Monday, December 23, 2013


Usually I make an effort to crank out some sort of semi-decent post over the weekend, but this past weekend I was still catching up on the shoveling and trying to get back to a 'pre-white stuff' condition and get ready for the winter. I did however, get introduced to some brand new music and will be sharing that in the next few days. I promise it won't be something you've already read about.
 But I have been pretty tired these last few days and a bit frustrated that my fingers aren't working correctly and my play/practice sessions sound pretty lousy. That just puts me in a blue mood and I don't get much done when that happens. I honestly can't remember the last time I had to force myself to do my daily play/practice session but it was probably about 6 months ago. I have finally hit that stage where I enjoy the sessions and grab them when I can , even if it's just for 15 minutes. Sometimes it sounds good, and sometimes it don't. Sometimes the 'warmup' takes a long time and sometimes it's 2 or 3 minutes. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it just sucks and I can't seem to get my fingers to do what I want for any amount of effort, time, or trying. That's when I play scales and work on short passages and call it a night.
 But sometimes, it just happens. It all comes together for reasons that I still can't figure out and it all sounds good. I can push the tempo past what I could do before and it still sounds good, when I miss a note I can roll right over it and keep going and holding onto the tempo (or what, for me, in my limited capacity, I laughing refer to as 'my groove').
 Tonight was/is one of those nights and it was just rolling for me, with few if any mistakes, and the groove held in there. Pretty cool, I have to say. It still amazes me how much fun this music stuff can be and what a kick I get out of the very small victories.
 Thanks Bill.
Keep the Beat,

Friday, December 20, 2013


I am still on that 'Gift' jag, sorry. Actually not really, I just think this is pretty cool.
 Last night we were all at the Harmony for the weekly Thursday Night gig. It was the annual Bill Keith Birthday party gig which occurs every year on the Thursday closest to Bill's Birthday (December 20th). Some years we have a raft of local and semi-local performers to stop by and some years it is light because everybody is out working their own gigs. This year was the later, but the music was great, the assembled mass were all local folks in good cheer and anxious to wish Bill well. We had the usual guest players come up for a tune or two in the second set and we all had a lot of fun. There was also a lovely and tasty cake provided by The Harmony folks.
 As is my custom, I planned to stay for the entire gig. Usually I head out after the first set so I can get up for work in the morning, but on Bill's Birthday night, I stay. You never know who might walk in or what tune might come out in the mix and I don't want to hear about it from someone else later. It is very much worth suffering through a long day at work on Friday just to 'be there'.
 So when the formal music stops, a few folks do a bit of jamming and I always love listening to this stuff. The guest players still have some energy and start sharing tunes and some really good music can pop out. It's a lot of fun and I enjoy being a fly on the wall.
 Last night, my friend Matt handed me his mando so I could show him a little of what I have been working on, which I sort of did, but there was other noise and music going on and it was hard to hear. Matt picked up his guitar and said 'what do you want to play?'. I tried a couple of different tunes, but he couldn't hear my weak playing to pick up on it well enough and then I finally settled on "Ashokan Farewell". Well the backup melody that came out of his guitar kind of blew me away. It was gorgeous! Just like Molly Mason plays it and I fell right into the meter with his steady timing and we played it through twice with no mistakes. All I kept thinking to myself was 'Damn! this sounds REALLY nice!'
 When the tune ended I was a tiny bit numb, something of a cross between 'Wow I got though it'  and 'geez, now what?' A few other players moved over to us and started whacking out a much faster tune that I could add nothing to. I put Matt's mando in the case and listened for a while. Then I realized it was getting near midnight, said my goodbyes all around, wished Bill a Happy Birthday one more time and headed home.
 On the drive home I realized that this was the first time I had ever sat down with another person and played a tune through clean. (I have tried to work through some stuff with Evan, but just couldn't get through without screwing up something or other and breaking up the melody. The boy deserves a medal for trying to hold me to a steady pace and compensating for my ineptitude while still making it sound good. I fear I may have worn him out at this point.) On top of that, it sounded like music, REAL Music! Something that anybody could listen to and enjoy. At the same instant, it dawned on me that I may actually be capable of making some music, even if it remains at the back porch level with nobody listening but the birds. Up to this point I really believed I was just beating unmercifully on an instrument to provide myself with some satisfaction or relief or whatever personal enjoyment I might derive. Now I think it is conceivable that somebody might actually be able to listen to me play and not come away from the encounter emotionally scarred.
 This whole concept strikes me as pretty nifty and I know that Matt was trying to draw something out by sticking his beautiful mando in my hands and saying "what do you want to play?". A very nice little gift that I never expected and didn't even become aware of until much later. Thanks Matt, and Merry Christmas to you too!
Keep The Beat,

Friday, December 13, 2013


Gift giving season is upon us. I have long ago ceased to get excited about this time of year with respect to that aspect. When the kids came along and became the center of our universe, so too went the focus of any gift giving thoughts. For my wife and I, we focus on the practical needs and there was little excitement there. We found our ‘excitement’, when there was any, in finding something that made somebody else smile. My wife has always been the thoughtful expert in this area although sometimes by accident, I stumble on a good idea.
Selfish expectations (let’s admit it, we all have them) for me were also restricted to the practical, like better fitting underwear, socks, or a stiff pair of good jeans.
So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I was chatting with a friend, Dean Seabrook, and he gave me a gift. Well, we weren’t actually talking, we were sending chat messages back and forth sporadically over a period of hours, but that is nearly the same these days.
At the time, it didn’t seem like a gift, and actually  I had just asked him for a little help, but a gift resulted none the less. I am quite certain that Dean didn’t look at it as ‘giving me a gift” either which makes it that much more valuable. You see, I have been working on the same tunes for a while now and getting a little better each day. I had realized a few weeks ago I was in need of something new to work on and keep the enthusiasm and interest up. I looked around, thought about what might be good and really didn’t find anything. Because I am not at the stage where I can just pick a tune and work it out, I really need to choose carefully so that the amount of effort I have to put in, results in a tune that makes me smile every time I play it. So far, I have focused on tunes written or performed by folks I really enjoy. ‘Ashokan Farewell’, written by (at the time) neighbor Jay Unger and still a staple fiddle tune around these parts has always brought me great joy, since the first time I heard Evan Shultis play it. ‘Devil’s Dream’ is the tune which Bill Keith first heard that made him realize he could play it note for note and led to his work in developing what every banjo player in the world now knows as the “Melodic” or “Keith” style of playing.  Bill first performed that tune 50 years ago this year playing with Bill Monroe. Bill frequently plays that tune as a medley with ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’, so I learned that one too. Then I took on ‘Opus 57’ (David Grisman) because Bill also had a hand in that and I just love the tune. So I am still working on all of these to get them closer to acceptable, but I needed something new.
I had always wanted to learn a Rushad Eggleston tune, just so that I might have something to haunt him with at Grey Fox. However, there is little or no published written music of his 1,000 or more compositions and, as he plays mostly cello, it becomes even harder for me to make the transcription to mandolin. Still Rushad has this one tune which has a very simple melody, augmented with his incredible chop and back beat. It’s a simple, silly sing that I have seen him perform in front of thousands of people and have them all singing. Tried as I might, I could never figure out the notes.
So, I asked Dean because in addition to playing cello, Dean is also very good friends with Rushad. Dean gave me the progression and the notes, one happened to be right, and the other not so much on the first go round because we started early in the day and he was probably interrupted when I asked him. At any rate we figured it out (there was this little octave change in there he didn’t mention until I had figured it out for myself which also gave me great pleasure). When I finally had a minute to grab the mando and play what we had transcribed, IT WORKED! In just a couple of minutes I was playing a song and it was MY FIRST SONG. All the others are tunes, this one has words, simple words. Something I can sing, this is SO freaking COOL! “I peed on a bird/ I peed on a bird/ I stood on the edge of a cliff and/ I peed on a bird.”
Yeah I know, if you have never heard this performed it must strike you at about the same level as “My dog has fleas” for the guitar playing set. No matter, I know the history of the song, I connect it to a friend and great player/performer, and it has meaning and memories for me. Yes, of course I still have many hours of work to do. I only have the chorus and need to learn the verses better. I also need to find a way to simulate the incredible chopping beat that Rushad punches out this tune with. But that’s the fun part, working it out and playing it over and over to get it right.
I just find it fascinating that I thought I had a ‘technical problem’ that Dean was helping me out with and I wound up with a gift that makes me smile, hard, inside and out, every time I pick the notes. This music stuff is SO cool. Thanks Dean.
Here is a video from Grey Fox 2013 of the song being performed by the Grey Fox Supersonic Late Night All-Stars. This is a killer group of folks: Tim O’Brien on Mando, Noam Pikelny on Banjo, Courtney Hartman on Guitar, Rushad on Cello, Casey Driessen on Fiddle, Chris Thiele also on Mando, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. I apologize to the other world class performers in this incredible lineup that I did not mention here because I don't quickly recognize their faces. I believe that is Mike Bub on Bass for instance. Now I talked to Rushad about this set in the hours before it happened and he confessed to me that he was fairly nervous about playing with these elite guys and gals. As humble as he is, Rushad was concerned and wasn’t sure which tune to call when his turn came around. It may surprise you, but Rushad is not a ‘traditional straight bluegrass player’ {SMIRK} although he can kill it whenever he wants to. He also journeys very far afield in his music and some of it is ‘really out there’ by traditional standards. He didn’t know how far he could go in this set and was concerned, as I understand it, as to how the rest of the ‘straight-up’ players might take it. Now my understanding was that Tim O’brien or Noam Pikelny, or perhaps Chris Thiele that actually suggested “I Peed on a Bird” and I think Rushad threw in ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ to soften the blow. The kicker to this is that Rushad was absolutely blown away when he realized that Jerry Douglas had launched into a pretty awesome break on ‘I Peed on a Bird’. It’s very safe to say that this was not something Rushad expected at all. Jerry is known as one of the finest dobro players in the world today. He plays hard driving, dyed in the wool, straight up stuff and he plays it better than just about anyone. Solid Country, Bluegrass, and other genre’s are Jerry’s stock and trade. He doesn’t get into the ‘alternate stuff’ much, if at all. He killed this one, and I won’t soon forget that moment or Rushad’s excitement later when he realized what happened.
So the first half of this clip is ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ (in G), a classic traditional tune, followed by “ I peed on a Bird” (in Dm). If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you will have a blast. I was very glad to be standing right in front of these guys during this set, and it’s yet another reason I smile every time I pick those notes.
Keep The Beat,


