal? West coast musical sensibilities are a little different than southern musical sensibilities and every audience is different. So, there are feeler questions out there - I'm waiting to hear back.

Here's a clip from Kentucky Music Week. The tune I play is called "Gold Trails Hotel", named for the building in which the Knott's Dulcimer Shop was located. It's a musical hodgepodge of "Cripple Creek", "Old Joe Clark", "Ragtime Annie", "Cumberland Gap" and Jah knows what else, all served up and diced together with a low-key "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" ending. Tim Carnahan, my manager at the Dulcimer Shop, taught me a few of those, I arranged the others into a demonstration tune that I'd play probably 100 times a day while selling dulcimers to park guests.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

From The Mad Den

Although I'm sure that it's a good thing I told the Full Sail artist relation person in charge of our files that he should send 24 bit instead of 16 bit. At some point in time in the near future, this will seem like a really useful decision and there will be rejoicing of celebration.

Right now, I need to convert all those files, individually split stereo files, dry - from 24 bit to 16 bit before importing them into Garageband for mixdown. It's a little involved, say.

But it's yielding good stuff, tracks that will definitely end up on the album. I'm trying to keep it simple, but that concept just isn't being sold to all the members of the band (in my head), so simple isn't even on the menu for further discussion. The question is, whether or not to put some fairly more progressive stuff on there, nothing too wild - but maybe some drum loops, cranked down really gritty and dirty - get something really native going on. Thinkin' on this one.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Heading to Colorado

At the end of this month, actually next week - goin' to the Mountain Music Festival put on by Bud and Donna Ford; my former employers. In all the twenty-one years I've known them, I've never been to the shop itself, nestled in a cozy valley of three thousand or so people, but I've been looking forward to it all my life.

I've imagined what it must look like, and then probably how it's been changed. How it smells like sawdust and wildflowers - what the view is like outside the front window. I'm getting out there on the cheap, and crashing where there's a bare spot on the floor - which is a real romantic way to go, when you really think about it. It's like busking - there's something very humbling about it at the same time you're grateful as all get-out. It's a healthy kind of warm that glows from the inside out.

In any case - I'm heading out there - and Bud has presented the possibility of a slot within the performance schedule for Sunday with Bud Ford III and Robert Force. I'm like, holy cow, I'd be daft to turn down a chance like that! Good thing I got one of them seatbelts for the dulcimer. I'm stoked - I hope it goes down.

Wonder if we could do "Wellyn"?

The Pro-Tools discs came from the Full Sail Sessions - I'm going to start working with them now, posting hither and yon with no accounting for rhyme nor reason. Well, maybe a little storyboard thumbnailing or something. WhatEv.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dulcimerica Vol. 1: Full Sail Night Two

Friday night's session took longer to kick-start as the students went to set-up the recording gear in the isolation booth. Good thing too, since it was discovered that the AKG 414 microphone we had been using previously was actually blown out and not operating at its peak efficiency. Who'da thunk? So, though what we recorded sounded good on Thursday - everything sounded much better on Friday. Go fig.

It was the night to get some of the backing tracks for songs with vocals down - so I tackled these along with a few that were drifted into the mix because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Recorded were the bed tracks for:

One Way Ticket
Georgia Peach
Jurassic Park
(another run at) Swing Low Sweet Chariot/He's Got The Whole World In His Hand
Polly Wolly Doodle
(another run at) The Old Black Cat Couldn't Catch A Rat
and a decision to record "Why Walk When You Can Fly" - not to release, but just to have.

We got overdubs of Charles on "En Evant Deux" and "Polly Wolly Doodle", then the session wrapped earlier than we had expected. All in all, I think it went well - it'll become more evident when they send the .wav files and I can go through, pick and choose, do some EQ. The Artist Sessions will pick up again and we can bring those files in to do overdubs - plus, I'll be doing some recording here at Dark Studios. Somewhere out of all that will come the material for the first album, which I hope to have done by the fall.

The students had a good time with our session - apparently they get a lot of bad metal, and it was a refreshing change to have some acoustic music without blaring guitars and screaming going on. Well, we're happy to oblige.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dulcimerica Vol. 1: Full Sail Night One

I arrived at Full Sail a little early in order to let Joline acclimate inside the frosty air-conditioning. As it was, a fresh set of strings was going to be somewhat dodgy. Charles arrived shortly afterwards and after talking with Michelle Bunker for a little bit, we went into the studio and began settling in.

The class was very professional and courteous; we were situated in no time. They brought out a bullet mic for Charles and rigged it to a stand while I got an AKG 414 condenser microphone that captured every sound sweetly (well, I could've done without some of the finger knocking, but then maybe I shouldn't knock my fingers on the fretboard when I play.)

