Last night, Wednesday, November 13, we celebrated the first anniversary of our Tip Jar Jam. When I started the Jam last year, I had no idea if it would work, but I'm pleased as punch to report that is has exceeded my expectations! It has also spawned two other jams, the Tuesday night jam in Winchester and the Sunday afternoon jam in Frederick, Md. Who woulda thunk?
Here is what Ben, who played bass last night, had to say about our first year of jamming:
I thought about the one year of the Jam on my way home. This is what I came up with. Oh yeah, and so Kasey doesn't put her two cents in, I did not cry! The music has been great without a doubt and I've learned so much from banjo to bass. But I have to say for me I think the reward of meeting and building relationships with all these people carries a lot of weight. Let me see, Janet, Kenney, Bob A, Bob Mc, then our cursing Bob. Haha! Then Barbara, Kathy and Kathy and Kristina, Scott, Zac, Zac's Dad and Zac's Mom, and Betty. I know I didn't name everyone--it's my age and memory. But if I had never met these people look what my daughter I and would've missed out on.
First, I had never watched the Apple Blossom parade and this year I had a front row seat. Thanks, Bob. I got to go to Kathy's home and be a part of her fall fest. Nice place. The every-week episodes of the people at the jam make it so much fun. I watched last night as Kasey and you three women was laughing your butts off, not about the picture of your butt either, which was funny. [Kasey "accidentally" took a picture of me bending over to move Ben's banjo which he had laid on the floor when he picked up the bass.] I'm over there holding that bass and I'm thinking, "Look how much fun this has been! Especially for a 13-year-old girl. You all pull it off! Look at this circle of people and the joy they bring each other. I know when I'm dead and gone my Kasey will tell her children about the great times she had going to Murphy's tip jar jams in Winchester. You all are leaving wonderful marks for my daughter to look back on. Thanks for the Jams and for the great people who sit among us." Amen, Brother Ben!
One of the things that Kasey, Kathy Holliday, Kathy Hanson, and I were laughing about was this: I wanted Kathy Holliday to move closer to Kathy Hanson so when we did our womyn singing they could sing tenor together. Since Kathy Holliday was holding her banjo, I picked up her chair to reposition it. As I carried the chair to its new spot Bobby lipped in to say, "Get a bunch of women together and they start moving furniture!" Ha, ha, Bobby. However, as soon as I set the chair down, Kathy Holliday said, "No, not there! Move it over a little." I, not thinking anything about it, starting inching the chair forward. Whereupon Kathy said, "No, no, I was just kidding!" She was carrying Bobby's joke one step further. Now, that was really funny! So we were all splitting our sides laughing.
Another hilarious moment came when I was singing Glendale Train. I don't usually sing this song, but since neither Janet nor Barbara were there, I stepped in--with some gender alterations! (Being the feminist that I am!) So I'm singing, "Charlie Jones was the engineer/She had twenty years on the line..." Heads--Kathy's, Kathy's and Kasey's--come up at the word "she." I continue, "She kissed her wife at the station gate/This morning at 6:35..." Three mouths fly open at this mental picture! "Everything went fine till half past nine/Charlie looked up and she saw/Girls on horses, girls with guns...." And before I can finish the line with the original words "and no sign of the law" Kathy Hanson jumps in and sings, "And no sign of a bra!" Much laughter--at least from the womyn; I couldn't see the men. Ben was probably blushing! Kathy later said, "Well, if they were feminists, they sure weren't wearing bras!"
Then I got to the second verse: "Now Amy White [not Amos White!] was the baggage girl/And she dearly loved her job..." More twitters of laughter. "The company awarded her/With a golden watch and fob/Now Amy she was a-marking time/When the door blew off of her car/They found Amy White in 15 pieces...." And before I can conclude with "15 miles apart" again Kathy chimes in with "down at the bar." More laughter. That Kathy Hanson is quick on her feet when it comes to making up words. I thought I was quick, but she is quicker!