Due to unforseen circumstances, Evan Shulits will not be performing his gig at the Hopped up Cafe' on Saturday night (12/14).
 HOWEVER, Gilles Malkine will be doing his solo act there that night instead. I tell you, this little Valley has some depth in the talent pool for sure. C'mon out and see a great show in a very intimate venue.
 There is some weather coming in for sure, but lets see how it flies.
Keep the Beat,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


But first, the unusual disclaimer: The say 'write what you know' and up to this point in my adult life I have pretty much stuck to that. However, with this post I break that streak and with, I hope, good reason. I don't really think I will know enough about this subject to really write with knowledge. However, not being one who is easily dissuaded by a little ignorance, and being up front with that fact, I feel that it is nearly safe enough for me to sally forth into the partially known in order that I might bring to your mind a performer who I find most worthy of a good audience. If you've read my review of Gilles Malkine's latest CD, then you saw mention of the subject of this post, Gilles oft time and questionably acquired partner in paradigm, parody, and sarcasm Mikhail Horowitz (aka: Mic, or Mik, depending on your accent). Having been regaled with an outstanding performance just a few mights past wherein I acquired a copy of one example of Mik's solo work "the blues of the birth" I felt inspired to share some thoughts and a rapidly growing (Mik might say "festering") appreciation and admiration for Mik's work, and more specifically the broad range of knowledge he draws from to create his art. It seems vast to my small mind.

 First lets get the demographics out of the way. No man is an island and although Mik is the key player on this album with suprano recorder, harmonica, and of course voice,  he is joined by Gilles Malkine on Bass and doing some speaking parts in Italian at the very end with a little haiku bonus track. Joe Giardullo plays alto sax, bass clarinet, and talking drum, Jim Fin contributes with the tenor sax and flute, and finally there is David Arner on Piano. The album is in the 45 minute range and is produced by Sundazed Music. Recorded in June  of 1998 at Nevassa Studios in Woodstock, NY. It is available as a download from Sundaze here, or get it from Mik at a show.
 You've read enough now that if you are still here I fell safe telling you that Mik is a poet, not a pop star. Wait, don't run away yet. This is GOOD stuff. If you are over 55, then the term 'beat poet' may not be foreign to you. There were quite a few in the 50's and 60's, still a few around n the 70's (those who did not starve to death), and still fewer in the years that followed. Sad to say that Mik is one of the last that I know of, but I am sure he could give you a list. I don't travel in those circles hardly at all, so I am tickled that fate brought me across Mik's path. I would never had known what I had missed, but I would have missed it none the less. If you are under 55, then you are in for a treat. Mik uses his words, his voice, his thoughts, and his music to put it all together in such a carefully crafted presentation that it is hard to process on the first, or even second go around. Words come at you like a freight train and they are not the words you are used to hearing in everyday speech, so the words themselves can take your brain precious seconds or more to process, by the time you've done that, you might have missed the thought those words created. It takes practice to pay attention at the speed of thought, especially when the reference material covers such a vast chasm of knowledge. Everything is fair game for Mik from the early Greek philosophers, to the intricacies of jazz, all the major players in world history from the neolithic period to the present day. I don't consider myself a particularly smart guy, but I am better read than many I think. My library does boast several hundred volumes and I can even grab a copy of Homer's Odessey, Hegel, Darwin's Century, the Icelandic Sagas, most of Ibsen's plays, and many other widely dispersed subjects off my shelves.
 None of that did much to prepare me in grasping everything Mik could throw at me in just a few minutes. Fortunately Mik knows this and he crafts his words such that you can 'get it' on almost any level you want, to a point. There has to be a limit, of course and although his work is crafted for delivery in this post-literate age he still pulls out the big guns from time to time. In the liner notes of this album, Mik is quoted as saying "Actually, I assume half the people in the audience aren't going to know what the fuck I am talking about." He may be right, but I will tell you this, he has some funny stuff in here. Surely he is making a point and telling a story, and sharing a philosophy, and sometimes even opening one of those 'I had a thought and I wonder what you think about this..' conversations where he declares no end 'message' but leaves it out there for you to think about.
 Certainly Mik has accomplished that, getting one to think, that is. I like to think and ponder others points of view. I believe it makes me a better person, or certainly a bit more enlightened. But I also have to be honest and tell you that on some of these tracks, Mik was dead right, I have no idea... and I like that too. Now I should quickly add that it doesn't mean I gave up on it, it means I have a lot more listening and thinking to do, and I find that so very cool. He stumped me and now it's my job to figure it out. 'What the hell is he talking about?' Well, I can take what I know and move on from there, I love a challenge, especially an intellectual one where I don't have to grow new callouses and sweat a lot.
I suppose I should take a few words to explain why Mik’s work grabs me in such a way that I find it worth sharing. The best way I can think of to explain this is as a corollary to music composition and delivery. In most music, the composer seeks to present a melody which generally follows a theme throughout and has variations. The listeners ear becomes accustomed to the melody through repetition and then it becomes easy for the listener to discern changes or variations in that melody. So the composer first trains the listener as to what the melody is, then varies that melody to provide interest and color with occasional excursions which wander briefly afar but return to the ’comfort’ of the original melody. The listener gets a bit of an idea what to expect we can be surprised by unexpected changes which we quickly assimilate to catch up with the flow. It keeps your brain active and that is what makes it fun and/or enjoyable.
Poetry is much the same in that it has a rhythm or meter to it. The words used are normally words we are familiar with and because there is some manner of rhyming involved, the brain begins to try to fill in any gaps or works in anticipation to guess what is coming. “There once was a man from Nan______”. See how your brain filled in the missing part of the word?  Here’s the thing, you can’t really do this with Mik’s work. The rhythm is usually steady with occasional changes, but the rhyming conventions and particularly the words are nearly always unpredictable. Mik uses a plethora of word concatenations to create new pictures in your brain, they come like flowing water and for each ‘new word’ your brain must first identify the root words, put them together for the first time and then create, for the very first time ever, a picture of what that word ‘looks like’ to you. This is a pretty cool trick, but it means the listener really has to use their brain. When you combine the mastery of words with a supporting musical coloring, you wind up with quite a workload for the brain, which for me, translates to a bigger payoff in the ‘satisfaction column’.
That’ a lot of words to describe something that happens at the speed of thought, but if you follow what I am saying, you will understand why I enjoy his work so much. You throw in some hip-hop, some bee-bop, a bit of rap, and a jigger of jazz, flavor it with some recorder, flute, Sax, piano, a thrumming bass line and you have a party. That's the hook for me. It may be the same for you, or it may be quite different, but that is how my puny brain works.

