This past weekend Chris and I had a couple of performances that needed some preparation—and we like that, it gives us an excuse to spend some evenings learning new songs and sharpening up some of the old ones. Back when we started playing together we practiced fairly steadily, whether or not a performance was looming. That helped us build up our repertoire and get our playing skills to a respectable level, but it also ate mightily into our free time and risked burnout.
These days there is more ebb and flow. Sometimes we’ll go for a month or more without practicing, just showing up for the easier performances like our weekly date at the Bread of Life Cafe or a set at a local church or lodge. (And there’s some deliberateness to that as well, since it’s good to be able to play at a moment’s notice with no special preparation.) And sometimes, like in July, we’ll spend about half our evenings for two or three weeks to get ready for a particular show.
Friday we drove to Abingdon, Virginia to play at the Virginia Highlands Festival, a two-week arts/crafts/music fair that is pretty popular. The festival didn’t officially open until Saturday, but the Crooked Road organization arranged for a show in the event tent that featured the Dixie Bee-Liners, a local group that is just experiencing some much-deserved recognition on the charts and on XM Radio. They were polished and very much in the contemporary bluegrass pocket, great stage presence, very personable; we liked them a lot, and hope they hold it together long enough to enjoy some success.
Chris and I were there to back up Ron Short for his program of coal mining songs, which opened the show. It’s the twelfth time in the past twelve months, and things really do improve with practice. Ron was telling us about a band that deliberately played a long stretch of time at Silver Dollar City, multiple sets per day for a couple of weeks, and came back home tight and polished. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to devote ourselves to something so concentrated, but it would be fun to try.
Sunday we were back at the Pickin in the Park program at Natural Tunnel State Park in Duffield, Virginia. Five years ago Chris and I made our first public appearance at this open mic, and for three years we were regulars until our move to Kentucky put an end to that. But we did manage to get back last year, and this year they asked us to be featured performers, which meant we played a thirty-minute set rather than the usual three songs. It was a real treat for us. There were lots of familiar faces in the audience, and it really is a pleasant venue, a nice amphitheater with a good sound system.
After the program I dropped Chris off at Ron Short’s house, where he will be staying for the week while he is teaching fiddle class at Ron’s mountain music school. I’ll pick him up Friday afternoon in time to be back at the Bread of Life Cafe for Friday evening’s performance.