We started off with "Sunday Morning" and "Gold Trails Hotel", both of us in the room together. Though I'm not sure how isolated the tracks would be, it was important to have the ability to play off one another since we only had one room to work with. However, realizing that I wanted more control over the individual tracks, I opted to lay down some of the basic dulcimer and have Charles come in with overdubs on the top. So, he sat a few out while I ran through some of the 21 songs on the list (yes, 21 - I'm a madman.)

Charles has known for some time that his stepfather was very ill and fighting a brave fight; he'd prepared himself for the inevitable and figured that it would be soon. Well, during the break, he got a voicemail that revealed his stepfather had passed. With apologies ("none needed", I told him), he left early to join the others where they were gathering at his mom's house and I sent him along with my prayers and condolences. Poor guy - he's trying very hard to be strong for his family; he had to put his dog down over the weekend, so life's been a real trial of late. He told me that he's grateful for the music and for the chance to work on a project with me, that it keeps him energized and distracts him from the grief he's been feeling. "It's just what the doctor ordered, Bing," he said. If for nothing else, I'm glad that this album is happening right now. The music has always been more about living than making money or being well-known; it's medicinal. He said he'd be back tomorrow for the next session and I told him that it wouldn't be a problem if he didn't. This is just the beginning of recording dates for the album and there'll be plenty more. But it sounds like in another 24 hours, he'll need a bit of musical escape once again. I'm happy that this project is here for him to engage.

Overall, I tracked 15 songs in the span of four hours, some will need re-doing, but it's a great start. The tunes recorded tonight include:

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot/He's Got The Whole World In His Hand"
"Cotton Eyed-Joe Goes To Cali"
"En Evant Deux"
"From The Hills To The Sea"
"Gold Trails Hotel"
"Mountains Of Pomeroy"
"Soldier's Joy"
"Sunday Morning"
"The Old Black Cat Couldn't Catch A Rat"
"This Road This Moment"
"Whiskey Before Waltzing"
"Barlow Knife"
"Somewhere Over The Rainbow"
"Hey Bobby"
"Squire Wood's Lament"

Left to record are:

"One-Way Ticket"
"Georgia Peach"
"Planxty Fanny Power"
"Please Bury Me By The River Shannon"
"Polly Wolly Doodle"

I'm not sure which of these are actually going on the record and which aren't - as there will be some tracks recorded here at Dark Studios - but certainly a good portion of these will, because they're already sounding so damn good.

I asked a lot of questions about recording, since I'm trying to boost my set-up, and one of the students told me that a decent pre-amp to get was the Blue Tube. Between that and the 414, I'm already looking at $1000. [Low whistle] Guess I'd better start saving pennies, huh?

In any case - here's a sneak preview of the recording - "Cotton-Eyed Joe" got a bit of a reworking, and I'm not exactly sure where this version of the tune came from - but with what we've done to it, the renaming sure seems appropriate:

"Cotton-Eyed Joe Goes To Cali" [2.2 MB - 1:56]

Charles' harp playing is highly rhythmic and perfect for what we're doing here. I love working with him and he's a great guy on top of everything. This is a tough time for him - so I'm asking that you keep him and his family in your prayers during this very trying period.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Check These Groups Out

I got turned on to some new acts at Kentucky Music Weekend and just wanted to pass on the love:


Holy Cow, these guys are good. You have GOT to hear their bluegrass rendition of "Eine Kliene Nacht Musik" - un-frickin-believable.


Likewise, I'll say it again, Holy Cow, these guys are good. A double bill of this pedigree would pin you to the back wall of the theater.


They're sort of like rock stars in the folk scene and I can see why. Their show was amazing, uplifting, powerful and tuneful in ways that mainstream music could take a lesson from.


Just this guy, a harmonica, a ukelele and a foot-powered cymbal. The audience didn't know what hit them, and neither did I. Phenomenal performer with more soul than a gospel choir.


My personal favorite new discovery - I just love these girls. They're edgy, they're mongo-talented, they freakin' rock.


It was my first time seeing Nancy Barker's band, and it was actually not quite the band, but a hodgepodge of different folks sitting in. (Anne McFie, Christie Burns and Butch Ross, etc.) Still, it was the first time that I'd been exposed to the music, and I fell in love with "The Cowboy Song" as well as "Maybelline."

And I saw some of my favorites again, like Tom and Missy Strothers, Dave Para and Cathy Barton, Butch and Christie, whom I adore, Anne, Molly McCormack. There was also this killer bluegrass band made up of teens called Kentucky Sassafras that left everyone's jaws on the floor. It was an incredible couple of days of music, that's for sure.

Got to skip off to a meeting, but check out those links and the music at the other ends of them. It's stuff like this that needs to be on the radio - not the crap that's currently residing on the airwaves.