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Red Henry

Red Henry

Sunday was another long and musical day at White Springs. The morning dawned high and dry, with no sign of the deluge we'd had the previous evening. After begging some morning coffee (essential for survival), I tuned up my mandolin and guitar and contemplated the day. We had a set to play at the River Gazebo, specified to be primarily of Florida songs. We have quite a few of those in our band repertoire, so I started picking out a few. There were some I rejected. "Abraham Washington"? -- maybe too grim for Sunday. "Gospel Snakes"? -- Dale had performed that one on Saturday. But we had plenty more up our sleeves.

By "we" I mean Red and Chris Henry and our All-Star Band, which includes John Hedgecoth (banjo), Jenny Leigh (fiddle), and Barbara Johnson (bass), all three of whom are great pickers. In spite of only performing together a few times per year, we have plenty of material worked up and are always learning more-- we managed to play two hour-long sets at Gamblefest without repeating anything-- and we have a good time playing music together.

First thing on the day's program was to back up our friend Dale Crider for his set on the Old Marble Stage. We all traipsed over there at the appropriate time, and Dale launched into his set.

Now, Dale's mind works quickly and creatively. (I have already mentioned his "Mangrove Buccaneer" song posted by Ron Johnson at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18-Kt4UKmII , in which Dale's cat-like powers of recovery are demonstrated.) But after Dale arrived a few minutes late for his own set on Friday, and was only prevented from singing one of his own songs which we'd already done by the kindness of a vocal audience member, he'd gotten skittish about repeating a song. Before singing one of his songs at the Old Marble Stage, he paused and asked the audience, "Have I already done this one?" -- it's a good thing he asked them instead of us. I leaned into my mike and said, "Dale KNOWS that if he'd already sung it, WE would stand right here and let him sing it AGAIN!" -- but correctly reassured by the audience that he hadn't done it yet, Dale sang "Mangrove Buccaneer" to end the set. Good job, Dale.

After a break back in the campground, it was time for us to go down to the River Gazebo and play. Before our set I chatted for a while with distinguished Florida folks Larry Mangum and Frank Thomas, and also met Nancy Crockford, an accomplished violinist who was interested in learning fiddle. I'll send you a couple of our Murphy Method fiddle-instruction DVDs, Nancy. Then it was time for us to play.

Since Christopher and I like playing double-harmony mandolins together so much, we started out with a fine Bill Monroe tune called "Tallahassee". Chris and Jenny contributed Florida songs of their own, and then John sang his "Florida Sunshine" tribute to White Springs in olden days. The crowd really liked all these but at that point we were running short on time, so we did a quick guitar-harmony rendition of Will McLean's "Osceola's Last Words" and finished out with an abbreviated double-mandolin version of "Rawhide" -- not exactly a Florida song, I suppose, but to get five out of six isn't bad.

Last on our day's schedule was a set by Dale at the Gazebo, alternating songs with Jeannie Fitchen. We had a good time playing, and listening to Jeannie, and playing, and listening, until it was time for Frank Thomas to take center stage and lead us all in "Old Folks at Home". What a good day, and what a great festival!

After the set John needed to get back to Nashville, but the rest of us loaded up our stuff and drove down to Dale's place at Windsor, on the shores of Lake Newnan. The thunderstorms were threatening as we set out, and let go some gully-washing rains as we drove. On Monday, we'd be recording with Dale!

Next time: Day 5!

Red Henry

Red Henry

When I last left you, we (Chris, Jenny, and I) had arrived late and tired at the Florida Folk Festival campground, and I collapsed to get some rest for the next day. Well, Friday dawned bright and promising, and I secured the morning essential (coffee) to start waking up. Pretty soon my mother Renee and her banjo-playing brother, my uncle John Hedgecoth, arrived from Tallahassee and we all picked for a while to warm up. By "we all" I mean myself, Chris, and Jenny, plus John and Barbara Johnson, our bass player.

