Saturday we were schedule to play at the Exchange Place Fall Festival in Kingsport. Exchange Place is a farm preserved more or less as it would have been in the early 1800s, and the Fall Festival is a small crafts fair. Our friend Nina Ketron had arranged for musical entertainment on Saturday and Sunday, including storytellers, bluegrass and old-time musicians, and even a bagpiper.
We arrived about an hour early for our 3pm set. We were preceded by a karaoke gospel group, and then a storyteller who also played autoharp and sang. For posterity’s sake, here’s what we sang:
Highway Headed South
My Warfare Will Soon Be Over
How Dark My Shadow’s Grown
House of Gold
Put Your Hand to the Plow*
Raleigh and Spencer*
Keep My Skilled Good and Greasy*
Walking in the King’s Highway*
Going Down to Tampa*
Don’t Neglect the Rose
A Heart That Will Never Break Again
Those Two Blue Eyes
The original setlist was pretty heavy with new songs, but because we’ve been so busy I modified it so only about half were new. The audience was small, but they seemed to like what we did. After us came a local Celtic band, Sigean, who we’ve seen a number of time lately, and every time we like them more.
One nice surprise was that local musician Ron Short was there. I don’t know that he came to the Fall Festival specifically to see us, but he made a point of catching our set, and his wife told me that beforehand he had been encouraging folks to come see us. We had a long chat afterwards about all sorts of stuff, including an article on Old Regular Baptists that he wrote many years ago. He wants to invite us to participate in some events he’s involved with (including an Old Regular Baptist singing–yow!). I told him that when I’d seen him last I was so embarassed to have to scribble our phone number on a scrap of paper that I’d gone straight home and printed up business cards, and I handed him one.
While we were there Saturday we found out that the bluegrass and old-time jams that had been held at the spring festival were still on, but had been moved to Sunday, so we said we’d be back for them. Chris and I drove there right after Sunday worship, and joined in with the bluegrass jam that was underway. It was scheduled to last two hours, but after an hour or so the guy leading the jam said that he and his friends wanted a break, so he asked me and Chris to play our own stuff for awhile. So Chris got out the banjo and we played four songs, then looked to see if the jammers were back. Nope. We played another song, and then saw Nina, who said she would go track them down. Another song, and we saw her across the way talking to the other jammers; she held up a finger to indicate we should play one more song; the audience laughed, and we played another song. Finally the rest came back to finish out the set.
As we made way for the 2pm performance, Nina came to me and Chris and told us that some folks on the other side of the farm, which had some shops and some food vendors, had been asking if they could have some music over there. She asked if we’d be willing to go play for them for awhile. Besides being glad to help, it sounded about as close as we’d ever been to busking, so for about an hour we did what we could to gather a crowd. By the end we had maybe ten or so folks sitting and listening, and the shop owners and parking lot attendants also made a point to thank us. We didn’t solicit tips, but later I told Nina that if Exchange Place would allow it, I was sure she could get quite a few street musicians to show up.
At 3pm the old-time jam was to begin. Earlier I had met a Norwegian named Hans who was studying at ETSU and spending every spare moment chasing down old-time music events in the area. I told him what I knew about, and encouraged him to bring his banjo to the 3pm jam. Well, the “jam” wasn’t really a jam, and not particularly old-time, just a hodge-podge of songs. Chris and I played, and I watched for Hans but didn’t see him. Around 4pm I saw his wife across the way, and handed the bass to someone so I could go and remind them about the jam. Eventually they showed up, and he did get out his banjo, but the songs were almost entirely bluegrass at that point and he wasn’t too interested.
Then abruptly at 4:20pm the jam leader said he had to go (it was supposed to run until 5pm), and just about everyone else said they had to go as well. So I went over to talk to Hans, still holding the bass. He had said earlier that he had only been fooling with the banjo for a little while, so I asked him if he knew “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”, a two-chord song. He did, and so I started to play it. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turns out he is actually very good–maybe he’s only been playing banjo for a year, but he’d played guitar for thirty years before that.
Chris heard us and came over, and then the guitar player and fiddler who stayed behind joined us for a couple of tunes. Finally, Hans’s wife showed up, and broke out a beautiful fiddle, and it turned out she was also very good. We played until about 5:45pm, when Chris and I absolutely had to leave. I encouraged Hans repeatedly to get in touch with us so that we could get together again. He is also thinking about starting an old-time jam at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Johnson City, and I told him we’d do what we can to help.
We absolutely had to leave because we had to be in Bristol by 7pm for a concert. A friend had given us complimentary tickets to a show featuring the Dillards; they are most famous for having played the Darling boys on the Andy Griffith show, but they were also an important bluegrass band in the early 60s, one we like a lot. Three of the four Dillards (Rodney Dillard, Douglas Dillard, and Dean Webb) were there, and they put on a fine show, playing lots of their best-known songs.