After Glendale Train I wanted to pass the singing torch to someone else, so I said to Ben, "Now that we've killed some womyn, let's kill some miners." And he knew exactly what I was talking about because lately he's been singing Dream Of A Miner's Child. But both Kathys, hearing the word "miners," thought I had said "let's kill some minors" and they thought I was talking about minor chords, as in, "Let's butcher a song that has a bunch of minor chords in it." When they realized that wasn't correct, their minds flipped to "let's kill some minors" as in minor children. And goodness knows there are plenty of dead children songs in bluegrass (Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake, Slippers With Wings, Little Bessie, etc etc). It wasn't until Ben started singing that they realized what "miners" I was talking about. Of course, I found out about all this later. Words are sure funny. It's a wonder we communicate as well as we do!
As we were jamming last night I was wondering how our song list had changed--or not--during the past year. Here are the 14 songs we played last night, not exactly in this order but close:
Banjo in the Hollow
Blue Ridge Cabin Home (G, Bobby)
I Saw the Light (C, Kasey lead)
Circle (C, Kathy Hanson lead)
Mountain Dew (C, me lead)
Wagon Wheel (C, Kasey and Kathy Hanson lead)
Roll in my Sweet Baby's Arms (A, Bobby)
Old Joe Clark
Glendale Train (A, me)
Dream Of A Miner's Child (G, Ben)
Lonesome Road Blues
Boil Them Cabbage Down
Happy Anniversary To Us (not included in the song count)
Here are the 16 songs we played at the first jam, which I pulled from that first Tip Jar Jam blog:
Blue Ridge Cabin Home
Banjo in the Hollow
I Saw the Light
I’ll Fly Away
Lonesome Road Blues
A Face in the Crowd
Boil Them Cabbage Down
Somebody Touched Me--A
Old Joe Clark--A
Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms--A
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Wow! We actually played more songs at that first jam, even though we were playing them slower. I guess that's because we didn't spend as much time laughing!
The biggest difference I can see in the two lists is that in the first jam we didn't do any songs in the key of C. I hadn't yet realized that, if the womyn were going to get a chance to sing, we were going to have to brave the tuning problems that come with asking 5 or 6 banjo players to capo up five frets to the key of C. Thank goodness my eyes were opened to that! And thank goodness the players are getting quicker at tuning!
Playing in C created a golden opportunity for the womyn singers. Kasey, Kathy Hanson, Janet, and Barbara are all singing lead now. Kathy Holliday--you're next! Kristina, you are off the hook unless you say otherwise! And Betty, how about you?
As you can see, many of our songs have stayed the same and that's a good thing. That means the students get the constant repetitions they need in order to solidify their core body of songs. Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, Lonesome Road Blues, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Old Joe Clark, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, I Saw the Light--these are foundational numbers.
But we've also added new tunes: Wagon Wheel, Dream Of A Miner's Child, Glendale Train, Mountain Dew. And when other players are there we do songs that they sing. Our jam is fluid that way, which also is a good thing.
In fact, I think our jam has an excellent mix for a beginner/intermediate-level jam: foundational tunes, new tunes, a variety of lead singers both female and male, harmony singing, playing in three different keys, G, A, and C.
What are some of my hopes and goals for the next year? Some different keys--banjo players playing in open C; bass and mandolin players playing (chording) in B and B-flat; key of D. More songs with "off" chords: Salty Dog, Rocky Top (Kasey is working on this one), Old Home Place (we tried that once, but it was too early in the game). Songs with trickier chord patterns (Bobby McGee?). Daybreak in Dixie as a regular jam number with more folks playing it. Bluegrass Breakdown. I wish we could add a fiddler to the jam so we could do some fiddle tunes like Liberty and Soldier's Joy which the guitar players could also play.
But these are just ideas. I'll be happy to follow wherever the road leads. This time last year, who could have imagined we'd have three-part female harmony in the key of C? And with that thought in mind, I'll close with one of my favorite lines from Bill Monroe's gospel song The Shining Path: And for those who walk the shining pathway/Oh, the gates will open when you reach that home.
I'm not sure why that came to mind so I'll just leave it at that! Maybe I feel like we sometimes walk that shining pathway during the jam.
We'll be "walking that shining pathway" in Frederick, Maryland, this Sunday, November 17, from 3-5 pm. Call or email for directions. Beginners welcome!