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I have to take a break from this Christmas program to show off this clip I found today!  Thanks to my friend David, who mentioned the famous Youtube “piano playing cat” to me, right after his daughter drew a picture of a cat playing the piano (which now lives on top of my piano!).  As if it wasn’t crazy enough that this cat named Nora–from Cherry Hill, NJ, no less!–truly plays the piano, and is an internet star for it, then this Lithuanian composer comes along and features Nora as his soloist in a concerto written around her music.  You people have got to be thinking I’m just crazy obsessed with cats by now, but seriously, this is really special!  I applaud the composer, Mindaugas Piecaitis, for recognizing the potential of those homemade video clips, and hats off to Nora’s family for appreciating her music as they do.  And ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big hand to the internet for putting all of these pieces of the puzzle into a common pot, from which we can all find inspiration!  This composition is like the product of a worldwide Art X-Tractor, just like the one we had on Main Street during MainX24.

Lovin’ the Chattanooga Life

Well here’s me skipping a month of blogging, all for starting a folk music school…building local connections stronger, deeper, and more intricately woven than before.  It’s been an amazing month since returning from Belgium.  For one thing, I hit the ground running with the promotion of the Mountain Music Folk School fall schedule.  I’ve been the mad music messenger of Chattanooga, riding around everywhere with my posters and schedules to hand out.  Matt’s been right there with me, and so has our business consultant, Mike Harrell.  We’re a few more meetings away from having a completed business plan, but we couldn’t wait for that– we decided to jump on this wave of momentum and kick off our first “semester” of group classes.  We’re throwing ourselves into this with all our energy, all just to find out the answer to this question: Will the people of Chattanooga support a folk music school, student by student, class by class?  It would be too soon to speak now, but let’s just say, so far so good.

I’ve decided that my current job title should be “Community Gatherer”, as I’ve been pulling together first all the teachers to teach our classes and workshops, and now the really fun part of pulling in all the people who might be willing to sign up for a class–or at least sign up on our mailing list.  All the lists are growing and growing.  Since Casey’s article hit the Times Free Press last Monday, the phone’s been ringing steadily, and all our “gathering” efforts are starting to materialize with real human beings actually stepping up to say, “why yes, I would like to learn to play the banjo!”… and so forth.  But also in all our gathering this month, we’ve managed to pull some amazing musicians into our folk school orbit.  If our mission is to help these people live musically fulfilling lives, share their knowledge and talent, and help them help others get on board with playing an instrument, heck yeah!  We’ll take it!  It’s been SO worthwhile so far.  I love knowing that a few dozen Chattanoogans (and Chickamaugans, and Ringgolddiggers, and Hixsonians, and RedBankistanis, etc.) are going to spend one hour a week for the next 8 weeks in the presence of patient and passionate musicians like these….

Lon Eldridge.  Biologically, he’s 23 years old.  Spiritually, he’s 108.  When this guy plays and sings, it makes you wonder what kind of soul-swapping took place to stuff the weathered old bluesman into Lon’s body.  Lon’s teaching some classes with us this fall, and he’s been such a good sport, coming out with us to all of our wild promotional stunts, like the gig we did at Riverbend last June.  Here’s a video clip from that:

Obuobi Ashong.  I call him the African gypsy, because he’s been wandering the planet following his musical whims.  It is so nice to spend time with someone who cares about nothing more than to play music… and you gotta love the permanent smile look.  I think it’s quite the fashion statement.  Obuobi will teach a guitar class with us this fall, specifically on this style he plays called “palmwine” music or “highlife.”

Thank you, Chattanooga, for bringing my musical path to a point of intersection with these and other musicians.  I’m not taking this for granted!

Wouldn’t be Thanksgiving Without it.

I haven’t known a Thanksgiving with the Burns family that didn’t include music played on water glasses.  This time we coerced Steve into playing “Alleycat”.  And yes, it was noted by several siblings that Ben Franklin had invented the glass armonica (or glassharmonica), an instrument I’d love to get my hands on someday.

Here’s my brother-in-law, Steve Patient, playing “Alleycat”, Thanksgiving, 2008.

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.

Appenzell, 2003.

This is what happens when you stay up too late vainly googling yourself. I found this mp3 that my friend Paul Beck had posted in the CWA (Cimbalom World Association) online forum sometime after the 2003 congress in Appenzell, Switzerland. It’s a clip from my solo performance, where I was simultaneously representing Ireland and the USA. I do recall the stagefright I was experiencing at the time. I do recall Kalman Balogh watching me from the wings. I don’t recall the names of some of the tunes that wriggled their way into this mad medley, but I do know that the first one is “Flying to the Fleadh” (a longtime favorite), and the second tune is “Bear Island Reel”. “John Stenson’s” is the final tune. I also know that my playing style has changed a lot since this performance. For one thing, I NEVER play this fast anymore when I’m on my own. And even though I’ve all but lost my grip on Irish tunes these days, I know that I play them with far more swing… Anyway, it’s a rare recording that captures me, on stage, solo, stringing together tunes willy-nilly, improv and all. And what’s with the long airy intro at the beginning? I don’t remember doing that, or even thinking of it. But heck, I think I oughta use it from now on!

