First, the disclaimer: I know not what I do. I may have disremembered, misquoted, misplaced, waxed hyperbolic or simply forgot. No spotted owls were eaten without the proper Mornay sauce having been ladled properly over each. Rolling verbosity knob to 12...
I had several things in mind whilst preparing for AEBG III, most of which flew out the window when it came time to pack. I forgot the chargers for my cell-phone & camera and all the sheet music I had so carefully tabbed out for the Classic-style “Sleeper Cell” group. I also left all my travel snacks and my big road atlas. I did, however, remember to bring along some banjos. Thank God for that!
At my age, an 11hr trip is no longer a “jaunt”. It is usually a boring, tiring and weary thing. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that one’s mind begs occupation. When I was shooting in competition (19th cent “Trapdoor” rifles among them), usually all over the Southeast, I was given a book on tape…which was a life saver. These recordings are like owning your own time-machine. On the Wed. prior to AEBG, I procured two books on CD. 11hrs goes by like a rocket. In fact, I was so engrossed during the return trip; I missed an exit and didn’t notice for 30 minutes.
So, I arrived in Hagerstown uneventfully Thursday evening. My room at the Clarion/Harrisburg Convention Center was a tad on the “needs updating” side but all was clean and well kept. The bed was only marginally softer than the board floor in the Pry House Barn and the A/C unit had a fine imitation of an 18-wheeler’s Jake Brake going…but when tired, anything remotely horizontal will do.
On Friday, I decided to make for the Pry House around noon. It was a beautiful day, mid 80’s with a bit of a breeze and lots of blue sky. I found George Wunderlich wandering about the barn, cleaning and setting up chairs, etc. After a warm greeting, I found a broom and attempted to look like I was helping out. After only a few minutes of chasing cobwebs, a pair of swells pull up in an excruciatingly small “Mini Cooper”, extricated themselves and ambled up the drive. It was Carl Anderton and Joel Hooks, nattily dressed and grinning from ear-to-ear. I’ll let them tell their own stories…but they were bubbling over with tales of their road trip. I can tell you that I was a jealous puppy listening to their exploits.
Of course, we popped out a few banjos and set to enjoying ourselves inside the barn. Although we initially played some more modern “1880’s” popular tunes (George had to leave for a few minutes and like naughty schoolboys, we lit up the ‘modern’ banjos while the teacher was out), it didn’t quite feel right…so we put away the fretted girls and dragged out the fretless ladies we all love so well. Soon, more and more people started showing up and we spent a great afternoon thumping the banjo, jumping up to greet someone, thumping some more, talking, greeting the next person, thumping, etc., etc.
Time flies! I never did get any lunch, forgot to stay hydrated, etc. It was getting close to 6pm when we broke for supper…heading down to the Tavern in Sharpsburg (only a few minutes away). They have a “Beer Garden” out back and we pushed a couple of picnic tables together so that we could all sit around and yak. The food was fine for “pub grub” and the beer was cold (and I was thirsty). Whoever invented the 16oz beer-can should be given a medal!
We returned to the Barn and spent the rest of the evening making music, renewing old friendships and carving out new ones. This went on, for me, until about midnight when I bade all and sundry farewell for the evening and, leaving my banjos in the care of those spending the night in the barn, retired to the motel. I dare say I was fast asleep before my head hit the pillow.
Saturday morning, I made it to the barn just as the first lecture was starting. Bob Winans’ continuing exploration of the Dan Emmett manuscripts is simply fascinating. He keeps dropping teasers about an impending book…hurry up Bob! ;-) I really enjoyed his take on the repeating African rhythm elements found in this music. Interesting (to me) that he blocked out repetitive sections and showed how they were varied throughout a given piece. One of the first things I do when I ‘transliterate’ a piece from notation to tablature is to look for any such things; not for any wonderful insight into the music…but to make the process more efficient. Cutting and pasting sections is much faster than keying in individual notes.
The second excellent presentation of the day was given by Carl Anderton. Carl has been researching the life and times of Frank B. Converse and he walked us thru Mr. Converse’s travels, musical life and personal life. Fascinating stuff! Carl did a great job of taking us along for the ride.
