In the evening Murphy went out to square dance, but for Christopher and myself, it was time for an old-time jam at Cousin David's place, the Potato Hill Tavern. Chris and I arrived in the middle of the jam's second tune, which means that we'd only missed about 15 or 20 minutes of the jam.
A tune and a half? 15 or 20 minutes? Well, you know, old-time jams are pretty different from bluegrass sessions. For one thing, everybody's playing at once, and sometimes there are a lot of "everybody." (In this case, "everybody" was 7 fiddle players, 4 banjo pickers, 4 mandolin pickers, and 3 guitar players, with people coming and going all the time.) For another thing, the old-time players really enjoy the tunes and play them for a long time, sometimes as long as 10 minutes or more. That may sound strange from a bluegrass standpoint, but it has advantages.
One advantage is that if you don't know the tune (and there are hundreds of them) you can often learn it as you play, and then play it some more, for a long time, to get it into your head. Another thing is that when everybody's playing together, it creates a whole different atmosphere from a bluegrass session. Instead of the spotlight focusing on people individually (and putting pressure on every individual to play well when their time comes and everybody else is looking at them), in an old-time session everybody can just relax and PLAY. Everybody pulls together, and it's a group effort, and a strong sound.
The players often take turns suggesting tunes. Whenever this session threatened to hit a slow spell, I'd suggest one of my old-time favorites, not much known in bluegrass: "Cowboy's Dream", "Old Mother Flanagan", and others. But most of the time I just sat there and played and enjoyed learning new tunes. Ten minutes at a time. It was good, and I went for about three hours before calling it a long day.
If you ever have a chance to participate in an old-time session, go and have yourself a good time in a different atmosphere. It's a great chance to learn.
Now, back to our Murphy Method telephone sale! I'm packing DVDs as fast as I can!