 I can't give you more than a rudimentary description of the 9 tracks on this album because I only have a few listens and that is no where near enough time for my brain to process all the words that come flying at me like David Grisman giving a new mando a speed check.
 Swingin' Chicadas (3:59)

 Mik's piece on the 17 year chicada cycle. Ironic that this was recorded 17 years ago and this year the cycle came around we were treated to an updated version of this piece just a couple of months ago. His take on what the cycle feels like from the point of view of these jazzed up insects, "The COOLEST Insect of all".
The Blues Of The Birth (10:14)
 The title cut with recurring character T-Bone Sphinx who appears in a later track in a different incarnation. Now here I have to confess my brain is working overtime. T-Bone is the pre-mordial creator of hip and all the variations of blues that led to what we have today, everything from "The Jesus with the Meter Running Blues" to the "The Sunhouse, Bed Louse, Better Fed Church Mouse 1930 Down and Dirty Blues".  The crafting of this in pretty much a genius level study of philosophy. A recurring theme with respect to the 'chicken or the egg ' discussion that is not unique to most students of philosophy. At least that's where I am with it now.
Litany of the Dead (4:29)
 This piece explores the sad realization that the dead have lost all opportunities for sexual discourse. You have to be there, so to speak.
Art (1:10)
 I just love this piece. This is a short one minute brain download that condenses Mik's abilities into a thought provoking discussion of 'what is art'. This of course is another one of those questions that we walk around with in our heads since some high school teacher asked the question to provoke thought, with very limited results. I like Mik's take on this very much. Concise, on point, humorous, and he gives a different line of thought than you might have expected.
Bird Lives (12:02)
A brilliant work on the lives of dinosaurs in a jazz environment. Evey time I listen through I pick out new words and subtleties that I didn't catch before. There are lots of 'new words' in here and it's hard to process them as fast as they come. Trying to explain this futher is like trying to explain what Robin Williams might be thinking 10 minutes from now. It ain't happening, just give it some study. Great fun and a really interesting ending.
 Death (1:10)
How could one be considered a true Beat Poet without a piece called 'Death'? Mik does a nice job with this mandatory subject. Can't help but snap my fingers to this one, every time.
 Subway (3:47)
This is another effort that I am working on. Looking at the mundane observances of a subway rider. Never having been a city kid, I am working on processing it. I am not quite clear on things like "a Misbegotten cross of a nazi and hotten-tot". Nice drum work.
CIA (;59)
 Brilliant rapid wordsmithing. Built somewhat on the 'If I were King, how would I fix things" train of thought (but only just vaguely). Not what you would expect exactly.
Apocalypse Wow (15:14)
Set in the Cafe Afterlife this explores the complexities and philosophical perplexities of the time-space paradigm and it tells the tale of T-Bone Sphinx final send-off. Complex and simple at the same time. You were there too, but you may not remember it...yet. Very neat, and the music is great in this piece.
 Bonus track (I think)
Not sure if this is a separate piece or just tacked onto the previous track but this is a fun little piece which shares a few witticisms offered by The Hit Man Haiku from the poet in residence of the Genoveise Family, in the original Italian, with translations.

I haven't let much out of the bag here and my impressions are quite sparse I know. I prefer to let you do the listening and evaluating. I will tell you this, when you watch Mik perform, IF you can take your eyes off him and watch the audience, you will understand what he said, there are faces out there that make it clear, they don't have a clue what he is talking about. Not many, but there are always a few. If you don't get it all, don't be ashamed, you not always supposed to. I will say that I greatly enjoy this CD and look forward to many listening's and more than a little study and looking some stuff up. If you don't mind some work where needed you will enjoy this piece of work.
 Here is a sample of Mik's work with Gilles. I learned the other night a little more about this piece, This has been aired on PBS, Screened at the LA Comedy Festival, the London Independant Film Festival, the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival, The Williamsburg Film Festival and the Woodstock Film Festival. It is currently showing at a film festival in Wales.
 The rap tunes are probably my favorites of all Gilles and Mik's work. The best of which, so far, in my opinion, is Hip-Hop Hobbit which you can hear on their CD "Poor, On Tour, and Over 54", very good stuff, indeed. (The new one they pulled off the other night regarding Bob Dylan had me in tears I was laughing so hard.) On the other hand, you may prefer the one below.

Keep the Beat,

Friday, November 29, 2013


I have been remiss these last couple of months in keeping the listing up to date, but there are some really neat gigs coming up and I took this day after Thanksgiving to share what I have learned with you, my friends rather than waste time in some crowded mall like the rest of the human cattle.
 You will find dates and information for folks such as Mike & Ruthy, Mik & Gilles, Jay & Molly, Two Dollar Gost, Evan Shultis, Rushad Eggelston, and much more. Most significantly, I am pleased to make you aware of an EPIC performance taking place in Boston Symphony hall on 12/28 which will be the final performance of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band reunion tour of 2013. Additionally, the line-up for the Winter Hoot was announced on Thanksgiving day.
 Big stuff coming up through this winter and I sure hope you all can get out to take some of it in! Check out the events page here.
Keep the Beat,
228 days to Grey Fox.

Monday, November 25, 2013


The days of the music reviewer or critic are pretty much done although there are a few hangers on. In this age where you can go and listen to most of the music on the internet, or at least get samples of tunes before you buy them, then select exactly what you want and pay a buck a cut, one must ask why anyone would want to read a review? I suppose there are those who want or need somebody to tell them if something is good or not, but as you have read here before, I prefer to make that decision with my own ear and believe you should also. Make no mistake, I am not a critic, have no training in that vein, nor would I want any. It's been my experience that most, or at least many critics are educated well beyond their intelligence.
 So my purpose here is not to imply to anyone what is good or not good or what you should like, in fact that concept strikes me as obnoxious at best. No, my purpose here is to let you know about works you may not have been exposed to in your current circle of contacts. If I turn you on to something you enjoy or if I provide new exposure for an artist that I believe should have it, then I call it  'mission accomplished'. Also, I have written this somewhere else here, but don't look for any negativity here. I see nothing accomplished by that and if I hear something I don't like what is the point in taking my time to write a review to tell you why I don't like it? All I do is waste my time, hurt somebody's feelings and expose myself as someone who cannot understand and therefore appreciate a particular type of music. Fortunately, I have picked something really nice to start with and I only hope I can do my subject justice and that he can withstand my literary fumblings.