Joel Hooks and I scooted off for lunch at an Italian place in Boonsboro. Good pizza! Joel is just about as you would expect: a late 19th cent. banjoist/entrepreneur trapped in the 21st century. Joel is the manufacturer and sole proprietor of those wonderful brass thimbles everyone at AEBG III was wearing. Sunday morning I was laughing at all the “Thimble tats” I saw…the brass corrodes and turns your finger green (it washes right off). Everybody had a green finger by Sunday. Joel’s current raison d’être is to seek out any and all information about S.S. Stewart…and a better bloodhound probably doesn’t exist. I knew we’d be comfortable friends from simply reading the online forums (and I’m a fan of Stewart anyway), it is a very cool thing to meet someone face to face and find out one’s instincts are in good working order.
After lunch, we returned to an “in progress” presentation by Lucas Bowman. He has evidently taken Bob Carlin’s “Stalking Joel Sweeney” book (actually titled: “The Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy”) and applied all the various Sweeney date and place references to maps and demographics. I keep saying “fascinating” but I was mesmerized by how this graphic presentation allows one to see so much more. Now I have to go back and re-read Carlin’s book. I wish I had Lucas’ slides to look at while I read it again!
We also had some “show ‘n’ tell” from Rob Morrison. Rob is a collector, restorer and a fine player to boot. He brought along a few of his of banjos and we all had a good time exploring them. Bob Winans also brought his Teed “closed back” banjo out for show ‘n’ tell: it is an yet another strange design that, although it looks like an early Dobson…it ain’t! It does have a pot suspended from a top-tension type of device (called a “spider”) but how it tensions the head appears different from the Dobson patent certainly on the surface, at least.
After about 4pm, we started preparing for the Saturday evening concert. I talked Joel into performing a guitar-style duo of “New York March”, from the Converse Greenback book. We didn’t get much of a turnout from the general public (maybe 10 people or so) but I think they got a great concert with lots of variety, singing and banjo thumping. George did his usual comic emcee duties. When it was all over…I got to thinking, “where’s the finale?”
So, picture a rather large (ok, fat) old Alabama boy running about like Andy Hardy trying to get the gang to “…give ‘em a bang-up ending!” Well, I got everyone (what? 15?) to grab their banjo, go up front and play “Briggs Jig”. Man, we pinned their ears back! Then Carl dropped right into “Old Dan Tucker” and we indeed sent them off with a bang!
Most folks went their various ways off to dinner after that and I found myself down at the Tavern with Joel Hooks, James Hartel, his lovely wife and Chuck Krepley. Again, good food, good conversation and time flew…we barely made it back in time for George’s discussion/presentation on Boucher banjos. I’m once again amazed at the level of investigation George has applied to this maker…I mean microscopic, literally. If you need to know…George is the guru! What a wonderful thing to pull up after dark to a barn made in 1844 and find George sitting in a pool of light at a woodworking bench talking about making banjos contemporary with the barn itself. It was a soft and quiet night, just perfect for such a discussion.
Of course, we broke that magical stillness with the loud and raucous shout of the banjo, the jingle and buzz of the tambourine and voices singing long into the night. The ghosts were quiet…I think they were listening and smiling to themselves.
Sunday morning was a planning session and as you may have read, AEBG IV, V, VII and VIII are already set with actual dates (last full weekend in June). I’m sure there will be much discussion on the forum about this…so stay tuned.
I know I’ve forgotten many bits and pieces. At some point, we broke off into our “splinter cell” of classic-style play…Greg Adams, Bob Winans, Carl Anderton and myself playing 1890’s banjo duets; trading 1st and 2nd banjo parts. I played (ok, stumbled thru) 1st on “Whistling Rufus” and then played 2nd with Bob while Greg played 1st on “Honolulu Cakewalk”. Carl played 1st on “Calliope Rag” and “Smoky Mokes and then we sat and listened to Bob and Greg play Eno’s “A Ragtime Episode”. It was a great experience…but I can’t remember on what day it happened!
After Sunday’s brainstorming session, I made my good-bye’s, plugged in my book-on-CD and drove back home as fast as could be expected (Hey Tom! My new Outback averaged 31mpg @ an average speed of 70mph...!).
I am already missing my AEBG friends and looking forward to once again meeting in that old barn which holds so many memories.