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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Carolina Chocolate Drops in New Haven

Carolina Chocolate Drops on stage at New Haven's
International Festival of Arts and Ideas
Photo by my old shipmate and friend, Wojtek Wacowski.
It is no secret that I'm a traditional music junkie.  Past posts about Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, and John McCutcheon testify to that.  I've been getting banjo notables to sign my banjo for a good while now and I've got a list of people that I'd like to track down and have them sign my banjo.  The members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops have been at the top of my list for some time, but their tour schedule rarely brings them to the northeast.

A few weeks ago, Kimberly the Ever Vigilant happened to see that the Drops were scheduled to appear at a free concert on the New Haven green as part of the
International Festival of Arts and Ideas so, this past Saturday, Kimberly, Ian and I packed our trusty orange picnic blanket and a variety of yummy munchies and made our way for an evening of musical bliss.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops had their beginnings at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC, and honed their traditional Afro-Appalachian string-band music playing with then-90-year-old African-American fiddler,
Joe Thompson (1918-2012).  Their set-list includes a lot more than string band music from the 1920s, though, incorporating disparate influences such as the music of minstrel shows, and Celtic "mouth music" as well as hip-hop and rhythm and blues, sometimes all at the same time.
Dom plays my banjo, with Hubby and Leyla.
Rhiannon is obscured by glare and my poorly placed body.
Last Saturday, the Drops put on a fine show, performing favorites like "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," and "Cornbread and Butterbeans," as well as a traditional Haitian song about a musician whose romantic prospects are limited because he has no friends and no family, and the title track to the band's latest album, "Leaving Eden," a song about the sorrows of leaving home in the hopes of finding work elsewhere.

After the concert, the members of the band were available for autographs and all seemed very happy to sign my banjo, looking at the other signatures.  "I'm going to sign next to Peggy!" said Rhiannon, excitedly.  Hubby signed/doodled his signature, with drawings standing in for letters.  Leyla, who isn't a regular performer with the Chocolate Drops, but who had played banjo beaufitully, asked, "Are you SURE you want ME to sign this?"  I did.  Dom's signature was small and careful and then he spent a minute or so playing my insturment, while the rest of the people in line watched in what I'd like to believe was pleasure.

My banjo head continues to fill up.
CCD signatures are transcribed for your reading pleasure.

Thanks to Charlie Barrett, for shooting video of Saturday's event and posting it to his YouTube channel!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting My (Band) Geek (Back) On!

Me, at 15, in the Patrick Henry
High School Marching Band
uniform that my band wore for a
Valleydale Sausage commercial.
We used the proceeds from the
commercial to buy new uniforms.
When I was in high school, I was a band geek.  I played trumpet in the jazz band.  And the wind ensemble.  The marching band, too.  I was also in the regional band one year.  I loved it!

The Patrick Henry High School Marching Patriots were a competition band and attended (and won) numerous competitions.  Almost every year, we went on a major trip: Lakeland, FL; Gatlinburg, TN, and -- for my senior year -- Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the North American Music Festival, where my band won the grand champion trophy, despite the fact that we were competing against many larger bands.

Me, at 16, in my high school
marching band's new uniform,
complete with half cape and
1980s eyeglasses.
Years ago, when my then three-year-old son decided that he wanted to learn to play violin, I was happy, envisioning the day when Ian, Kimberly, and I would be able to make music together, on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.  I was an "orchestra dad" when Ian was in the Fine Tuners in New Jersey, schlepping the official Boys in Hats sound system to Fine Tuners gigs and even providing narration for The Devil Went Down to Georgia in a series of concerts.

Ian in Norwalk's
Memorial Day Parade.
 When Ian started playing clarinet, I was happy about that, too.  In fact, I was band-geekily-giddy about it as I remembered my band experiences.  Kimberly (who used to play flute in the school band) and I suffered through those first years of school band, with squeaky clarinets and blatty trumpets.  It was, after all, karma; we were paying back all those band parents who "got to" listen to us play when we were beginning musicians.

When Ian made it to high school, I stepped up to the role of being a band dad, getting fingerprinted so I could chaperone the band on trips, attending all of the band parent association meetings, volunteering to be the announcer for the band's annual Celebration of Sound competition, and walking with the band during parades to help keep them hydrated and to help out if anything should go wrong.

My big problem with walking along with the band is that it tears up my head to be out of step with the marching cadence and it looks rather stupid if I march along with my water bottle.  For good or ill, once marching band gets in your blood, it is there to stay.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Ian's band, the Brien McMahon Marching Senators, had two parades: one on Sunday in Rowayton and one on Monday in Norwalk.  As the band was warming up on Sunday, I happened to notice some decidedly non-high-school-age people getting ready to march in another band.  One was a woman with a bit of gray in her hair.  Several of the guys sported facial hair that had more salt than pepper.  "Marching band for grown-ups!" I thought, "How can that be?" and I went over to ask some questions.

Ian and me after the Ketonah, NY,
Firefighters' Carnival Parade.  
It turned out that the group was the Nash Drum Corps.  Back in 1944, the Nash Engineering Company (headquartered in Norwalk) started an employees-only drum corps to march in local parades.  Though Nash Engineering is no longer in Norwalk, the drum corps continues with a variety of folks who have decided to keep the tradition alive.  I asked one of the trumpet players, Ron, what it took to join and he almost stuck me in a uniform then and there, but I had a commitment to Ian's band.  The next week, though, Ian and I went to Ron's house and got outfitted in uniforms so we could march in the Katonah, NY, Firefighters' Parade.  I spent the next week practicing the 2nd Trumpet part to several songs, and Ian brushed up on the Manual of Arms, since there's no place for a clarinet in the drum corps.

The parade on Wednesday was fantastic, with Ian anchoring the front line and me having a blast getting to play trumpet in a marching band for the first time in nearly a quarter century.  Really, it's just like riding a bike; you don't forget.  The marching was great, the music was under-rehearsed but good.  The best thing, though, was the fact that I was able to march with Ian.  That was cool beyond belief.