If you know Gilles Malkine then you know his devotion to getting things right. Actually, if you know Gilles, then you might very well already own this album because those of us who know him are tickled pink that he has finally released his first solo album (Independent, 2012).
 For those who don't know Gilles, you can find a cryptic bio right here. Those of my generation may feel as I do that his performing on the stage with Tim Hardin at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 is a larger than life marker in his career, but you have to realize that Gilles has been on the stage pretty much all his life and performs on stage, screen, music videos, and many other formats. These days he regularly performs with his co-conspirator Mik Horowitz presenting thoughtful if not befuddling cerebral humor that has to be seen to be appreciated. Suffice to say that I catch every performance I can afford these days. But I digress, we were talking about Gilles first solo album here.
 Gilles travels in many circles and this project shows the many different influences he has learned to meld and mold for the listener's benefit. These days with the size of CD's (if you can even buy somebody's music on a CD) there sure isn't much room for 'liner notes'. Gilles has been thoughtful enough to write his notes and make then available on his website which you can find right here. Actually he does a great job of describing not only what went into the project, but also the 'whys' and 'whos' and if you read those notes, there is little point in my writing a detailed description of each cut. What I enjoyed most is that he describes the instruments he used, the styles he played in, and in most cases the influences for the tune itself. Very detailed information that many musicians will appreciate. In some cases he informs us of the things we would never know simply by listening, about how the cut was created. He also has 3 additional tunes on that page that are not on the album. I do suggest you read his notes for first party descriptions, but I will give some comments here about some of my favorite pieces on this CD.
 There are 12 cuts on this album and all but one was written and arranged by Gilles. The styles of these tunes cover a wide range from Blues to Samba to Appalachian and several more. This I think, is a result of his vast experiences and the musical community in which he was raised. I can say I am glad for that because I get bored when listening to a number of songs and tunes cut from the same cloth, if not the same chord structure. None of that here. Although it's a solo album, no man is an Island and Gilles had some help on this one. Sprinkled throughout the cuts you will hear Bruce Berky, Harvey Sorgen, Mike Ralff, Bob Berky, Dennis Washington, and another personal favorite of mine, Martin Keith.
 Jack Of Hearts
 The first cut is one of my favorites because it resonates a lot of what Gilles does and how he thinks. Understand that there are many instruments in this piece and he plays all of them. Most interesting is that he plays the lead guitar track twice, exactly the same way, to provide a neat effect. I hear the 3 guitar tracks and the bass track just fine in this one, but the 'blue plastic egg with little things in it that go chicka-chicka-chikca' is a sound I just can't pick out. Great flat picking tune for sure.
Time Dog
 The title track presents some of Gilles song writing work. The lyrics come quick and they take a few listenings before you get it all. My favorite wordsmithing in this one is "Old man time dog is humping your leg". That is the kind of stuff that paints an immediate and unmistakeable picture that I admire.
Heart of Kindness
 This is a beautiful song which frankly I have not listened to enough to get a good appreciation of yet. A lot of work went into this one and I need to listen to it a few dozen times more to really get it all. Very pretty tune and extremely well arranged.
Freedom Road
 A little tough to describe, I would call this a folk song, but on the upbeat side. The lyrics are in the Woody Guthrie vein however this is certainly not a cookie cutter song. This is Gilles plea for a better world asking us all to look at what we have and figure out how to fix it. Written as a true Son of Woodstock, it is genuine, original, up tempo, and clearly from the heart.
Love's a Timeless Song
 I'd call this a samba tune, but I am probably wrong on that. The sax work in this tune is really nice. The song flows and I can see myself dancing with my baby and falling in Love over all over again. That is, if I could dance.
The Marionette Rag
 I just love this instrumental. This tune just puts a picture of Gilles in my mind, it has the bounce that I so often hear him bring out, jaunty and fun, yet not presumptuous. It's just a great finger picking tune and I think it's my favorite on this CD. Martin Keith plays bass on this and that just seals it for me. A beautiful piece of finger picking.
Fair Beauty Bright
 This is traditional tune and the only one Gilles did not write on this album. Lovely and hearing his harmony with himself is pretty neat.
 This is another song that requires many listenings before you get it all. The lyrics come very fast and they are telling a complex and true story about a massacre and lives saved during the Kosovo war by a courageous woman. I heard just last week that the 'Marta' this song is written about just received the CD Gilles sent her over a year ago.
 Pequena Brisenia
 If you listened to this song and didn't pay attention to the lyrics you would probably think of it as a pretty tune. Almost a lullaby.  However, this is a dark song bringing to the light one of the tragedies we harbor on our own soil. In this case it tells the story of a precious 9 year old girl, murdered in her own home. Each time I listen to this I am struck by the contrast of the beautiful melody and comforting tones against the horrid subject matter. Extremely interesting presentation and it certainly gets ones attention, which is, after all the whole point, right? (Read the notes on Gilles page for more info)
Sweetdream Blues
 Some really neat playing here and the lyrics which speak of that which we all call our "happy place" in an off beat blues genre is kind of neat. A great feel good tune.
The Yellow Land
 Great lyrics in this one. Thoughtful, perhaps provocative, but I don't think so. We all know by now that war sucks and ruins everyone who comes into contact with it, right? Right? None the less, this song makes us all re-think what we do with those we call to defend us. This song is beautifully, I might even say perfectly, presented and arranged. Haunting and unforgettable for sure. Given a wider audience this song would be something heard often.
 Sweet Mary Anne
This is a blatant love song about Gilles meeting his wife.I think its cute and perky and I wish I could do the same for my wife. I have met Gilles wife and could see how she inspires his music. Lovely lady, indeed. A whimsical tune for sure, but  lot of fun.

OK, so I lied. I said I would comment on "some" of the cuts, but I did them all. I could not select tunes to exclude. The truth is I really enjoy this CD. First and foremost, I like the work that Gilles puts out. He is varied, thoughtful, and he sure can play. Second, he challenges me to think and I really like that. He doesn't throw out a bunch of happy crap, or blues, or try to dazzle one with fancy playing. He includes that and so much more plus the subjects and presentations that we would probably never go out and ask for, but we are better people for having listened to what he presents. I long ago learned that when you go to see an artist, in any discipline, it is a two way street. You may think you paid for your ticket and deserve to be 'entertained' but the truth is, if you paid a good price for that ticket, you deserve to be entertained, but you also deserve to be challenged to learn something. Gilles has found a way in this CD to provide a lovely blend of first class musicality with his joy and his messages.
 The CD is available for purchase or download on CD Baby, just go here. Alternately, you can catch Gilles at a gig here in the Hudson Valley or beyond and get the CD for just a pittance. (Good music, any way you get it, is priceless, right?) His next gig will be with brother Mik at the Rosendale Cafe on 12/7/13. I expect to be writing about Mik and Gilles sometime in the future and that is a whole different deal, for sure.
 Here's a video of one tune on the CD, just to whet the appetite:

Keep the Beat,

Saturday, November 23, 2013


 There's been quite a break since I have last written. Lemme 'splain:
 Music for me, as it is for many, is a big part of my life. Of course everybody has a different level and a different appreciation as well as a different scope of tastes. Some folks have wide areas of appreciation, while others can be quite narrow and focused. I have always liked a lot of things and live by the motto that "If it sounds good, it IS good." Consequently I listen a lot. Always in the car, especially when alone. I find that is my best time to 'study a piece' and listen to it over and over or re-run certain parts. I also listen in my office, but not as much because I can't really use music, unless it's the pop stuff, as background 'noise'. If it is good music I am too distracted by it to work on detailed things. However, if I am doing grunt work that takes little brain power then yeah, I crank up some tunes. Music is truly therapy for me and I won't go into the reasons here, just know that is is necessary for my 'normal' daily existence. It took me from a very dark place a few years back and with daily doses, life remains 'OK' for me most of the time. That's also why I play EVERY day. I don't want to as much as I NEED to.
 For me the music is just about always playing and I cannot think of a time when I have shut off the player and/or radio in the truck. That is, until recently. The last couple of weeks I have been a bit loaded up with the fall chores or winter preparations both at our own place and my folks. That consumed all my 'free' time, well that and trying to get my back and legs to function normally and without pain. In the middle of this, I had a family crisis, one that brought me to my kness for a bit and caused great emotional pain. As a family, we are working on that and I have high hopes we will fix it and get through it as we have always managed to in the past. However those tings together caused a lot of stress and had me wobbling a bit emotionally. Then the 3rd strike came in out of left field when a friend who is very dear to me told me he has cancer. I lost my grip.
 Driving home that night after getting the news, the sounds coming out of the CD player sounded like so much noise to me that I turned it off. I don't think I have ever done that before. Frankly I really don't remember the drive home at all. My mind was racing through all sorts of thoughts like a ping pong ball inside a washing machine. All my concerns and questions about my friend's needs, his family, the prognosis, treatment, and all the little things 'how can I help?', 'Should I offer to help or is it best if I let him ask first?', 'can I help his family in any way?'. Then all the questions I asked myself "What kind of cancer is it?", Where is it?", "did he say how far along it was?". I realized then that when he gave me the news I barely heard a word he said after that. I was devastated.
 The next day, in fact for the next 2 days there was no music for me. I could not pick up the instrument and I surely had no interest in turning on a CD. The worst part was that he asked me not to tell anybody, so I could not share and discuss this with the people I would normally go to for counsel. I also could not tell the people I thought would really want to know about his situation, good friends of his who care.
 All told, it was about 4 days before I got a grip on myself and re-focused on the correct course of action, which basically was to follow his wishes for privacy but make it clear that I was more than willing to do anything I could to be of help. Driving for treatments, keeping him company, doing research, whatever he needed, I could be his guy. Just call. I also dropped him an email to check in and inquired how he was getting on soon after his treatment began. At some point, I turned the music back on and began to play again, albeit, halfheartedly.
 So after these last couple of weeks I am looking back at 'what just happened' and finding it more than a little ironic that the music which I have relied on daily for the past several years to bring me peace was the very thing that provided too much noise when I needed peace the most and I had to shut it down so I could think. I never thought I would say this, but sometimes I guess the music has to stop.
 So winter is now upon us and I hope to be able to provide my drivel on a more regular basis for the next few months. With the holiday coming up next weekend I should be able to work something up. I have been thinking for several weeks now about doing a CD review and I have 2 albums in mind, one from a long time ago that you have probably never heard and should, and another that is current. I am trying to decide which artist(s) can better withstand any pain I might inflict through my lack of training. Steve Martin read the post I wrote about him and we are still friends, so maybe I sell myself short here. If you have an opinion, let me know, the comment lines are open.
Keep the beat,
234 days to Grey Fox

