Monday, May 18, 2009

Festival Prep

OK, so you know you're going to XYZ festival this summer. You're probably thinking about what to bring, when to leave, when to return, getting your instrument ready, etc. But, how are you getting ready to play tunes with other folks? Yeah, you've probably got a vague idea about what you're liking lately, or having some sweet flashbacks of playing with folks last year.

OK, so replace all the 'you's' with 'me'. Yes, indeedy, I'm getting ready for the northern hemisphere old time festival scene. And, here's a few things that I've learned over the past year.

Preface this, for folks who might not know me so well... I love to learn new tunes and I love to share new tunes.

Before my last trip to Australia, I came across a little unused note book in a box of stuff. Very little, and very light. I thought to myself, I should really jot down some notes about what I want to play this time around. [Light bulb goes on over head!] Well, of course! For one thing, it helped organize my thinking a bit. And, another thing, I actually remembered to tuck it in my back pocket or backpack.

And, I actually remembered to refer to it now and again during some sessions. Oh, right! I wanted to be sure to try to play 'Moon Behind the Hill'. I wasn't real strong with it, but after a few sessions, there were folks who were getting the hang of it as well as me and we carried each other along. Oh right! I wanted to ask Charlie to play those Gene Goforth tunes again. Oh right! I want to remember to play that 5 part Forked Deer and ask Mike to play that Richmond Cotillion that I sucked at last time I saw him.

Which reminds me of another thing I learned this year. As I made my way from Sydney to Bega to Melbourne to Blackwood to Tasmania, I introduced some tunes to folks who I knew would be joining in further down the road. It may have seemed like 'The Orvetta Waltz' was a new tune, but in fact, I'd sent sound files to friends ahead of time, then played it with Tom, near Bega, who'd eventually show up at Blackwood. Then, the 2 of us could play it somewhat for the folks who I'd see later in Hobart. So, lesson learned: 'seed' the tunes that you're working on. And, call them in subsequent sessions. After awhile, with a little forethought and organization, the group will be much more competent at the newish tune.

It all looks informal, but it can be organized in such a way that the tunes grow better. I'm thinking of a friend of mine who always starts to talk about the tunes before we actually get around to playing. She'll say 'Wait 'til you hear thus-and-such-a-tune that I learned from Pat." So, there's the tune name planted in my head before I've even heard it.

Up until now, I've done more writing and thinking about recording the tune, tracking the names of tunes that I've just learned. But, now I understand how to work on the tunes pro-actively before I even take the fiddle out of my case. I don't know, maybe this is all too obvious to many people. But, for those of us who are climbing up the learning curve, maybe giving stuff like this a good think will lead to some better playing.

I'm going to busy myself this week with the recordings that I got at some MerleFest jams. See which ones I'll put into my little notebook and post them for my festival buddies to hear ahead of time.

Hope to see you all soon under some canopy. Wanna jam? Let's play some tunes we don't know yet, eh?

Next up, Black Creek Fiddlers' Reunion at the Altamont Fairgrounds, just outside of Albany, NY.

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