We'd barely gotten started when someone noticed that our friend Dale was scheduled to play a set at noon on the Seminole Stage, which is at the other end of the festival-- probably about a half-mile-- from the campground. We wanted to back him up. So we loaded ourselves and our instruments into a variety of vehicles and set out for the Seminole Stage.

Now, when you deal with creative personalities you're talking about people who sometimes don't see the point of making sure you arrive everywhere exactly on schedule. This is the case with Dale, one of the most brilliantly creative people I know. So when we all arrived at the Seminole Stage, ready to back him up for his set, he was nowhere to be seen. What to do? Well, we've backed Dale up a lot. When the time came to start his set, we just got up in front of the crowd and started singing his songs! We kicked it off with Dale's original song "Mangrove Buccaneer." The crowd (full of people who knew Dale) loved it. And when we had played about half of the set, who should come running in, guitar in hand, but Dale himself! Christopher was in the middle of singing "Tate's Hell," a wonderful Florida song and one of Dale's favorites, and Dale just took over the lead vocal from him to finish out with the last verse.

Dale sang several more, and it was time to finish the show. He had decided to end the set with "Mangrove Buccaneer" when one audience member (unfortunately) told him that we'd already sung it! It would have been so much fun if he'd gone ahead and done it again, unknowingly. But instead he finished up with his song "Apalachicola Doin' Time" (freshly topical these days with the Gulf oil disaster on peoples' minds), and we we back to the campground to rest and pick.

Our own set was at the same Seminole Stage at 3:30, so we loaded up again and made the trek. We had an excellent crowd, and played and sang many of our favorites, starting off with Chubby Anthony's "Foothills of Home" and finishing out with the old gospel favorite "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," which I'm glad to say that many people sang along with. Then it was back to the campground and picking until the small hours.

Do you wonder why we do this? Well, who'd want to be anywhere else?


Red Henry

Red Henry

Folks, it's almost time for the Florida Folk Festival, held every year at the Stephen Foster State Park on Memorial Day weekend. Chris, Jenny, and I will be driving down there on Thursday (13 hours, but we'll never match Casey's travel percentage!), and we'll have three days of performing music on the festival stages. Here's our schedule:

Friday, May 28th: 3:30, at the Seminole Hut stage.

Saturday, May 29th: 3:00, at the Old Marble Stage.

Sunday, May 30th: 3:20, at the River Gazebo.

Of course we'll have plenty of our CDs with us at our sets, and a selection of Murphy Method DVDs as well --and, naturally, there will be plenty of picking in the campground the rest of the time!

This festival runs eight or ten stages during the day, and a big show on the main stage at night. Activities include fiddle and banjo contests as well as contra-dances and craft shows. Look the festival up at http://www.floridastateparks.org/folkfest/Highlights.cfm , and take a look at the schedules! There'll be a lot going on. Come by if you can, and say hello.


Red Henry

Red Henry

Folks, I made a cross-country flight this morning, just to keep in practice. It wasn't a really long trip, but I flew solo from here (Winchester, VA) to Bedford, PA, then to Cumberland, MD, and then back home: 3 flights, 8 good landings (I used the opportunity to practice those, too).

And what does this have to do with playing music? Well, Chris, Jenny, and I are performing at the Daily Grind here in Winchester (the Jubal Early Drive location) starting at 7:00 this evening. And the flying seems as if it's gotten me in the mood to play.

This happened a lot during my first flying career, in the Air Force from 1972-75. Flying and picking just seemed to go together, one after the other. Have any of you gotten that feeling from these two activities? If so, I'd like to know about it.

Happy picking, and flying too, if that's what you do!


PS-- Local folks, if you can't make it to the Daily Grind this evening, we're also performing at Borders Books here in Winchester, starting time 7:00 this coming Sunday, the 23rd.

