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Recently I spent six wonderful days teaching beginning banjo at Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week in Elkins, West Virginia. It had been many a long year since I’d walked those “green rolling hills of West Virginia” (Hazel Dickens song) and they seemed to have gotten a bit steeper!

One of the highlights of the camp every year is the staff concert. Each teacher chooses a song to perform and picks other teachers to be in their band. In the past, I’ve always done a bluegrass standard because those are so easy to work up. But this time I decided to sing a song I’d just written called “I’m Not Ready To Go Home.” I think of it as a gospel “protest” song.

The first line came from a Louise Penny book I was reading. She was talking about an old woman (Ruth, for you Louise Penny fans) and said, “She could see the shore ahead.” I loved the line and, feeling a song coming on, I wrote it down, personalizing it to “I can see the shore ahead.” Then the words “But I’m not ready to go home” popped into my mind. Soon, the rest of the lyrics starting flowing and by the end of the day (which I had spent playing with my grandson while jotting down more ideas) the song was finished.

I was so excited about it that I drove 30 miles down the road to share it with Teresa, who’s the lead singer in my student band, the Bluegrass Posse. She liked it and said all the things a songwriter wants to hear about a new song and soon we were harmonizing on the chorus. We actually performed the song a few days later at a nursing home, and it sounded so good that I decided I’d sing it at the Elkins camp. Joining me on stage would be Vickie Vaughn and Kimber Ludiker (from Della Mae) playing bass and fiddle and Dudley Connell and Mark Panfil playing guitar and Dobro. Vickie and Dudley would also sing harmony.

The five of us went over the song exactly one time before our sound check Wednesday night. There we sang it twice, working on the kick off, the ending, and the order of the breaks. The harmony parts fell right into place, which is what happens with amazing singers like Dudley and Vickie. Dudley had written out the words to the chorus in big letters with a black marker “just in case” he forgot any of them.

Thursday night, my song was second on the show and I was surprised to find myself nervous. I’m no stranger to performing but it had been a long time since I’d been in front of a big audience. What if I forgot the words to my new song? What if I mispronounced Kimber’s last name? What if my picks fell off? I could feel my hands starting to sweat.

Then, I was being introduced. I bounced up to the mikes as the rest of the band got in place around me. I introduced the musicians and the song. I didn’t forget any names or stumble over any words. I was ready. The band was ready. Now, to kick it off. But, OMG! I couldn’t remember the kickoff! I’d never kicked it off on stage before, and that was a whole different ballgame from kicking it off in practice! What were the pickup notes? No clue. The deer was in the headlights. She couldn’t move.

I had to do something and fast because no one else knew the song well enough to start it. I played three strange and pitiful sounding notes and then stopped. That wasn’t working. Then I made a face. It wasn’t an awful face, but I did look heavenward with an eye roll. (See video below.) Then realizing I had to try again quickly, I played three different pickup notes and went into an all-purpose banjo lick that could go with either a G or a D chord. Unfortunately, the correct chord was C, which was what everyone else was playing. Well, too late to turn back now. I just plowed on through. To my ear, it sounded like an unholy mess but I finally landed on some familiar licks that led us into the chorus and we all started singing in the right place, “I can see the shore ahead but I’m not ready to go home.” After that it was smooth sailing because all I had to do was remember the words and play some banjo backup. Everyone did their part magnificently! We ended as we’d planned by segueing into the chorus of “When the Saints go Marching In.” We finished to loud applause, which was extremely gratifying.

During the intermission, I texted one of my banjo students (and friends) and said, “The song went great but I blew the kickoff.” The return text said, “Sorry! But I love that you blew the kickoff. Now I know you are human!”

Somehow, I found that very comforting. No light-hearted reassurance that “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” Or “I’m sure no one else noticed.” Just an acknowledgement that, yep, you blew it. And the underlining assurance that everything was still fine. Because it was.

After the concert was over and we were all leaving the stage, I picked up the words that Dudley Connell had written out. I brought them home and I’m going to frame them. What a joy to sing on stage with him. And Vickie. And Kimber. And Mark. My cup runneth over.

PS: Vickie Vaughn has just been nominated as IBMA Bass Player of the Year! Congratulations, Vickie!

PPS: When I looked at video of the song, the kickoff wasn’t that bad. If I had just kept going and hadn’t made a face—which is what I tell my students all the time--I don’t think anyone would have noticed!

I’m Not Ready To Go Home

Chorus:
I can see the shore ahead but I’m not ready to go home
Oh, Lord, don’t take me now, my to-do list is too long
I’ve got people that I dearly love and places yet to roam
Oh, Lord, don’t take me now, I’m not ready (ready, ready) to go home.

