Reuben’s Surprise

Casey Henry

Last weekend the Dixie Bee-Liners played at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in Pennsylvania. It’s only a couple of hours from my parents’ house, so I drove up the day before and spent the night with them. We were minus our fiddler for this gig, because her Army-officer boyfriend was home on leave from Afghanistan for two weeks, so we instead had a dobro player in the form of Matt Ledbetter, who has played with the band before and already knew most of the material.  We did, however, need to practice all the songs on the set list so we met early in the day for a run-through.

Stuffed into a room at the Red Carpet Inn in Chambersburg we breezed through our standards: “Crooked Road,” “Bugs in the Basement,” “Ball and Chain,” “Yellow-Haired Girl”. The only different songs were, of course, the dobro tunes. Matt played “Fireball,” a tune that I love. J.D. Crowe played it when I saw him at the Ryman last month and when I took my break I tried to play my absolute Croweiest.

Matt also played “Reuben,” which is typically a no-brainer. In D tuning it uses the same-old rolls you use all the time in standard tuning. However. We started off the second set with “Reuben” and the next song was “Walls of Time” also in D, but one that I play in regular tuning out of D position. Clearly there would be no time to re-tune. That meant I had to play “Reuben” also in standard tuning out of D position. That makes it COMPLETELY different! The rolls are entirely different and, may I say, just a little challenging. Thank goodness, then, that the tune came in the second set so I had about ten hours to think about it and practice it before debuting this new arrangement on stage.

I did not, of course, spend the entire ten hours practicing it. We had to play our first set, after all, and there were friends to visit (the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Seldom Scene), and a workshop to do, and supper to eat (many thanks to Mary Jo and Charlie Leet, Mike and Gay Henderson, et al, for the high-class fare!).  I did devote a few minutes to it, though, on three separate occasions throughout the day and had a respectable break worked up by the time we hit the stage at 11:30 p.m. – long after my bedtime.

So that is my challenge to you this week. Take a song and play it in an entirely new way. That may just mean capoing up and playing it in a new key. Or taking a song you play in G and trying to play it in C position, or in D tuning (that would really be a challenge!).  Or trying a high break to a song that you’ve never played up the neck. It will make you see that tune in a whole different light!

One thought on “Reuben’s Surprise

  1. Josh

    At the same jam I referred to in my last comment this happened to me. Wabash Cannonball was called out in C or D, can’t remember now. By the time it was over, I had figured out a break. Luckily only one break was taken and the other banjo player got the nod. Definitely something that I have been wanting to work on, playing in different keys, this was a nice way of forcing me to do it.

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