Monday, November 4, 2013


I have mentioned here and there that one of the things I like about the particular types of music I follow is the accessibility of the musicians and the ability to ask them questions, understand their music better and learn how they came to create the sounds I enjoy so very much. Now getting access means you have to actually go and see them, and of course, I do that whenever I can. However, there is a limit to how much one (especially me) can get around, funding being the big limiting factor and proximity (how often are they in my area) is another. In these cases it is very nice to have other resources that allow me to learn more about these folks.
One of my best resources for this is a friend I met a year or more ago named Steve Martin. Now this is not the guy you will think of first, this is a DIFFERENT Steve Martin. This one (my friend) doesn’t play banjo with an arrow through his head. He does play banjo, but sans arrow. He is a trail attorney by day, a banjo player in the evenings and on Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon he is a DJ. His Saturday afternoon show is on World Wide and obviously goes worldwide (hence the name, catchy, right?) over the internet. It is predominantly a bluegrass show but Stev plays anything he thinks is relevant and good.. His Wednesday night show is on terrestrial (broadcast) radio station WOBO and is a Jazz centered show. How Steve maintains such a high level of focus in both genres is beyond me, but he knows his stuff, the Artists, and the music.
I have been a steady listener of Steve’s Saturday show for over a year now, having tripped over it by accident and catching a show here and there when I was around, mostly in the winter months. Sometime last year I dropped into the chat room that is companion to all the WorldWide Bluegrass shows. In there are a few dedicated folks who like to chat about the music being played, pass comments to the DJ and generally enjoy each other. Now the big attraction for me in Steve’s show is that he tries to do at least one live interview on each show, sometimes he does as many as three.
We’ve all heard the typical radio interview for touring artists that are promoting their new CD, event, or upcoming tour, which usually last 2-10 minutes and hits on the quick sell points. These aren’t those interviews. Steve’s interviews run from 15 minutes to over an hour and allow the Artist to speak on whatever subject they choose, with just a couple of leading or clarifying  questions from Steve. These interviews are usually a pure joy to listen to and frequently reveal things most of us never heard or knew about before. These little cherries of information are not secrets, they come out because nobody ever asked the question before or allowed the subject to fully tell their story before now.
Steve has had all manner of folks on the show, some are touring musicians, some left the road years ago, some are right in the middle of it. Some are not even musicians, they are builders or work in other parts of the business. Many do not have access to the ‘big publicity bus’ and are happy to have a chance to speak to the public about their music.
 An incomplete list of past interviews would include Allison Brown, Bill Keith, Ryan Cavanaugh, Marc Horowitz, Matthew Goins (Blue Chip Picks),  Tom Nechville (Nechville Banjos), Eric Weissberg, John McEuen, Rhonda Vincent, Sonny Osborne (a regular visitor), Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Kimber Ludiker, Eric Gibson, Steve Martin (the guy with the arrow through his head), and Rushad Eggleston, just to pick a few off the top of my head. Steve digs most of these folks up himself through industry contacts, publicity agents, face to face meetings (at concerts or festivals), or other prior connections. On occasion,  a friend will intervene to help out and that is where my face enters the story briefly. I got to know Steve because I asked him if he could arrange to have one person or another on the show. Steve countered that although he would love to, he had no way of contacting them. Not being discouraged by a lack of knowledge or connections, I offered, a time or two, to get things rolling. This turned out much better than I had a right to expect and I believe I have hooked him up with 6 or 7 interviews to date (with one pending). Once or twice, I ‘forced’ a person on Steve that he didn’t really know, so he had to do some homework and it always worked out to be a winner for everyone. Every person that I have connected with Steve has told me afterward that they enjoyed the interview and would be happy to do it again.
I found these interviews to be of such value that I began to pester Steve to get them up on the web in an archive so that we could listen to them again. This was something Steve and his devoted friends had already been working on, but I think I may have gotten them to move ahead on it, just to shut me up. Many, but not all of the interviews are up at the web now and can be found here. Steve’s crew is working to get them all up soon. If you want to hear some good stuff, I suggest you go check them out. You can find those interviews here. One of my favorites is the Eric Weissberg interview wherein Eric reveals who the ‘Dueling Banjo’ gig was offered to before it was given to Eric. This little revelation blew me away.
Steve is also known to take his act on the road on rare occasions and last summer he made the plunge and drove 13 hours from Kentucky with all his gear, a little knowledge, and a huge, yet remote, support team to broadcast live from the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY. Doing remotes is no easy thing even when you are a tech junkie who can control your own fate. When the temps approach 100 degrees for 3 days straight, it becomes quite challenging. Steve fought admirably to get all his equipment to work without success. Fortunately after several early morning Skype calls with his guru Mike in Australia, some hardware loans and tech support from the local crew, it all came together just precious minutes before show time. Steve gallantly manned his board for up to 10 or more hours a day, alone, to bring the music, LIVE, out over the interwebs. It was epic and had never been done before from Grey Fox. Steve will be the first to tell you that he learned a lot that week, but he is planning on doing it again in 2014 anyway. I am so looking forward to hearing how it comes out. As an example of what a nice guy Steve is, even though I was the one that talked him into coming to Grey Fox, he is still nice to me ( and I think he really has fogiven me), he even plans on coming back next July to do it again.
Steve madly at work trying to clean out the bugs just minutes before showtime. That's Bill Keith off to his left offering experience, support and sympathy.

If you haven’t figured it out by now (even though I mentioned it up front) I should be clear that Steve and I are friends who met entirely through music. He has introduced me to things I would never have known about otherwise, and I believe I have done the same for him once or twice. We share a campsite and coffee pot at Grey Fox and trade barbs on a pretty regular basis the rest of the year. You should check his shows out. Here’s all the details:
Steve Martin’s Unreal Bluegrass, Saturday, 2:00-5:00 EDT on WWW.WORLDWIDEBLUEGRASS.COM (Click On ‘LISTEN’, also on “Chat”)
The Real Jazz Conversation, Wednesday, 8:00-11:00pm on WOBO Batavia, OH, Listen HERE.
UNREALBLUEGRASS.COM is Steve’s interview archive as well as upcoming show information.

Keep The Beat,
P.S. 253 days to Grey Fox, Just sayin'

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Wow! It’s not unusual to have a weekend in our area where there are a lot of choices to be made when you are picking your music, however, this weekend is unusually tough. This time of year we are almost overloaded with things to do on these blustery fall weekends; Pumpkin pickin’, apple pickin’, car shows, train rides, nature walks, craft fairs, and music, music, music.
These are my ‘picks’ for the weekend, but if you look around, there are many other options out there. Obviously, I can’t make all of these (sorry friends), but you might be able to fill my seat at one or two. So, in chronological order:

Tonight (Thursday), if you are in, or headed to Brooklyn, Casey Driessen is appearing at House of Love Concerts in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn (NOT Red Hook in Dutchess County). Show Starts at 7:00pm. Check his FB page for details.

Also tonight, The Saturday Night Bluegrass Boys will be appearing at the Harmony Café, 51 Mill Hill Rd., Woodstock. Show starts at 8:30pm (Woodstock time). No cover (tip jar). Look for some early arrivals to town for the big show this weekend to show up at the club. Bill Keith is working on the road, so Eric Weisberg should be filling in for him tonight. If you come, find me and say ‘hi’.

