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The day the Flat Iron Stringband came to town…

….was a fantastic day.  Magical, I might even say, as it brought a reunion of sorts.  Let me try to explain.  When I moved to Chattanooga and met Joseph Decosimo, he had to correct me, and remind me that we had actually met once before–in Cork.  Well, that’s no surprise, I guess, since I had gotten into playing some old time music there, and he showed up at a session I was at.  Ok, so around the same time, I had taken a trip to England for the big old time music festival in Gainsborough, put on by the Friends of American Old Time Music and Dance.  There I met Nick Stillman, an incredible fiddle and banjo player, an American guy in his 20s out in the UK and Ireland doing the same thing I was doing… living for/with/through music entirely.  Nice move, Nick.  Ok, so here’s the fun part.  I can remember the details of this part (since I wasn’t there), but Joseph and Nick also met each other, in Galway where Nick was busking.  So the three of us all had this kind of pre-introduction to one another—and we all got to spend an evening together earlier this month, now six years since we all first met each other.

Nick is back in the U.S. now, (now just to get him to move to Chattanooga… hmmm.) and he was on tour with the Flat Iron Stringband.  So was my good friend, Amanda Kowalski, until she got called out on assignment in China.  So although the band showed up without my Amanda, I was still majorly glad to have them around.  If I had some way of making time stop, I’d’ve done it that night after their gig.  There was music happening in the house like I’d never quite heard there before.  Fiddlers, banjoists, guitarists, and a bassist at the absolute top of their game.  All this makes me feel like I’m alive in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.  Not a single generation too soon or too late.  Just right.

Walkin’ in the Parlor

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good old fashioned recorded-it-in-my-living-room kind of post.  Partly, that’s because I haven’t been in my living room lately for long enough to record a tune.  But the other evening, Matt came by for some tunes (as well as folk school plotting and scheming), and this is what we made.  Exploring the quiet, the slow, the simple, the serene side of old time music… We’re inching towards the place where old time music meets African music, or at least the kind of African music I love to listen to.  [I reference this mbira post.]  Actually, now that I think about it, most of the traditional mbira music from Zimbabwe I’ve heard is fast and busy… And maybe I’m just really into what Forward Kwenda does when he takes those traditional melodies to a mellower place.  Well certainly I appreciate knowing how to reach that mellower place in old time music.  Matt Evans is the conductor on the express train to old time mellowland…the slowest, quietest, most peaceful train you could ever imagine.  Here’s my first official wish to the universe in 2009: I wish for Matt and myself to someday collaborate with Forward Kwenda.  🙂  Crazier things have been wished for on blogs, haven’t they?

Walkin’ in the Parlor, recorded by Matt and Christie on 18th St., Chattanooga, Jan 11, 2009.

Mountain Music Folk School

This is an exciting day!  I am announcing the opening of the Mountain Music Folk School, co-founded by myself, Matt Evans, and Steve Daugherty.  And in the spirit of all things nifty and new, I’ve changed the look of my own blog–And yes, I will continue to post clips from my musical adventures on this blog, but keep an eye on the Mountain Music Folk School blog as well, because there’s going to be a lot of activity there!  All of the teachers are blog contributors, so there will be a variety of stories, videos, and photos coming soon.

There’s a great video there now of Casey, Matt, and myself playing “Cockeyed Hen”, an original by Casey Phillips.

Billy in the Lowground

I’m thinking that one of the highest insults you can pay a banjoist is to ask “What was that tune?” when they stop playing, when all the while it was Soldier’s Joy.  That’s one of the first things I ever liked about the banjo,  how the melody gets cooked into a casserole of counter melodies, so even “Three Blind Mice” would sound fresh… But it’s been a while since I’ve spent a lot of time with a banjo player who does this trick so masterfully.  Seems like when Matt Evans plays, even the old tunes sound new again, like I’m hearing them for the first time.  So today’s magic tune was Billy in the Lowground.  I’m a goober for not recognizing it, but when Matt plays tunes in the key of C, I just assume it could be anything.  We played it beautifully inside the house, and then relocated to the great outdoors and tried to recreate the moment.  It’s just not the same when I actually know that I know the tune we’re playing.  But anyway, it’s a nice version all the same.  Perfect weather in Chattanooga today for the key of C.

Minstrel banjo

As long as he keeps inviting me out for gigs and playing these beautiful tunes on his many banjos, Matt Evans will always run the risk of getting splashed up on my blog.  We had a really nice time playing tunes at Rock City’s Enchanted Maze down at the foot of Lookout Mountain last weekend.  We sat under the wide canopy of an old oak tree, entertained the visitors and ourselves… Made some very nice music with hammered dulcimer and banjo (and then at one point, Matt made the mistake of handing me the banjo, which is kind of like hiring the Swedish Chef to cater your next tea party).  I enjoyed this moment when Matt pulled out the minstrel banjo and played a few tunes uniquely suited for the instrument.  I sat back and took in the whole scene: oak tree, mountain, music to time-travel by, the very beginning of autumn in Chattanooga, the joy of having friends to play music with…

Some guy who was listening came up to me and asked if Matt was Amish, to which I replied, “No, but he sure does look the part.”  And then this guy, figuring the coast was clear, and that no actual Amish people would be harmed in the telling of this joke, proceeded to tell me one of the tiredest Amish jokes of them all: “What goes clip clop, clip clop, clip clop, bang!?”

…Which reminds me, Matt, you have to get a little matching hat for your limberjack.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Clinch River Ramblers

Sometime late in 2007 I met little Ethan Ferguson at a campfire at the Cove Lake State Park in Campbell County, TN. He was playing fiddle, I was playing dulcimer, and we mutually became each other’s biggest fans that day. I was lucky to run into Ethan again this past weekend at the Louie Bluie Festival, also at the park, and I took this video of him and his band stealing the show. It’s hard to believe Ethan’s only 10 years old. He plays fiddle like a champ, runs that band like a CEO, and talks to the crowd like he’s a star on the Grand Ole Opry. It’s exciting to imagine the musical path this kid’s life will take. I hope our paths cross again!


The first time I heard this tune, Snowbird, I was sitting in the all-purpose room of an elementary school in Gainsborough, England, and the guy playing it was a fiddle/banjo player from Vermont.  I had recorded it then, back in 2004 with just me and him playing it, and have loved the tune ever since.  But I’ve never found anyone else who knows it, so I’ve kept it to myself, just played it maybe a few times on my own, but never in a session… until yesterday.  Fred, Ouida, and I paid a visit to Lucy Long’s cabin at the Breakin’ Up Winter festival in Lebanon, TN.  We brought instruments and the birthday bourbon, sat down and had us a few great tunes.  Luke of Lawrenceburg was also there pulling out all kinds of tricks on the guitar, banjo, and harmonica.  I was so delighted when Lucy started playing Snowbird!

I recorded it on my iPod, experimenting for the first time with the new Belkin recording attachment I just got for it.  I wasn’t using an external mic, although I think it would sound better if I had.  Still, not a bad job for just a little guy.

What do I like so much about this tune?  It’s rather plain… not crooked, not in the key of A, no surprise key changes in the second part… I don’t really get what gets me about it, but I’m got.  It’s a sweet tune.