Red Henry

Red Henry

Folks. as you may have read below, Chris and I and our band had a great time last weekend at the Gamble Rogers Festival in St. Augustine. Florida. Our sets sounded really good, and the people liked them. As a result, we had a great time and sold lots of CD (always a morale-booster). But even with the same band and the same playing locations and times, things could have been pretty different. We might not have had a successful weekend at all. What made the difference?

The difference was in the sound. That's the sound reinforcement or P.A. system, something that the audience (properly) doesn't think much about when listening to a band. If the sound equipment and personnel aren't up to the job, the band might not sound very good on stage, and the audience may not realize just why. Some of the instruments might be pretty faint. The vocals might not be balanced. The sound personnel might not have their attention on the moment-by-moment stage sound, and corrections might not get made. All professional musicians have played shows like that, and the sound has really turned many good performing situations into marginal experiences on stage. When that happens, we just have to keep on performing and hope for the best.

But at GambleFest, the sound systems were excellent. The equipment was plenty adequate for the job. The sound personnel were prompt and efficient in setting up the stage for each band. And once we got behind the microphones and started our shows, the sound guys (and gals) were right there on the board, "tweaking" the microphone levels and tone controls to help us sound our best. That's not something the audience should notice (the process should be invisible to the listeners-- they just deserve all the good sound possible all the time-- but it sure is important to the band). And the sound folks at GambleFest did a really fine job. Thanks to all people on the sound boards at GambleFest!

NEXT UP: The Florida Folk Festival, Memorial Day weekend!

Red Henry

Red Henry

Folks, Chris and I are just getting ready to head out in the morning for a big music weekend far south of here. On Saturday, we (Red & Chris Henry and Their All-Star Band) will play at the Great Hahira Pick-In, which is at Hahira, Georgia, and then on Sunday we play at Dale Crider’s Pithlachocco Music House at Windsor, Florida. Then we’ll spend Monday recording with Dale, and drive back on Tuesday. This isn’t as big a project as the tour Casey’s on, but it’s a pretty long trip! So what do we pack?

Murphy and I learned one thing about packing clothes long ago: When you’re going to play at a bluegrass festival, be ready for ANY weather, from floods, to 103 degree heat, to freezing snow. If you play festivals long enough you’ll run into all three! Any time of year! So I’ve packed day clothes. I’ve packed stage clothes. I’ve packed light clothes. I’ve packed heavy clothes. I’ve put in a raincoat or two. You can’t be too well-prepared for a festival! The clothes are IN THE VAN.

Now, let’s think about what we need in order to find the show and set up there. I’ve put in maps, directions, and a phone numbers for the festival. (Don’t rely on GPS or the Internet to find a place, when you might be in the hills and nothing works! And always have the promoter’s phone number close by!) And I’ve put in our CD table stuff, which includes Red Henry CDs, and Chris Henry CDs, and Murphy Method DVDs, and Sharpies for signing CDs, and some CD display racks and DVD display racks and a change pouch with some five-dollar bills, and band signs, and price signs, and Murphy Method signs, and also (still with me?) the folding table all that stuff goes on, along with a tablecloth. All that stuff is IN THE VAN.

Now, the instruments. Do we have everything? Chris’s girlfriend Jenny Leigh, a fine fiddler, is traveling and performing with us, so we need extra space for instruments. We’ll have our guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and maybe a mandola with us. And what if an instrument should break a string or even a tuner at the show, or need some light repairs or adjustments on the spot? (That happens, and if you’re a long way from home and something breaks, you may be out of luck!) Well, in case of that, I’ve put in my Goody Box. The Goody Box has extra guitar and mandolin strings, pliers (regular and long-nosed), wire cutters (for strings), extra tuners and tuner parts for mandolins, small flat and triangular files (for adjusting nut slots and bridge slots), small and tiny screwdrivers (regular and phillips-head) for changing out tuners and tailpieces, a little steel ruler and some sandpaper (for fitting and adjusting mandolin bridges), an complete extra mandolin tailpiece, and lots of other small stuff. The Goody Box has really come in handy before when an instrument needed help a long way from home, so I try not to go on road trips without it. It is IN THE VAN.