Friday night (lots of options here) Amy Helm will be hosting “Fridays at the Barn” at Levon Helm Studios. ‘Music of Fleetwood Mac” is on the bill this week. Tickets are $35.00. Details at

Also Friday: Two Dollar Goat will be playing at the very intimate Hopped Up Café in High Falls, music starts . Great contemporary high energy Bluegrass. If you haven’t seen these guys, you should. No cover (feed the tip jar). Details can be found on FaceBook at either Two Dollar Goat page or the Hopped Up Café. Good food and brew, for sure.

Lastly on Friday, Tanager will be playing at the New York School of Music in Walden, NY. I don’t have any details on cost, but the music starts at 7:30. I am hearing a lot of good things about Tanager and am really looking forward to seeing them soon.

Saturday starts out with the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase at the Bearsville Theater. You can get a lot of the details from my earlier post, found here (or just scroll down). There is also a “Sampler Concert” at 8pm on Saturday night, 8pm at the Woodstock Playhouse, featuring many performers from the show. Get all the details on the Show website. Also, consider the After-Show party at the Colony Café on Sunday night at 8PM. You KNOW there is gonna be some killer music there for sure.

Furthermore, on Saturday night, Mikael Horowitz and Gilles Malkine will be presenting their own brand of wondrously cerebral humor in musical and other forms at the Woodstock Artist’s Association at 28 Tinker St. in Woodstock. Show begins at 7pm with a paltry $12.00 fee at the door.  I can tell you truly that I won’t miss this one, it’s been on my list for a couple of months now. I can’t wait to see what they pull out of the hat, but no matter what they chose, I know I will laugh and enjoy.

So there you have my suggestions. No reason to go to work on Monday feeling down when you have all this fuel to shoot you through next week with a big grin on your face. The only question, how are you going to choose?

Keep The Beat,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Just recently (October 2013) the New York Banjo Summit Tour 2013 came to a close. As expected, the tour was a great success, selling out many of the venues it appeared in during it's 13 day run. The tour consisted of banjo Masters Eric Weisberg, Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Noam Pickelny, Richie Stearns, and Abigail Washburn. The all star backing band consisted of Russ Barenberg (Guitar), Corey DiMario (Bass), Jesse Cobb (Mandolin), and Casey Driessen (Fiddle). In addition they were joined by various special guests along the tour such as Darol Anger and Matt Glaser. It was, as anticipated, an epic tour.
 I mentioned in an earlier post  here that I was extremely disappointed to miss this event. As much as I would travel great distances to see these folks play, I also was looking forward to seeing Casey play with this group, especially after his work up at Grey Fox this past summer. I was so excited when his participation was announced because Casey is one of my top 3 favorite fiddlers. A master of his instrument he has found new and exciting ways to create music with it and blending in new technologies, he creates pieces in a manner that I have never heard or seen before. Casey is also a very fine gentleman and I have had the chance to chat with him briefly after a few Flecktones concerts. One of the hardest working musicians you will ever find, Casey is always on the go and into something. Then there is that chop he has. If you have never seen what Casey can do with his chop, then you have a huge hole in your musical experience.
 A lesser known attribute Casey carries is his photography. As Casey travels around, he collects photos of varying subjects showing points of view that many of us would have missed. I like his stuff and his 'perspectives'.
This brings me to the point of this post. What is a fiddler who is trapped on a tour bus for 2 weeks with a bunch of banjo players going to do to keep his sanity? Well, apparently, if your name is Casey Driessen, you pull out your camera and take advantage of the situation by documenting a few of the most classic banjo jokes you can think of, using the cream of the crop in northeast banjo players as your subjects. These photos were published by Casey on Face Book as part of the tour promo's and having a little fun while 'keeping the public informed' of the tour's progress. Some of the photos have grown legs and are showing up all over while others are being missed. I even missed one myself and I was looking for them each day. With Casey's gracious permission, here is probably my favorite of the series:
For the actual joke this is based on, well, you will need to go to Casey's page to get the answer, I am not going to spill the beans here, but I will say that this is one which I instantly 'got'. If you don't, then we know you are not a banjo player, but we know that not everyone is., or understands the malady's that affect the average banjoist.

 So we wanted to preserve these in so far as is possible in a place where they could be enjoyed and found easily. I believe these will circulate for years in various forms and I wanted to make sure that Casey retained credit for the creativity shown in these. I contacted Casey with this proposal, and coincidentally, he had been thinking the same thing.  Casey has graciously added these to his website for us all to enjoy. So if you got to Casey Driessen's page found here, you will be able to view the whole series.
 The photos themselves take the form of a riddle in that the observer must ascertain from the scene what the classic banjo joke is. For fun, he has posted the questions and answers at the BOTTOM of the page so that you can work out the tougher ones for yourself before checking the answers. If you are not a banjo person you will probably find these challenging. Unfortunately for me, I guessed most of them in a few seconds, but a couple kept me going for minutes on end.When you are done, check out the other stuff he has waiting under the tabs along the top of his page. There is a lot to see, read, and hear, and it's all good stuff.
 Thank You Casey. I hope you had as much fun on the tour as those who came to see the show.
Keep The Beat,

Monday, October 21, 2013


If you have ever seen Victor Wooten play, nothing I will say here should be new to you. OK, the anecdote I relate below will be new, but not much else. I am guessing that not everybody has seen the man do his thing and if I can do a little bit to help new folks discover him, well then I am all over that. I am putting up 2 videos here, they are connected but note that I am putting up PART TWO first, because that is the one I really want you to see, Part One is just below it. If you have time to watch them both, I suggest you watch them in order, but if you are in a hurry, just watch the first one.
 The tune being played here is Sinister Minister by the Flecktones. It is a brilliant collaborative piece that I have seen performed several times. Somewhere in the middle, the band leaves the stage except for Vic and his brother, Futureman (Roy Wooten) on percussion. Vic lets it go in a killer solo which is never the same. Watch the point at aroun 2:47 when Vic has a string break and how he deals with it. I'll pick it back up below the videos.
Part TWO

Part ONE
 OK, so you've seen the string break and how Vic worked through it. When I first saw this video 3 years ago I had thought that when he broke the string he stopped and had hi "OH Sh__T!" moment, then worked through it. The next time I saw him after I saw this, I forgot to ask him about it. Then I watched the video several more times, amazed at how he pulled the whole thing off. When I saw him again I HAD to ask him about it, because by that time I just had to know what went through his head and how he recovered.
 So in the fall of 2011 I got my chance and I asked him. He smiled that big grin he has and he said "You know, a LOT of people ask me about that video. I have never seen it, but I'll have to find it and watch it. I remember the gig, but I just don't remember breaking a string. It happens to me all the time, you just work through it. It was no big deal." I still find his answer a bit amazing, but that is the essence of Vic.
If you don't know much about Vic, go check out his web site and do some exploring there. Look at his music camps and the place he has created, Wooten Woods. There are also lots of other videos on you tube for you to enjoy. If I had to means I would be at one of his camps in a heartbeat, and I don't even own a bass.
 All that will tell you something about his music, but it won't tell you a lot about the man. Vic is a natural musician who believes with the right type of instruction, anybody can make music. His philosophy is that it all works together, nature, music, and humanity. I can tell you that you will never meet a nicer gentleman. He is an author, composer, teacher, and performer. I could never get across how neat his approach his music is, so here is another video that is very much worth your time.
Check it out:
Vic and I are not close buddies, he barely knows me (I was actually shocked that the second time we talked, he remembered me and our prior conversation). But I can say that what I get out of music is greatly enhanced by having met and spent a little bit of time talking to him. Vic is also a huge Bill Keith fan, and hey, you know a guy has good musical taste when he is a Bill Keith fan. Truthfully, Bill and Vic share a very similar philosophy and that's why I like them both so very much. In fact, one of the pieces of advice that Vic gave me was almost identical to what Bill has told me several times "You can't play a 'bad note', you can play a wrong note, but if you follow it with the correct notes, that wrong note just became the 'right note'." You might want to get to know Vic a little better, he has a lot to share. As Vic says "You can't hold a groove if you ain't got no pockets".
Keep the Beat,

