Note From Murphy: Kathy H was kind enough to blog about our Sunday jam, since I have been woefully deficient about blogging lately. As you will see, she is a wonderful writer. Thanks, Kathy!
After several false starts over the past few weeks due to nasty weather, the Picnic Hill Jammers were back out in full force on Sunday. It was apparent early on that folks had used their time wisely over the holidays, because there was some powerful picking progress made! The charter members of the jam---Julie, Tim, Pam, Gen, Kathy, and Kristina---made the trek and we had a couple of surprise guests when Ben and Kasey showed up. Since we had two guitars counting Murphy, one mandolin, and six banjos, Ben sidled up to the tall blonde at the house (the bass!) and gave us the bottom we needed in our merry little band!
Everyone who comes to these jams is interesting in their own right, and all travel a “fur piece” to get here, so it creates a very festive atmosphere. This particular day was a little like a family reunion, since we had all been missing our playing time together. But boy howdy, I almost didn’t recognize my friends--at least with my eyes closed. After the requisite Banjo In The Hollow and Cripple Creek, Tim put together his beautiful baritone singing voice and his banjo playing to be the boss of the song on Do Lord. Tim just started jamming this fall, and for those of you who remember the feeling of amnesia mixed with terror that comes over you when you are debuting your break or singing, you know how amazing it is that Tim concealed all that and was smooth as silk. He went back and forth pretty effortlessly from his break to vamping to singing again. Way to go Tim! No guts, no glory.
Not to be outdone, Julie kicked it up a notch by showing off her brand new low break to Boil Them Cabbage Down, learned in her lesson before the jam. Since she already had a high break to this song, she was able to put them together and not miss a beat when she got the nod for her break. Even though Julie is also a newcomer to this jam business, she has always been able to create some lovely improvisational rolls to whatever we are doing, whether it is a song she knows well or not.
Since everyone else seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet, the mother-daughter duo of Pam and Gen followed suit. Pam was killing her breaks on Banjo In The Hollow and Boil Them Cabbages Down (as Kristina insists on calling it), and positively shone on John Hardy. I don’t remember ANY of my breaks to songs sounding anywhere near that good for the first few weeks I tried to play them in a jam! I’m thinking she sounded so good because she had her own rhythm section right next to her, in her daughter, Gen. Each time I see Gen playing with all of us, and being such a good sport about our silly banjo talk, I am reminded of how great it is to start music when you're young. Like Kasey, our other teen jammer, Gen has gotten a great head start at playing music with others.
Having Kasey sit next to Murphy is entertaining in itself, because it is usually Bob V.’s job to get picked on. Even though she was playing great, Kasey had the added pressure of having Murphy actually turn and look right at her fingers while she was taking her breaks. It was pretty disconcerting to Kasey who said, "I felt like Murphy was staring right at me!” Which she was. Of course, Murphy didn’t lighten up…after all, she is creating performers here, and who ever heard of a shy banjo player? That is kind of like an oxymoron. In fact, Murphy turned it up a notch and tried to quell Kasey's fidgety leg--while Kasey was playing! Somehow Murphy managed to play guitar while simultaneously pressing her fretting hand on Kasey’s knee, trying to hold it down. That worked for about half a minute. And then Kasey started jiggling her other leg!
Sometimes the pressure of playing right next to these young talents is too great for those of us who haven’t been carded in decades, and such was the case with Ben, Kasey’s dad. We all know how a song has a tendency to speed up as it goes around the circle, and we pity the poor sucker who has to take the last break. We were playing Lonesome Road Blues and it was gaining momentum and a couple of us were looking at each other and worrying about how fast it was going to be when it got around to our side of the room, when I noticed Ben mouthing some words to Kasey. Since he has been known to speed up a song once or twice, I asked him about it afterwards and was laughing because I thought he was telling Kasey “It wasn’t ME!” when in reality he said he was asking her, “Is it me?” We have Ben so used to taking the fall for speeding up that he just assumes he's guilty. But right after that he jumped to the bass!
Last, but certainly not least, Kristina was bravely representing the mandolin section, all alone as usual. Her chop is so solid and confident, and I am pretty sure it is because she is trying not to be drowned out by all of our loud banjos! She did an awesome break to Foggy Mountain Breakdown, complete with sliding into those notes in a way that makes it sound so good. That is a difficult break and her hard work really paid off. One of my friends in North Carolina who is a big bluegrass fan once said that no bluegrass song is really complete without a mando in the mix. Even though I’m a banjo gal, she may be right, and we love having Kristina’s crisp, clean-sounding mandolin rounding it out.
I would be remiss not to mention the Picnic Hill Choir that is starting to come together in fine form. Because we have some excellent singers (with good church singin’ upbringin’), there are some wonderful harmonies being created on several of the songs. From I Saw The Light to Purple Robe, people were listening for what parts was available, and taking those parts if they were within their ranges. This kind of singing has created something special with this group-- the singing is as much fun as the playing!
Every Murphy Jam is magic, whether in Winchester, here in Maryland, or on Mars, although I can’t confirm the Mars thing. I think what makes this jam so successful and so much fun is that we all have one important thing in common--we are all Murphy’s students. Not only do we have the same "songbook,” but we have a consistent musical language that helps us learn new things in the jam and support one another’s playing or singing. That common thread has helped us gel remarkably fast.
We will be jamming at Picnic Hill on January 26th and February 2nd, and hope to see you. Email Kathy for info or directions at: KathyHans@aol.com
Final Note From Murphy: As you can see, while Kathy made a point of "bragging up" everyone else's playing, she said nothing about herself. But she's been working exceptionally hard on several tunes including Lonesome Road Blues, I'll Fly Away, and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. On Sunday, I'm proud to say, they all "rang like silver and shined like gold." And she nailed those last few notes on that hard Lonesome Road Blues ending lick! Sweet!