I’ve made sure my electronic tuner is in my mandolin case, along with a lead pencil (for lubricating nut slots) and plenty of strings. Now, finally, we come to what we’ll need once we’re on stage: SET LISTS. I’ve made up the set lists and printed them out in triplicate so I won’t lose them all, and tossed them into my guitar case. So is that everything we need? If it isn’t, we’ll have to do without! All I have to do in the morning is toss the instruments in the vehicle and get behind the wheel. We’ll be “flyin’ south to Dixie” by sunup. See you (excuse me, see Y’ALL) at Hahira!


Red HenryLast week I had a some music-nights that showed some good examples of how and why I like to play. Sometimes you play for one reason, and sometimes for another. Last weekend I had a solo show scheduled for Saturday night, and I really needed to get in shape, so--

On Thursday, I went over to a place nearby where folks gather for weekly local picking. Well, local picking can vary a lot in its quality and enjoyment, and this evening was about average. When we started, there were several guitar players, including one who could hold a rhythm pretty well; a banjo player, who (unlike most banjo pickers I know) had to be persuaded to take his banjo out of its case, and remained reluctant; also one or two reluctant fiddlers; and me, on mandolin (not reluctant at all).

As often happens in local pickings, the group's rhythm was a little out of focus. So along with playing most of the lead, I played a VERY simple "chunk"-chord rhythm behind the singers and the banjo player, doing nothing fancy in the way of backup, but just defining the rhythm as clearly as I could. This helped everyone keep the rhythm together.

Along about an hour into the session a couple of good younger pickers showed up, and they put some new vocal and instrumental energy into the music. We picked for about another hour. Getting the lead and rhythm right in that still-somewhat-cacophonous situation really put me through a workout. The session was great for the purpose I had in mind: getting in shape, vocally and instrumentally, for my Saturday night show!

The next night, Friday, I  played with the Winchester Celtic Circle, a group mostly of older folks who get together and play each 3rd Friday at Borders Books. It's always enjoyable to play music with nice folks, and this evening was no exception. I really had to concentrate, though, on getting the music right-- it's not the kind of music I play every day-- and I was pretty tired after we’d played our two hours. But it was fun, and great practice too!

Saturday was my big evening musically, playing a solo show. Now, when you get used to playing solo, it can actually be less work than playing along with anyone else. That's after you get used to it! I have only played solo a few times and am definitely NOT used to it, so I have to work extra hard to get into the musical and entertaining groove. But I played through a couple of hours of music and stories without any problem, and enjoyed it. This was in large part due to the practice I'd gotten on Thursday and Friday! Playing music sure does make it easier to play music. I guess that's why people say what they do about practice....

Red HenryWhen you've performed live bluegrass for over 40 years, as I have, you've seen a lot of different performing situations. Sometimes, as at a big festival or concert, you have a big crowd who are all there to listen to you. But sometimes you have a small crowd to play for, and sometimes you have very few people present, or at least, few who are listening. But if they are listening attentively and responding, that makes a big difference.

What all this means is that you have to adjust your performance according to the situation. You may have a big set list made up of your group's very best numbers, all arranged so that you've got the best variety and entertainment in the show. That's what you need to play if you're in front of a big listening audience, but what if you're not? In our experience, "What if you're not" falls into two categories:

1. Sometimes, especially playing at parties or in bars, there may be lots of people there (making plenty of noise, too) but few or none of them are listening to you. In a case like that, you can exhaust yourself trying to play and sing your best show numbers (or even just trying to be heard), so a change is in order. Relax and play easy stuff, and concentrate on hearing each other on stage and getting the picking and singing right. This is also a great chance to practice your newer material, if you can hear each other--- but if you can't, just relax and pick. Don't wear yourselves out trying to do more. Nobody's listening, and it's not worth it!

