|The banjo group|
The idea of the banjo is that instead of a resonating chamber like a guitar has, the instrument has a "resonator" which is the leather or plastic skin that covers the front of the round part of the banjo like a drum head and magnifies the sound. They said you have to tighten this up periodically to keep it sounding right. The correct way to do it is to keep tightening all the screws down until you break the heads off... and then back off about a half a turn. There are a number of different tunings for a banjo but I gather they are all open tunings in one form or another. In other words, if you strum the banjo with no fingers touching any frets you should get a chord. They apparently don't stay in tune very well and you have to retune them frequently, the subject of numerous jokes from the players of other instruments during the weekend. (The guy with the gourd banjo said "because there are no frets on this banjo there is at least the mathematical possibility that I will playing in tune.")
|The guy in the back playing bass is 84. Fiddler is 14.|
|Story teller with a prop|
Next came the fiddle convocation. In this part of the world, the fiddle is king. There were some hot shot banjo and mandolin players, but even they would get up and say "next I'm going to play a fiddle tune on my..." whatever other instrument they were holding in their hands, I guess because all of the old standard tunes around these parts are fiddle tunes. I don't even know what makes a tune a fiddle tune. If you can play all the notes on your guitar, why isn't it a guitar tune? But if you're going to have a mountain music band, you'd better have an amazing fiddle player because that's what everyone wants to hear. During the fiddle gathering, there were so many fiddlers on the
|The fiddle player is top dog.|
Next we had an hour of ballads. These were mostly really old songs, essentially unchanged since they were brought over from England or Scotland or wherever. They were sung without accompaniment, presumably similar to what a traditional troubadour might have done. Each one had a tune of about five or six lines and went on for however many verses it took to tell the story. Sometimes it was three verses, sometimes it was 12 or 15 or I just lost count. Apparently the singers occasionally lost track as well. They would finish up and say "at that point in the song I don't really understand what happens." And then someone else would pipe up and say "well in our village we have a couple verses you left out that explains that". And I don't know if the singer just wasn't aware of those verses or if somebody in the other village had made them up to explain the discrepancy and that's how the songs grow over the years to such epic proportions.
|National champion flat picker.|
There was another four hour concert on Saturday night. This time we were prepared with jackets and long pants and it was a waste because it just didn't get nearly as cool that night and none of it was needed.
A lot of the activity at the festival had nothing to do with what went on at the amphitheater. There were several groups of people that didn't go to any of the evening concerts. Instead, they would gather around the fire or in the parking lot or on the steps of the park lodge and play their own music starting after supper and continuing until just shy of midnight. Apparently these people came primarily to get together with other like-minded musicians and play music for four or five days and they didn't really care what happened on the stage. They were fun to listen to. They played the traditional music but then the next song might be old time rock 'n roll or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
In the end, the whole shebang was beautiful and educational and a whale of a lot of fun and a good time seemed to be had by all. These were mostly not professional musicians but they were very talented and clearly loved what they were doing and wanted to share it with everybody on the planet. The biggest audience of the weekend was probably only a couple of hundred people, so there was a kind of coziness to the whole affair. I could see why people would come back year after year after year to share the music and the feelings. I don't know that we will be back next year, but I'm certainly going to keep my eye out for similar kinds of events as we travel.