Fall is in full color here in Wisconsin/Minnesota! It is very similar to Fall in Appalachia, with Maples bursting red and yellow and the corn and soybeans being harvested rapidly. The temperatures have been dropping into the mid-twenties at night, and staying in the forties most days. I’m happy to get plenty of use out of my Filson Mackinaw coat, affectionately known as “The Mac”. Any outdoor activity calls for long johns and wool socks, and I know there is plenty of true cold in store for us here. Fine by me.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about mandolins. I’ve recently acquired some great recordings by Skip Gorman, and been listening through some mandolin benchmark recordings: Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse, Caleb Klauder, and The Louvin Brothers. Since I didn’t have a mandolin here with me, my new friends Ted and Sunny were kind enough to lend me a mando to slake my thirst. It’s a peach, a 1917 Gibson Alrite, also known as a pancake or Army/Navy. It’s super fun to practice. Maybe next time we meet, I’ll be hauling around a mandolin case and acting the fool. Surprised? I bet not.
Last weekend I had the extreme pleasure of attending the jokingly titled WNBOOTMA (Wisconsin No Bluegrass Only Old Time Music Association) Campout. It was a magical, wonderful weekend, filled with food, music, dancing, and a menagerie of farm animals. There was a litter of kittens who would skitter across the dance floor, narrowly avoiding the feet of dancers, and a tiny hen that was hell bent to get into bags of feed up on a high shelf. She succeeded, and was found trapped inside one morning. We kept the woodstove humming, I had the pleasure of leading a ballad singing workshop, and there wasn’t a electronic tuner in sight, as we kept all instruments tuned strictly to the pump organ. We even saw a tire-biting dog put a tooth through a truck tire, thankfully without harm to the pup. The tire wasn’t so lucky.
To cap it all off, Sunday night there we all played for live radio barndance broadcast on the Driftless Region Radio, station WDRT. It was held in a gorgeous bookstore in Viroqua in what was originally a tobacco barn. It was like a scene from earlier times, with lilting country duets and old love songs lovingly sung to a smiling audience. Happy babies even giggled in the background. I sang a ballad called William Riley, a great love song learned from Mary Jane Queen of North Carolina. I think we all left with our faith restored, our hearts full, and our ear ringing in the best way possible. Thanks to Jesse Downs and all the folks responsible. I apologize for not having photos; I’ll be sure to put my camera in the fiddle case next time.
I highly recommend giving WDRT a listen at www.wdrt.org
As for class, we have been plugging away at resetting our neck mockups, and making perfect nuts and saddles. Here is some sassy photos of said work.