2. The other kind of small audience is the group that's really listening to you, and interested in your show. This is actually a really good situation, and often you can often present your best material to an audience like this. (I once saw the Lewis Family do their full, high-powered stage show for a Sunday-morning festival audience of about six people. The people were there to listen, and the Lewises gave them a great show.) With a small, quiet audience, especially if you are not using a sound system, you can establish a familiar rapport with the listeners, talk to them about the songs and tunes you're playing, tell some stories if the situation's right, and have a good time all around.

This just came to mind because at a Florida festival recently, Christopher and I played a Saturday show for an audience of eight people. Why just eight people? Well, our set that day wasn't in the festival program, but had been hastily scheduled in the last couple of days before the show. So not many people knew we were playing, but the ones who showed up were REALLY ready to listen and enjoy our music. We did a quiet, intimate show for those folks, and we had a great time playing and singing. And at the end of the set, we sold eight CDs--- one for every member of the audience!--- a record which I never expect to break. That statistic, by itself, says a lot about what a good time the audience had. This was the ideal small audience!

The next day, Sunday, we were in a different situation. We played on the festival's main stage for hundreds of enthusiastic listeners, and we stacked the set with several of our best crowd-pleasers, both bluegrass and original material. And we all had a good time there, too. So there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself playing for an audience, and at that festival, we found two of them!

Everybody pick purty--


Red HenryI ran across an old photo recently, and was reminded of a day when Murphy and I were roadies. This was in the middle of 1994 (Photo by me. Click on it for a bigger version):

Casey and Chris Henry, 1994

Now you can see who we were being roadies for---our two kids! This is Casey (age 15) playing Murphy's Stelling banjo, and Christopher (age 12) playing our D-18, and they were performing in front of the old courthouse, on the Old Town Mall here in Winchester. I set up the sound system for them, and they did great. They played a whole bunch of bluegrass songs and tunes, all with their proud parents—and a lot of other people---listening.

Along with moving the heavy sound equipment around I took a few photos, not wanting to restrict myself to just one line of work. For a change, I didn't have to play music, but could listen and visit with friends in the audience and enjoy the show. So even a dedicated mandolin picker like myself can find a time to be a bluegrass roadie!

Red HenryI promised that you'd get a follow-up report on the show we played recently with some friends, and here it is. To begin with, Murphy and I walked into the performing venue (the local Moose club) to find that thanks to Charlie and Charlotte, the sound system was already set up and working---a real plus for any job. There were 10 mikes on the stage, all ready for vocals and instruments. They and their band (the Sweetwater String Band---Charlie, Charlotte, Larry, Troy, and me) were to play the first and last sets of the day---at 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ---a pretty long day. So we got on the stage and started the show.

Now, at 10:00 on a Sunday morning you don't generally expect that the crowd will have shown up yet. We began the set with an audience of 18 people. That didn't matter, though, because we had a good time playing our set of gospel material. And everybody in the band was aware of the music---WATCHING and LISTENING to what was happening, and responding to each other, which made the music not only better but also more enjoyable. I played mostly mandolin, but picked up the fiddle to play harmony with Larry on a couple of slower numbers.

Then several local bands played their sets, and their sound suffered from a current fad: Instead of using individual vocal mikes, each band wanted to sing around one big condenser microphone. However, in this particular room, that big mike could not be turned up very much without feeding back, so the singing was hard to hear. This went on with one band after another, proving that the bands weren't WATCHING and LISTENING to the other bands on stage and seeing that the mike setup wasn't working, but instead kept asking to use that one mike which couldn't pick up their voices very well.

Also, as I watched the bands, I could see that most of them weren't listening to each other on stage. They all had a well-practiced set of music to play, but in most cases each band member just played and sang his own part without listening to their whole band and responding to the other band members. This took some of the life out of the show.

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