Christie Burns, on stage at the CWA congress in Appenzell, Switzerland, October 2003:

Call Me the Breeze

Lou Wilson and her son Russ live in Speedwell, TN. I was fortunate to meet them both during my project in Campbell County, and made a special effort to visit with them a second time last week when Butch and I were up there for our New Harmonies gig. These are really special people who easily pass any amount of time by playing music in their kitchen. It’s a joy to be with them because they enjoy making music so much, and it’s wild to hear what a range of instruments and styles these two play. Russ is a fantastic fiddler, but also plays guitar, and sings, and whipped out the dobro on this last visit. Lou sings, plays guitar, a bit of fiddle, and who knows what else. She has a wealth of songs in her head, little treasures she’s collected over her life. I don’t know if she learned this one from Lynyrd Skynyrd or J.J. Cale or what, but she sings it like she owns it. The rest of us had a real fun time trying to keep up.  Thanks to Jo Anne Myers for the photos!

“Call Me the Breeze”, sung by Lou Wilson, accompanied by Butch Ross, Christie Burns, and Russ Wilson, April 20, 2008:

The Lovely Lisa Ferguson

I’m glad this blog is about all kinds of music I encounter on a daily/weekly basis, so I’m free to post a clip of someone else playing the hammered dulcimer. Lisa Ferguson and I got lucky with two last-minute gigs this weekend. The first one, Saturday night, was at CreateHere on Main Street. Then we went to Ken Pritchard’s new building (formerly the OCI warehouse on Main St) and playing for an open house he was having there. We spent two hours playing out on the sidewalk to try to attract some passers by, and then rewarded ourselves by going inside to a big open wooden room, all frosty-lit with big walls o’ windows…

I asked Lisa to play her newly composed tune for me, because I felt myself just falling more and more in love with it (and today, still falling). I recorded it with my iPod, which I still haven’t quite figured out, so the sound is a bit rough. The levels were too low, so I boosted them a bit for the sake of this blog, but it all ends up a bit noisy, sounding like it was recorded on a cassette recorder. The other noise you hear in there is me and Adelle dancing behind Lisa, loving every second of the music. When we finished dancing, I sat down at my dulcimer and joined in with a few notes towards the end of her piece.

The piece is still a work-in-progress for Lisa, but she said I could post it anyway. This is currently the most beautiful piece of music in my world.

Thanks to Philip Luckey for the photo!

Sunday afternoon with Fintan

This is another one I had to fetch with my time machine.  I did spend a lovely Sunday afternoon today playing music with my new friend Bryan, but unfortunately, all the tunes I’d recorded came out as duds, because silly me, I haven’t learned how to use the recording function on my iPod yet.  Grrrr.

Anyway, feeling like it’s way past time to post something on the blog, I decided to dig into the magic box o’ minidiscs and pull out something from an equally lovely Sunday afternoon.  As I recall, this was a day when Fintan Lucy and I were hell-bent to play music in public.  We set off from my house at the Red Abbey and headed to—Fintan, what was the name of that place that slammed the door in our faces when we showed them the instrument cases?  Jeepers, I’ve never been less wanted in my life.  Well we ended up at the Phoenix, next to the former musical landmark and all around groovy place, the Lobby.  Man, I had it real good then.  A whole host of pubs within walking distance from my house, days and days full of music, and more than my fair share of friends to share it all with.

I’m glad I happened to bring the minidisc recorder along on this little jaunt.  Fintan is one of the most amazing singers I know; even a casual recording like this, with all the pub background noise, gives me the chills.  The song is “John Barleycorn,” an example of Fintan taking a song that isn’t his own, but owning it like nobody’s business.  I love this image of the two musicians creating their own little atmosphere in the corner of a pub, while the rest of the drinkers and socializers do their thing.  I’ve purposely included the before and after chatter on this track.  Fintan and I were cracking ourselves up, and enjoying every bit of the afternoon we stole for the sake of music.

Me and Fintan Lucy, improvising a few songs at the Phoenix pub, Cork City, Ireland, April 2004:

Jellico Jam

Well it sounded to me like they were all singin’ the blues tonight in Jellico.  These sweet, slow songs (or maybe they just seemed slow because I was expecting bluegrass)… All these guys and a couple o’ gals sitting around in their circle in this medium-sized cream-colored cinderblock room with stacks of folding chairs for decoration.  I’m here trying to discover, and exhibit, Campbell County’s roots music, so I figured I should check out this Monday night pickin’ in Jellico.  It’s the hometown of Grace Moore, the opera singer who mentored Dorothy Kirsten, the opera singer my grandmother continues to work for even beyond Dorothy’s passing.

Carousel in Coolidge Park.

Today was another perfect Sunday.  Silvia is visiting from Slovakia, so we got to take her out on the town.  First, brunch and bloody marys at the Northshore, and then a ride on the Coolidge Park carousel.  What simple joys in life!  I’ve been on the carousel many times now, but this was the first time I’ve been on it with the calliope working.  I don’t know who in Chattanooga cares enough about these things to see to it that the calliope gets fixed… I can see how they’d be content to just play a cd of carousel music.  But no, today we got the real thing.  I was riding on a real flying horse, and the music was coming directly out of those stalks of pipes and mechanical drums.  Now one of Chattanooga’s special treats (the carousel) is officially one of Chattanooga’s special musical treats.  So totally worth the buck for a ride.