Give Us A Chune

A virtual jam session

Monday, August 21, 2006

Threshing Around

Playing music in a band is a phenomenally rewarding thing to do...when things go right. When things don't go right, it can be as excruciating as having teeth extracted through trepanning.

This weekend brought that home to me.

Friday, we played the Nowthen Threshing Show in Nowthen, MN. Though not hot (maybe 80-82 degrees), the air was thick as syrup. Combined with the hundreds of antique machines all running at the same time, the non-stop airport-terminal-grade public address system, and the smoke from an even dozen festival kitchens, this made for--shall I say--a less than ideal music experience.

The stage was generous, but the incessant noise made it almost impossible to set up our sound system correctly to say nothing of the audience's ability to focus on...well, anything at all. We played three sets and it was like swimming upstream the whole way. The four of us couldn't muster up enough energy to light a candle, to say nothing of blazing through a breakdown.

I still maintain that this is the best job I've ever had, but Friday was the first time in a loooong time that it actually seemed like work.

On the other hand...

The Butterfield Threshing Bee was Nowthen's polar opposite.

The humidity was drastically down due to a nice high pressure system rolling through. That makes a huge difference to those of us playing stringed instruments. When things get sticky and sweaty, strings get gummy, picks twist in your fingers, and everything sounds dead and flat. Good old Canadian air goes a long way to improving this picker's skills.

Yes, there was an armada of steam and gasoline powered antiques. In fact, this behemoth was no more than 50 yards away from the stage and working hard the whole weekend. The difference between the two venues was twofold:

1. Butterfield had a professional stage with comfortable seating under the shade of towering ash trees.
2. Butterfield hired a professional sound man--Doug Lohman--who knew how to get the most out of less-than-ideal sound conditions (Did I mention the jet intake sound of the cicadas?).

We had a blast.

Not only was our stage show re-energized, we got to meet another bluegrass band called String Fever. We played our first set at 10:30 a.m. and then hung around and jammed with those guys all afternoon until our second set at 7:00. We joined them for a giant onstage jam at 9:45 p.m. then went back to their campsite to pick until midnight--the official quiet time of Butterfield.

It never ceases to amaze me how chaos theory works in real life . Take two similar shows, tweak one or two variables, and one becomes drudgery while the other enables you to channel Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. they say about fishing, a bad day picking & singing is better than my best day working at anything else.

I promise that I'll get some more pictures posted just as soon as I figure out all the bells and whistles of this program. It shouldn't be that tough, but most of the times I try and upload a pic (even small ones at 28Kb) the uploader hangs. I'll also figure out how to use the camera in my cell phone so I can bring home some action shots from the stage.

Keep your strings dry!


At 6:56 PM, Blogger Joel Olson said...

Great blog Phredd.

I second all of your comments; I enjoyed the intermittent explosions that rattled Voss Park in Butterfield and the thickly bearded, rotund trolley driver we observed singing karaoke-style to little children.

The highlight for me, however, was playing a twin banjo version of Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Doug Pellymounter of Stringfever.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Glad to hear Butterfield was fun after the Nowthen experience. And, you have enlightened me, as I had never realized cicadas could present a problem in PA setup!

Just wanted to let you know- Russ had a young guy over to help unload a new horse. We got to talking and it turns out he plays banjo, although he says he hasn't played in a while, and his sister plays fiddle. They're just west of Hinckley; I told him we gotta jam some time!


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