Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our regular Tuesday Tip Jar Jam was canceled this week so I could go up to Elkins, West Virginia, and give a talk about my book, Pretty Good For A Girl. I also played in a concert that night with another band of "Merry Chicas" that included Casey, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Tammy Rogers, Sharon Gilchrist, and Mary Burdette. "My, my, my" as the song goes! I was accompanied on my trip by my friend and "personal assistant," Kathy Holliday, who is the Best Book Seller Ever and a great road-tripping buddy. We talked all the way up, and all the way back. And on the way back we also Ate Chocolate and Drank Cokes! Yippee!

The book talk went great. IMHO, it's finally shaping up now since I've given it a number of times. I've finally figured out that I do better sitting down with "my banjo on my knee" and just talking. When I run out of things to say or feel like I'm "yammering," I punctuate the talk with a song. This time, Casey joined me on stage so we had the full force of two banjos! As one of our songs, I got the audience to sing along with us on "Worried Gal," in the women's key of C and asked them to pay attention to how difficult it was to actually remember to sing the word "gal" instead of "man," which is the more conventional way to sing this (and the way the Carter Family sang it).

After being immersed in a book talk and an all-female band, I'm feeling my feminist oats! I was so proud that Laurie Lewis called me a "firebrand." High praise, indeed!

Augusta Women Instructors

Photo courtesy Dave Savage, Augusta Heritage Center

The concert Tuesday night rocked the house, if I do say so myself! Even working up the songs with these incredibly talented women was so much fun! From the first note of every song we tried, we were cooking! OMG! With six women in the group, naturally the fairest way was to let everyone choose a song to "star" on. This we did by email, at the urging of coordinator Mary Burdette, who also ended up playing a lot of bass with us. Everyone was quite gracious in saying what they would like to do, "if it's okay with everyone else."

So here's the final set list along with the name of the person who chose the song and the key and the harmony parts (as best I recall):

Glendale Train (fem version!)--Murphy--B-flat (Kathy, tenor; Casey baritone)
This Weary Heart You Stole Away--Casey--D (Murphy, baritone; Laurie, low tenor)
Blues Stay Away From Me--Sharon--C (Sharon, tenor; Kathy, lead; Laurie, baritone)
Little Birdie--Laurie--D (Kathy, tenor)
Cowboy Jack--Kathy--F (Laurie, tenor; Tammy, baritone)
Road To Columbus (fiddle tune)--Tammy--A
Banjo Picking Girl--Murphy--C (other verses by Kathy and Laurie) (Kathy, tenor; Casey, baritone)
Encore: Oh, Suzannah--Kathy and Laurie--C

(See the video of Banjo Pickin' Girl here.)

I could spend pages and pages writing about working up these songs. But I will confine myself to two comments. Laurie had sent around an mp3 file of Little Birdie. I knew the song somewhat from Ralph Stanley's version, but there is no "standard" version of this song. And in spite of Laurie's disclaimer that this song wasn't "too crooked," it was as crooked as it could be to my ear! ["Crooked" meaning the measures do not always have the same numbers of beats! Some measures have 5 beats! Some have more. And they never seemed to be the same measures!] Or as Casey explained in an email to us all: "Ooooh. I like that. Very cool. So basically the chorus and the break always start out the first and third phrases with that 5-beat measure, and the verses are not technically crooked, but those phrases vary in length depending on the verse. Is that right?" To which Kathy responded: "Casey- so succinctly described, too bad you weren't there for the recording to help me understand it!"

I never DID understand it, but luckily all I had to do was vamp. And as we all know, nobody listens to the vamping! Casey was simply incredible with her playing of this song (and all the other songs). When I complimented her on how easily she picked up this difficult number, she replied, "You know, I learn two new songs a week off of recordings so I can teach them. It's what I do." Yep.

The second thing I'll tell you is this: In the harmony arrangement for Casey's number This Weary Heart You Stole Away, Laurie was taking the low tenor. In order to better understand and "hear" her part, she asked Casey and me to sing our parts together while she listened to us. To which I responded by saying, "This is my worst nightmare. Having to sing the baritone part while Laurie Lewis is listening." I was only kidding a little bit. Baritone is not my strong suit, hearing intricate harmony parts is not my strong suit, and singing on perfect pitch is not my strong suit either. Laurie is fabulous at all of these! But she was so gracious. All she said was, "I'm just trying to find out where my part is. Any mistakes that you hear in the trio will be mine. The tenor goes really low." She is so classy!

All these women were classy. And they totally kicked ass in rehearsal and on stage! What fun! I tried hard to consciously "be in the moment" and enjoy every note we played. And I pretty much did!

For another take on the concert, I asked Ben to write a short paragraph. He and daughter Kasey are up at Elkins for the full week. Ben is in the bass class, and Kasey is in the banjo class. Ben said he got up early and skipped going to the gym (!) to write this.

"Okay, Murphy asked me to send a paragraph on my take of the concert put on last night here at Elkins by seven wonderful women. As Murphy's normal self, she was poking herself out behind the curtains during Ned’s introductions. Which brought out the laughs. And as she walked out on stage heading towards the microphone you could tell that a summer thunderstorm couldn't have this much energy. The gender-altered version of Glendale Train was a hit. The line up of ladies was fabulous with each performing a few numbers and the individual breaks by this women were remarkable. But as I see it these women just didn't hold their own. These women were leaders!! The kind of entertainers worthy of following. The SteelDrivers were great but I'd almost bet my old Arbor-wear baseball cap that if a vote was taken...well, you know where I'm going.

But Murphy is right when it comes to the gender thing in Bluegrass. I truly see it now. Mostly because of this camp. Even in my class I noticed from comments made that women are kinda snubbed. That's my interpretation. But I'll finish with this. We folks in and around Winchester are blessed beyond measure that we have Murphy and Casey at our fingertips. When we arrived at Elkins me and Kasey heard folks talking about the Henrys and it's 99% good. I feel like a spy. And so you know, Murphy, the 1% that is left...well, I have been enlightening them in my own unique way! So from Red back home watching Dalton, to Chris in Nashville carrying on the name, to Murphy's and Casey's never-ending lessons and jams we pray that you Henrys never quit. You're loved by many! That's all folks!"

Thanks, Ben! Ben has spend the week learning scales on the bass (his homework was to write them out!) and Kasey is learning to read tab! She's also been learning to contra dance. Whoo hoo!

Thanks for reading this far. Now, time to go rescue Red from his babysitting duties. A HUGE thanks to him because without him to take care of Dalton, it was be darn near impossible for Casey and me to do all these lessons and jams and banjo camps. I try to "do my little part," but Red does most of it! Thanks, Granddaddy! Rock On!

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