Friday, October 18, 2013


Next weekend (October 26-27) is the Annual running of the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. What may sound to some like a presumptuous hoity-toity name for a small event in a small music centric town is, in all honesty, a very apt and accurate name.
While it did begin, just 5 years ago as a humble and small event catering to a very specific audience, each year it grows further and more decidedly into a ‘destination event’ for many of the industry elite, while at the same time providing a platform for very local and regional artisans and maker of the finest stringed instruments.
There is a very fine article in this week’s Woodstock Times, written by my friend Brian Hollander and featuring my other friend, and the founder of the event, Baker Rorick. Baker’s photo even adorns the front page of the paper (much to his chagrin, but I think it's a great photo). The article, can be found here.
 Each year the event is better attended by both those who come to display and demonstrate their fine instruments, as well as those who come to ogle and try them. There is a fine lineup of top level musicians who come to play these instruments in small and intimate settings that grows and is varied every year. My observation is that some of the playing to be heard behind the tables and out in the aisles of the show floor is just as good or even better than what can be heard on stage. It’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
To be sure, the bulk of the instruments on display are not at all what you might find in Guitar Center or any other music shop. These are all handmade custom instruments, many garnering prices well out of my range by a factor of 10. So why, you ask, would I want to go and look at a bunch of stuff I could never afford? Well the truth is, most of these instruments are works of art and a joy to behold. In addition, in many cases, if you ask nicely, the builders may actually let you sit down and try them out. Playing an instrument of such high quality brings its own reward, and it is nice to dream a little bit, isn’t it? Besides, it’s not all super huge price tags. There are a few things to be had by those of us who don’t come in with a pocket full of cash.
 Then there is the music. These are intimate venues where a large part of the audience are players and those on stage are certainly putting their best foot forward for such a knowledgeable audience. Some magic can be anticipated at any point in the weekend. The are several events scheduled at other locations to handle larger crowds, check the schedule. Here is one of my favorite videos from a few years back at this show. It's a tease, becaue it ends too soon, but you will certainly get the idea:

 There are plenty of videos to watch on the Show's website (see below).
 One of the things I enjoy at this show is crowd watching because you never know who might be shuffling up the aisle behind you. Just putting together the location with the local population can bring out some folks you may not be used to running into. Keep your eyes and ears open when you go and you might meet some neat folks.
Several workshops are available through the course of the weekend by very talented and well known players. Even if you are not the type of player that can grasp what a top flight performer would share, you are bound to learn some things that will help you along.
All in all, this event is one that often gets overlooked by many because they are not in the market for a high priced instrument. I urge you to reconsider that point of view. Each time I go, I learn something of value, I meet new people that I like, and I have a great time. No I have never bought, or contracted for an instrument, but I always had a good time and supported a local event that brings in a great deal of money to the town.
I spoke to Baker briefly last night and one of his concerns going forward is that the demand for space by vendors is increasing at a rate that may outstrip the available space (which is at capacity). Baker started this as a community event to help the shop owners in town and increase visitors from outside the area. Keeping it to a manageable size appears to be his biggest challenge going forward. The last thing he wants is to be forced to find a bigger place outside of town.
So come on down and check it out, but before you do, go to the website and check out the schedule which can be found here. Also, don’t forget to read that article in the Woodstock Times.
Oh yeah, and if you see Baker, tell him I sent you.
Keep the Beat,

Friday, October 11, 2013


And it didn't even Hurt...
 I was watching this video form the current New York Banjo Tour of the gig that occurred last night (10/9/13) in Cambridge, MA. A friend of mine was there and told me it was pretty unreal, like really REALLY good! I had wanted to catch a gig on this tour in the worst way, having caught it last year at The Egg in Albany, and knowing how special and rare it is to get such an opportunity. The sad truth is that there was just no money in the budget to make the drive over to Massachusetts, and still buy a ticket. I felt like a little kid who only got a pair of underwear and socks for Christmas. If I had something to sell to raise the money, I would have, but it just wasn't to be, but I digress in my misery here.  So, I can't catch the tour, but sometimes you get lucky and can find little pieces of video on YouTube that tease you with what you missed. So I watched this Video:

Now this is a not so well done video, with flaky audio and a terrible camera angle, but that's where I had my epiphany.
 It didn't matter.
 I KNOW most of the folks on stage, and I know their playing styles, and I know their individual mastery. THAT's when it dawned on me why I am so engrossed in the music that currently holds my soul, it is THE PEOPLE who play it.
 I can think of no other music in my life where I have had access to the people who make it, as that which I enjoy now. Take the video in question here. The first part has Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka doing their 'Banjo for four hands' with some added players coming in. Noam Pikelny provides some percussion and (I think) tail piece picking, Bill Keith comes in and does the 'Flint Hill Special' tuner lick, Richie Stearns does the 'under the bridge' deal with the spatula drum sticks. I know all these guys and enjoy their sense of humor and creativity. I have talked to Tony numerous times after gigs about anything from family stuff, to upcoming projects and his new music. Same with Richie, and Noam I have met in upstate campsite at festivals as well as on street corners in Brooklyn. Bela. likewise has been very kind when I have spoken to him after all of his gigs I have seen. The second, and final tune in this tape shows the whole Band coming up with Eric Weisberg joining the crew and Jesse Cobb, Russ Barneberg, Casey Driessen, Matt Glaser, and Darol Anger. (I didn't see Abby up there, but she might have been.) I have met all of these guys. Some briefly, some many many times. I can hear the music and know who is taking a break, and even though I can't see it in the video, I know there is a huge smile on Darol's face and I know that Casey is tearing it up and having a blast.
 The thing is they are ALL really nice people, and if you talk to them about music and ask questions, even dumb newbie questions, they will take time and answer them. They are ALWAYS encouraging and supportive. They are really nice people who love what they do and they like to share the joy. I once helped Tony pack up after a gig so I could talk to him and I helped him carry his gear out. He had a handful of tabbed music that he had written out that morning for the gig, and he handed it to me and said, "Here, you're  a player, try this stuff. I've got it memorized now." At another gig, I had a copy of a book he had written and I asked if he would sign it, which he did, out there in the parking lot, in the dark. I was shocked when I looked at it the next morning, somehow, in the darkness, he had done a whole picture thingy within his signature. What a nice thing to do when he didn't 'have to'.
 So I learned tonight that it's not just the music, sure that is a big part of it, but it is the people that make it so very dear to me.
Keep The Beat,


