There are so many different musical situations in Nashville. Often times I find myself surrounded by the best of the world-class professionals, and many other times I like to jam with folks who just do it for fun. There is an event right outside of town called the Full Moon Pickin' Party, and it was a continuation of a party that got started in the 80's by our lawyer friend and bluegrass enthusiast, Ted Walker.
The party is located in a beautiful section of Percy Warner park and is attended by several hundred folks every full moon. They have a stage set up and bands play from about 7-11, but the main attraction for most of the folks that come is the jamming. It costs $20 for a regular adult admission, but only $5 if one shows up with a qualified musical instrument.
I rode with some friends and got to the park about 9:30 and walked in to see a whole lot of people had showed up as it was a very pleasant Friday evening with perfect weather and a huge Supermoon beaming beautifully overhead. I made the usual rounds and took in the lay of the land as it were.
Johnny Campbell, an ardent Bill Monroe style bluegrass fiddler was there with his dad, Bob, and we started off with "The Old Mountaineer". I rarely get to play those tunes and so that was fun. We then played "The Lonesome Old Farmer", a tune that I had learned off Johnny's brother, Jimmy's album that featured Monroe on the mandolin. Another fine moment.
My buddy Adam Olmstead, my favorite songwriter under 50, is visiting for a couple of months from New Brunswick, and we sang "Sweetheart of Mine". That was the first song we ever sang together one night at the Station Inn about seven or eight years ago. He usually sings lead, but this night I rendered the verses and sang lead on the chorus. Next, we did the Delmore Brothers tune, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow", a good jam number that is easy to follow. Then I saw Ted Walker.
Ted and I visited and reminisced for a while until he said something to the effect of, "you better get back in there". One of the party's only drawbacks is that it ends promptly at 11pm and that's right when a lot of people are just getting warmed up. So I took his advice and came back to assume my position in the jam.
I took a mandolin break on whatever was playing when I got back - I can't remember. I dug in and played hard and loud and the crowd responded, and that was satisfying. We got through with that number and someone asked me to sing, so I thought quickly, then launched into the most recent tune I have learned, the Stanley Brothers' "Paint the Town".
I started the tune out by playing the verse and then I sang a verse and chorus to realize that it wasn't a number the folks were very familiar with, and so when the break after the chorus came around, I went into "Say Won't You Be Mine", which I thought would be more familiar. I've had good luck switching tunes at the blink of a hat recently with my band, and I was feeling confident that the switch could be made easily. Wrong!!
At these parties, not only is it a little raucous with jams going on every ten feet or so, but the adults of 21 years have the opportunity to consume four complimentary beers with the price of admission. So, folks weren't entirely sober to say the least. When I realized that half of the people were still playing the chords to the original song I had kicked off, I thought it would be a good idea to use my hands to show everybody what chords were in the new selection. Wrong!!
The first chord in "Say Won't You Be Mine" is a G chord. It's also what we call the "one" chord in the Nashville numbers system which is used on stage in tight spots but mostly in the studio to write chord charts for folks who have never heard or played the song being recorded before. When I raised my hand to communicate the "one" chord, two things happened: I had to quit playing the mandolin for a moment. and also, with my monodigital articulation, I inadvertently communicated to several that what I wanted was for people to stop playing, as in the one finger meant - "Hold on a second!".
So with half of the people in the jam stopping, the momentum of the song had ceased, the song was awkwardly and uncomfortably ended, and I had earned another lesson in what not to do in that situation. Next time I will most likely, A) Play songs that I am quite certain will be more accessible(Rollin' My Sweet Baby's Arms, How Mountain Girls Can Love, etc.), and B) Don't assume people are going to know what I am doing if I hold up a finger in hopes of communicating the right chords.
These are a couple of lessons that I am surprised I had not fully comprehended and put into practice, but it just goes to show, that in the thick of things, it's easy to forget simple things that help avoid getting into a jam within a jam!