Field trip

Last night Chris and I went to the Down Home in Johnson City, to see Ed Snodderly perform. Snodderly is a local singer-songwriter, although that description doesn’t have the right connotations—there’s nothing frail or introspective about his music. I saw him perform at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots festival in September, and he was very good, but what motivated me to take my son to a late-night bar performance on a frigid November night was his sidemen for the evening, Brandon Story (my bass teacher) and Roy Andrade (Chris’ banjo/flatpicking teacher).

The Down Home is a bar, but a pretty nice one—they serve food, and the room is designed for performing music. Even better, all performances are non-smoking. We thought it might be crowded, so we arrived at 8pm, but we were the first ones there; by 9:15, when the show began, there were sixty or seventy people there. Admittance was $10, so everyone was there for the show, and the crowd was not nearly as boisterous as the one in Charleston last week.

Snodderly’s music can’t be neatly categorized; you can get a taste of it from the three free MP3 songs on his website. He is a good clawhammer banjo player, and an excellent dobro player, but his guitar playing is astonishing—loud and full, with a driving rhythm when he wants one. The music was well out of the bluegrass/old-time space, which left Roy Andrade with a major challenge both when providing accompaniment and when soloing; but Roy knows that clawhammer banjo has possibilities that are largely unexplored, and he used the evening to shine a light into those dark corners.

Field trip. Chris and I did make that trip to Char…

Field trip. Chris and I did make that trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Folly Beach is a small beachside town just outside Charleston, and the jam was being held in the lounge of the Holiday Inn there. We checked into a ninth-floor room early enough to enjoy the view of the ocean for awhile, then went downstairs to stroll out to the end of the nearby fishing pier and watch the sun set. The pier was empty, the weather was beautiful—seventy degrees, clear blue sky, bone dry—and we wished there was some way to move the jam out there. After sunset we walked across the street for a seafood supper, then back to prepare for the evening.

The jam began at 7pm, and we wandered into the lounge about ten minutes early. Later on I thought about the sign on the door which said “No one under 21 years admitted”, but at the time nobody mentioned Chris’ age. There were a couple of people already in the stage area warming up, but nobody seemed to be in charge so we decided to sit in front and watch things get underway. Which they did, promptly at seven; five or six of the musicians gathered into a group at the microphone and without any announcement began to play. A few others stood around the periphery of the stage and strummed along. Since it wasn’t obvious to us how the jam worked, and since we knew it ran till past 10pm, we decided to wait and watch awhile.

Eventually Jamie Wilson, who founded the jam after attending Pete Wernick’s camp two years ago, arrived. She came straight over and introduced herself, watched the jam for a minute, said “We seem to be playing in groups tonight,” and then invited us to come onstage and join in.

The format (that night, anyway) was for informal ensembles to form and play a few songs, then make room for the next group. Some of these groups had practiced together at other times; others were formed on the spur of the moment, with set lists created and reviewed at the back of the stage or outside on the patio. Chris played along at the side of the stage for awhile; once folks figured out that he could play a break, he was invited to take a turn at the microphone on just about every song.

At one point I was chatting with Linda the banjo player, and she asked if Chris and I did any singing. I said we did, and immediately she went off to find Jamie; they came back and insisted we do a set ourselves. Linda agreed to accompany us, and so we hurriedly worked out our own set list. In deference to Linda we picked two Flatt and Scruggs songs (“Salty Dog Blues” and “My Cabin in Caroline”), and for ourselves we picked two songs where our harmonies sound especially good (“Kentucky Girl” and “Girl at the Crossroads Bar”).

Linda kicked off the first two songs—fast! Chris didn’t have any trouble keeping up, and the bass parts weren’t complicated, but I had a hard time spitting out all the words at that speed. Chris then jumped in to kick off the last two songs, and kept them at our usual moderate tempo. We then dropped into the background again, and around 10:15 made our goodbyes.

The trip was pretty long—six hours down, six hours back—but it wasn’t just the jam we went for. As Steve Jobs’ favorite Buddhist saying goes, “The journey is the reward.” It was the jam, plus the preparation for the jam, plus the discussion with Chris about how the jam went, plus the new friends we made, plus the ocean, plus the seafood supper, plus the hours and hours of old-time CDs we played, plus all the rest of the conversation, that made it more than worthwhile.

About that conference …. Sometimes I wish I didn…

About that conference …. Sometimes I wish I didn’t like Doug Wilson, just so I could know if his writing would make me laugh in spite of my dislike. I do like him, though, and I laughed quite a lot as I was reading this editorial he wrote about the latest flap in Moscow.

Upgrades. I may be off the bleeding edge with resp…

Upgrades. I may be off the bleeding edge with respect to hardware upgrades—this three-year-old computer still seems fast enough, even though the latest models are three times as fast—but I spend most of my day using a handful of software packages, and so I’ll usually upgrade them the instant one becomes available.

I always look forward to the day when new Adobe software is announced. For one thing, they always say it will be available on a given date, then ship it about two weeks early, making for a pleasant surprise. For another, their upgrades are real upgrades—performance is improved, the interface has been refined, lots of the new features are fun to play with, and two or three are features you’d never give up. I just received the latest upgrades for Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

I also spend a lot of time using Macromedia Dreamweaver to maintain my websites. It’s a great package, but with lots of annoying glitches and idiosyncrasies; the new version is prettier than the last, and I’m hoping that they’ve fixed some of those small problems along the way.

I don’t look forward to paying for these upgrades; together they cost me nearly one thousand dollars. But it’s been two years since I last had to pay that, so it’s not a bad price to pay to keep four vital tools up to date.

Google. Some techies think that Google is destined…

Google. Some techies think that Google is destined to succeed Microsoft as an evil, world-dominating software company, but I don’t see it. The job they have taken on—making the web searchable—is one they do significantly better than anyone else. And unlike companies like Netscape and Yahoo, every innovation is closely related to that one job. One good example is the Google Toolbar. It’s the only third-party gizmo that has earned a place in my browser, and that is because the space it takes up is well worth the functionality it adds.

Now there’s a new Google gizmo, the Deskbar, and it looks like a winner. When installed it places a small textbox into your Windows taskbar (the row of icons and buttons at the bottom of your screen). If you type a phrase into that box and pressing enter, a window pops up with the results of the usual Google search on that phrase; do anything next but click in the window, and the window automatically goes away. But there’s more. You can use a keyboard shortcut in place of enter, and various things will happen: a Google image search, a Google news search, a dictionary lookup, a thesaurus lookup, a stock quote lookup. The dictionary and thesaurus lookup alone are enough to earn it a place on my desktop.

Field trip. Jamie Wilson is another alum of Pete W…

Field trip. Jamie Wilson is another alum of Pete Wernick’s Merlefest jam camp, one who went home determined to start a weekly jam in the Charleston, South Carolina area. She did, and for the past two years the Folly Beach bluegrass jam has thrived, recently moving into new digs at the Holiday Inn. Partly to support a fellow alum, partly for networking purposes, and partly to just have some fun, Chris and I will be making an overnight trip to Charleston soon so we can join in.