I began taking 5 string banjo lessons in August of 2011. My teacher, who I lovingly call my Sensei, is, by many accounts, one of the best players in the world. He even has a style of playing that is named for him. How a sloven heathen beginner such as myself came to have such a distinguished gentleman of the banjo as a teacher, is, in itself, a long and somewhat humorous story, but I will save that for another time. For now, let me just say that I felt not only privileged and honored to have such an opportunity, I was downright scared to death. Turns out my Sensei puts on his pants just like I do (so to speak), and he is a down to earth guy with no airs and a fair amount of self-depreciating humor which put me at ease pretty quickly. I will admit that the first time I went over for a lesson and sat in his kitchen, I kept saying to myself "I can't believe I am sitting in ____ _____'s kitchen. I'm sitting in ___ _____'s CHAIR! This is SO COOL!" Yeah, I was a blithering idiot (but it was REALLY COOL!)
 How my Sensei could take on a musical mess like me I still do not understand, but he was (is) SO patient and worked very hard at finding out what I wanted from music and what I wanted to learn and then worked up lessons that would build up to that point. He was the polar opposite of the first teacher I had 30 years ago that shut me off from any hope of learning to play. We would get together sporadically. He would set me up with some stuff to work on and I would practice every day. Some weekend days I might get in 4 or more hours a day, and I made it a point to do at least an hour a night during the week. I really really tried. Some stuff took, some didn't, but I never gave up because I was having fun. He made it fun by laying things out and working in a direction he asked me to choose. During our lessons he taught me a lot about how music is made and heard and why it is laid out the way it is. He didn't just talk about the banjo, he talked about music and he gave me so much information that I had to record it and listen back to it for weeks to get a good part of it. My '1 hour lessons' would often go two or more hours with all the little stories, anecdotes, and supporting information that made it so much more interesting and valuable than a simple lesson. I always left his house with a smile of wonderment and confusion, even when I didn't do as well as I had hoped which was, and continues to be a frequent condition.
 Over a period of a year and a half I had perhaps 5 or 6 lessons. I maintained my practice regimen throughout. However, I had come to realize that this banjo thing was a bit too complicated for a simple newbie like me with no inherent skill. 3 picks on the right hand and four fingers on the left all trying to work together at the same time, controlled supposedly, by my little brain. I know what you're thinking, but no, I didn't quit. I was still enjoying the work or play of learning, just not making any real progress. So I began messing around with this mandolin I had bought as a diversion. I found that working with one pick instead of 3 was a lot easier and I began to think that perhaps if I worked on the mandolin some, I might be able to learn those concepts a bit faster and concentrate on my left hand work. let my fingers get better at fretting the strings, understand my way around the finger board a bit better, and THEN I could go back to the banjo with something useful to allow me to focus on that right hand. It seemed like a plan.
 However, I knew I would be a disappointment to my Sensei, after all the work he had put into me. None the less, we had become friends and I am always honest with my friends. I told him what I was doing, and at first I believe he thought I was going to mess with the Mandolin in addition to the Banjo. He offered to give me a mando lesson, but he was shocked when I showed up in his yard with just the mando and no banjo. So I explained my plan to him and I could see his disappointment, but he pressed on and showed me the in's and out's of the mando and got me going, even loaned me some VHS tapes. I worked and worked and worked. The progress was MUCH faster, but I had made a critical mistake. With finger picks, you only pick in one direction, up with the finger picks and down with the thumb pick. Using a flat pick, I developed the habit of only UP-picking...everything. I had taught myself 2 or 3 tunes, and there was one in particular, which he had helped the composer write and had recorded on several albums that I wanted to try to play with him. (As is typical with the way I think I chose Opus 57 By David Grisman, which David plays at a blistering speed, NOT what you would call a beginner tune.) I worked my ass off on that tune for 8 months to get it up to something of a reasonable speed. I could, and will never be able to play it at full speed, but it was reasonable. So I sat in his kitchen and started to warm up on that tune. He took one look and said "whoa, hang on just a sec, now you've got a problem there that we have to fix before it becomes a real habit. You are holding yourself back and you have to learn how to cross-pick, alternating up and down." He then took up my other mando and demonstrated, then gave me some practice exercises to work on. There was more to the lesson, but at this point I can't really recall the details. I was pretty shot down. I had worked SO hard to get that speed up. Ironically, if I had done it correctly, It would have been a bit easier and my speed would have been even faster. I was crestfallen, but I did what he said and started the excruciating process of undoing what I had taught my brain and re-learning the correct way. It took 3 weeks before I could play that tune at a creeping, learning speed again, but then in the following weeks the speed came back and then some. I still, once in a while catch myself hitting a string twice from the same direction, but not often, and the progress continues. The speed is better than it ever was and now I am working on maintaining control, tone, tempo, and consistency at speed. It's just those few little details I need to nail down, that's all. Obviously I learn slow, but I learn. I could learn a lot faster if it wasn't for the damned learning curve!
Keep the Beat (and keep practicing),
Bill Keith, Eric Weisberg, and Marc Horowitz

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Just a quick blurb to draw your attention to the top bar where I have added another page listing some of my favorite musicians and groups. I'll add more as time goes on and my recall improves, but for now, it's a start. A lot of folks ask me who I like or who I listen to, and my memory for names is not as good as it used to be. This might help.
Keep The Beat,
4 of my favorites in one photo, that was quite a night!

Monday, October 7, 2013


Music has always been a big part of my life. Now before you read too much into that, let me tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean I grew up in a home filled with musicians, or even music. No one in my family played an instrument, except perhaps my sister, who picked up the guitar after she went off to college during the Great Folk Scare of the 60's. But my Sister, and her guitar, never really returned home, so that had nothing to do with my musical experiences. Her input came many years later.
 No, my relationship with music came in the popular form, what was on the radio and what my friends were listening to in those days. Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, YES!, The Loving Spoonful, Chicago, Bob Dylan, and also those of the Folk ilk, like The Kingston Trio, The Smother's Brothers, The Mommas and the Poppas, and what was not yet known as Americana. There was a lot of 'stuff' in there including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and all those groups that came along with them. Later there was The Band, Orleans, and those types of sounds. Somewhere around the time I was around 19 years old, I was out in Colorado and heard the name 'Willie Nelson' for the first time and when I got home I checked him out. That led to Bob Wills, Asleep at the Wheel, Patsy Kline, and later something called Bluegrass. Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and some guy they called Doc Watson. I had no real access to live music in those days growing up in an area where anything live, outside of a bar, was pretty pricy and disconnected from any real association with true life. Big stadium gigs with travel and parking issues which were not my bag. I never was one for the big crowds. In other words, it was pretty sterile to my sensibilities. It was 'entertainment', and I felt no real connection to the performers, or even the music, except to say that it was 'cool' or that it 'sucked'.
 But I can tell you, that Scruggs guy, he had some pretty catchy stuff with that 5 string banjo. Eventually, I went out and bought his book "Earl Scruggs and the 5 String Banjo". It looked like something I might be able to mess with, so I rented a banjo. A very cheap, Bakelite open back job that sounded terrible, but it was the only one available to rent on all of Long Island.. I tried working from the book which was good, but I needed somebody to help me understand what it should look and sound like. I found an instructor (also, the only one I could find) and paid him $50 a lesson (one per week). I won't go into details, but he was terrible. Here, 30 years later, I know I should have cut it off after the first lesson, but he milked me for a few months before I gave up. Somewhere in there I had bought a better resonator banjo which I still have. I will finish this part of the story at another time, you have enough for now. The point I was aiming at was that I worked my way up on the music appreciation ladder pretty much on my own and it grew over the years. I demonstrated to myself, as well as anyone in earshot, that I had no skill at creating music. Got that? OK, lets move on....
 There were points during my learning curve that I thought, 'Boy, these guys that make this music have it made. They play the music they love and get paid, lots of money, to do it. That has to be an easy and fun life. Not a care in the world do they have. Life is fun for them."
 Fast forward about 30 years. Now I am in a place where I know some of the very folks who made that music back in the 60's and 70's and beyond,  that shaped my mind. I am not, by any means, close friends with these folks in most cases, but I know a few and have had the chance to hang out a little and chat. Mostly, I am smart enough now to shut up and listen when they speak. If I am really quiet and unobtrusive, they ignore me and open up freely. When that happens, I get to hear conversation about their real lives, some of their day to day worries, some of the bumps in the road they have endured in the years gone by, or even last week. After a few such nights spent listening, and more than a few nights watching, I begin to learn that there is a bit more to this music business than the fun part.
 I have done a lot of menial and distasteful jobs in my life. In many of those jobs I have had to work damned hard all day, only to come home, get cleaned up, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it all again the next day. Day after day, month after month, year after year. No change, same deal every day, and your boss is almost always a jerk, or worse. That’s my perspective on ‘earning a living’.
 These days, putting together in my mind what a musician's life is like, it is not far from that. Playing all night, loading the gear back up, driving to the next gig, getting some sleep, sound check in the afternoon after setting up. Playing all night, packing up, and doing it all over again. Covering many thousands of miles every year to pay the rent and buy food. Being home for short periods and knowing you are not making any money when you do that. Having no health insurance or retirement plan, and yet people are constantly asking you to play for free to support this charity or that group, etc. On top of all this, you have to put in years of study and practice before you can even learn if you are good enough to make the cut and get your first jobs.
 As hard as I have worked in my life, I don't know if I could work that hard. I used to think they had it 'made'. But now I think they made what they have, and they fight every day and with every gig to keep it.
  These days I don’t think of musicians as having it easy and enjoying a care free life of fun and travel. In fact, I view their profession as one the hardest jobs to attain and maintain success (i.e. buying food and paying the rent) that one could chose. Anybody that can make their living from their music impresses the hell out of me. Maybe you have never thought about it, but maybe you will now. And if you do, maybe you will throw a couple of extra bucks in the tip jar the next time you hear some live music or see a street musician. Maybe you will take a moment after a gig and tell the musician how their music impressed you. That is, after all, just one reason they do it. They need you as much as you need them. Perhaps more. Theirs is not a profession for the weak at heart, the soft of mind, or of weak commitment. Their profession is a never ending pursuit of the barely obtainable. I have yet to meet a real musician who doesn't love the music with all their fiber. No, they  may not love the performing and certainly not the travel, although some do, but the music they can make, and the others they can play with to create new sounds, now that is why they do it. The rest of us are just lucky enough to get to hear it now and then.
 Think about that. You might just get a little more out of the music.
 Keep the beat,