First verse:
I know I’m just a player in this game that we call life
I know my days are filled with lots of toil and lots of strife
I know you’re holding all the cards and you still call the plays
But if I had my druthers, Lord, I’d like a few more days.

Second verse:
My friends might put a word in, ‘cause they like me hanging round
My fiddling’s getting better, I don’t want to let them down
We play the bluegrass music and we always get a hand
Don’t take me I’m not ready to join the angel band.

Third verse:
So many sings I’d like to sing, so many tunes to play
Until the roll call of the fiddlers on that final judgement day
When Jesus makes the set list out and calls us all again
To play the bluegrass music while the saints go marching in.

Words and music by Murphy Hicks Henry, Arrandem Music, SESAC

Chris Henry

Chris Henry

This video is the first single of the music from an upcoming album to be released before the end of the year.  Chris Lovelace and I have been making music quite a while in different genres.  We've been punk rockers, hip-hoppers, and now we're putting some of our favorite sounds together in what has been described by The Bluegrass Blog as "Alt-County".  I like that, not alt-country, but alt-county.  We're county fellers and though neither one of us grew up farming or hunting, we really do connect with the county vibe.  Chris has two daughters, Lilian and Evelyn, who are just starting kindergarten this year and you can see their initials on his shirt in some parts of the video.  I'm wearing a pin that my grandmother used to wear.

We were initially going to film the video in Luray Caverns. That was the location that the director who came down from New York, Liquid, had chosen. We got there and they said it was a no-go, so we started driving up and down some back roads until we saw a fellow out in a field with a metal detector.  He was looking for civil war stuff and we found out that he knew some bluegrass folks.  As I recall, I believe his wife had maybe sold a house to one of the Yates brothers and might have been related to Earl Taylor, so that was a good connection.  We asked him if he knew a good place to go and he said he had some land up the road.  I asked him if it was purty and he replied "Well, I think so."  And when we got there via a grass path off the main dirt road, it was pretty.  We shot the first part there and then cruised up the skyline drive and shot some footage looking out toward the Shenandoah Valley towards North Mountain, where Chris and I grew up. The last location, where the waterwall is, was in Sterling and I used to pass it going to work and always thought it would be a good scene for a music video.

Liquid rode the MegaBus down from up north and arrived at 5 in the morning in D.C.  I picked him up, late, at about 9 and we shot from about 12 to 8, having lunch in Luray.  We got back to the studio in Sterling and he finished editing about 4 in the morning and I took him back to D.C. and he caught about a 9AM bus back.  So it was a whirlwind 24 hours and Chris and I had a really good time making our first video.  Stay tuned for more Archetones music videos and an album to be release this fall!

Here is a post from over on the Bluegrass Blog about the video shoot. It's over by now, so the call for extras is out of date, but there are a couple pictures...
http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/dixie-bee-liners-video-shoot/

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

I had a completely new experience this week: shooting a music video. The band I play with, The Dixie Bee-Liners, has a new album coming out on November 3rd called Susanville. The opening track and first single (whatever that means in bluegrass) is called "Heavy" and that's the song we filmed.

We shot the video out at Norm's River Roadhouse, a bar and music venue west of Nashville, TN. We filmed from 1:00 p.m-10:30 p.m. I've done a small amount of television work (behind the scenes, not in front of the camera) so it was no surprise that it took that long to film a three-and-a-half minute song. I think Norm was a little surprised, though, that we were still packing up when 11:30 rolled around.

We shot in two locations---in the woods out by the river that runs behind Norm's property, and inside on his basement stage.  We weren't recording audio (since the song from the CD will be the soundtrack), just the picture, so we played along to the CD, piped through speakers, each time we did a take. Over the course of the day we probably played the tune (or mimed the tune) no less than forty times. The next day my forearm was sore from rubbing against the armrest (I'm doing a strummy thing rather than actual three-finger picking on the song) and both my index and middle finger nails were noticeably worn down.

In each location we did four or five takes (well, inside on stage it was closer to ten) where Chris (the guy with the camera) would get wide shots of the band. Then we'd do it at least six more times for closeups---once for each band member. When we came inside to shoot, the extras that we'd recruited (our local friends and students) acted as our crowd so it would look like an actual show instead of us playing to an empty basement, which would have looked lame.

One of our friends from the band Cadillac Sky, David Mayfield, came to help and he was the one who pushed the button to start the music at the top of each take. Toward the end of the night it got a little silly. During one pass he beatboxed along with the track, to our great amusement.

No word yet on when the video will be ready for viewing, but as soon as it's up where you can watch it, I'll let you know.

One final note for the detail-oriented among you. I'm not on the album itself since I just joined the band in August. The banjo on the CD is played by Sam Morrow, but on this track you can hardly hear the banjo at all anyway.