No Dress Rehearsal

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

If there were a “graduation” from being a banjo student to being a banjo player, Logan would have gotten his diploma last night. He played a whole set on stage with Red and Chris and Jenny and me and did an outstanding job.

We were attending the wedding of a friend, Fiddle Sister Charlotte, and she had asked us to bring our instruments for a little picking after the ceremony. She had even provided a sound system. There was no specific time for us to start, so after supper we were all hanging loose, visiting old friends and the bartender.

Then, about 8 p.m., Charlotte comes over and says, “We’re losing the crowd. Would y’all start playing?”

I was ready. I turned to the troops and said, “Let’s hit it!” All of us, including Fiddle Sister Patty, headed for the stage where our instruments were resting contentedly in their cases.

We had never played together in this particular configuration before although Red and Chris and Jenny have been performing together a lot lately. Logan has exactly one band performance under his belt (along with a few guest appearances with us) and Patty pretty much plays only with the Fiddle Sisters. Still and yet, I had no worries. What amazed me, however, was how wonderfully well we worked together. For me it was almost a magical experience—we were clicking on all cylinders. And I include Logan in this.

We were working with only one microphone which in some ways that made it easier, but with six people playing lead instruments the choreography could have been disastrous. As it turned out, we moved in and out of the microphone area like well-rehearsed dancers. We were also bass-less. Luckily Chris, on guitar, knows how to compensate for the lack of a bass. I never felt like I had to carry the rhythm on the banjo, but could instead lean on him. He was solid.

And though both Red and Chris are completely capable of excellent emcee work, I undertook the job myself this time, partly because Charlotte is my fiddle sister (and hairdresser!) but mostly because I just like to be the boss. I decided we’d open the show with one of the numbers we often do at weddings: “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms!” When I announced it to the band, there was no discussion, no asking what key or who would sing lead or who would take which break. I loved that. I kicked it off (in G) and there was Red, ready with the first words of the chorus as I knew he would be. Like a rock. I sang tenor, and Chris jumped in on baritone. When we came to the last chorus everyone had had a break except Logan. I was afraid Red might forget about him and end the song so during that chorus I’m going, “Roll in my sweet baby’s arms (Red! Don’t forget to give Logan a break!) / Roll in my sweet baby’s arms...” And as we finished singing, I looked over at Logan—who was fortunately looking back at me—gave him the nod and then the three singers pulled away from the mike and Logan slid in, smooth as glass, to take his break. Now that is professional!

Red picked out the next song, another good wedding number, “Will You Be Loving Another Man.” (We never did get around to doing our all-time favorite wedding song, “Rawhide”.)

I chose “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” as a twin-banjo instrumental, because Logan plays it so well. Patty and Jenny also played twin fiddles, something they’d never done before! Logan and I don’t have a specific arrangement worked up, we were just winging it. At one point, during someone else’s break, he had the good sense to motion to me, indicating by his hand position which break we were going to take next. Clever lad! And as our third and last turn came around, I leaned over to him and said, “Low, high, low.” And he knew what I meant! We took a low break, played a high one, and then ended after the second low break. Now, that is communication.

You may remember from reading this blog that Logan hates “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Naturally, I couldn’t resist telling the audience we were going to play FMB because Logan loved it so much. Logan gave me a dark look. I also purposely kicked it off as fast as I could, saying to Logan, “See if you can keep up with me!” He did. As I knew he would.

I sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” in the key of C (which I played open), and when it was time for Logan’s break there he was, stepping up to the mike with his capo on at the fifth fret. I called on Jenny to end our set with a fiddle tune and she chose “Salt Creek.” She started (and finished!) at a blistering pace and again Logan came through with flying colors.

In addition to his excellent playing, I was mightily impressed with Logan’s on-stage presence—his calmness and his readiness. There was no whining, no complaining, no “I can’t play this!” (the usual baloney he gives me during his lessons!) He simply did his job, performing as a competent side musician. I could not have been prouder. The next day, when we were talking about the show (as his mom Robyn and I were getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail), Logan said, sort of wistfully, “Why was our set so short? I wish we could have played longer.” Spoken like a true bluegrass musician. I believe he has been bitten by the bug!

If I could hand Logan a diploma I think I might put these words on it. They come from a bumper sticker that Alan O’Bryant gave me many long years ago. The tattered shreds are still visible on my old banjo case: This is no dress rehearsal, we are professionals, this is the big time. Welcome, Logan!

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3 thoughts on “No Dress Rehearsal

  1. Martin Bacon

    See, the proof that the MM works!! Congratulations Logan and I am sure you have by now grown to love FMB.

  2. Tam

    Speed is not important when your learning to play the Banjo..

    And there you have it… Well done Logan

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