Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Feel

If you're anything like me, you've heard a musician take a mind-blowingly hot break and stopped to wonder, "What does (Charles Sawtelle/Tim O'Brien/Vassar Clements/David Grisman/Bill Monroe/Earl Scruggs/Don Reno/David Grier/etc/etc/etc) have that I haven't got?"

To be sure, there is some sort of intrinsic physical talent there; some people are simply able to move their music makers faster, more precisely, with greater alacrity than others. I have to assume the best of the best also have some sort of distinct mental acuity; the amount of time between the realization, "This is what is coming up next" and the decision, "Ah ha! this is what I'm going to do!" is shorter for some than it is for others.

But no, I'm not interested in the purely objective, measurable differences. What I've started to obsess over is much more subjective, much less rigorous, almost ... metaphysical. In the absence of a better term, I've started to call it ... "The Feel".

The Feel is hard to define, but I suspect if I do my job correctly you'll know what I mean.

If you're a newbie, you'll mainly know The Feel by suffering its lack: When you're struggling with that new bit of sheet/tab and you can't hear the melody in your head and you can't produce it on your instrument EVEN THOUGH you've heard the tune a hundred times, thats The Feel. Or, more precisely, the ghost of The Feel, the tiny Feel-fish that slips through your grasping fingers.

If you're an intermediate player, you may have some passing acquaintance with The Feel. Like a fair weather friend, it may come to visit without warning, puff you up for a brief moment, and then vanish without a trace. The Feel may come to you, making that one break that you've struggled with for weeks suddenly come out sweet and effortless; that ludicrous finger-wrecking chord progression will ring out smooth and clear. But like that not-such-a-great-friend, The Feel will desert you when you need it most (usually at the jam circle), and fumble fingered frustration will be your one true companion.

And while yours truly only has hypothetical understanding of this, I have to assume that expert and/or pro players have somehow managed to master The Feel, to train it, or somehow find out where it lives and what kind of candy it likes, because they play with the bit between The Feel's teeth. While brilliance may not show its sparkle all the time, it is there often enough to make us mere humans know the difference between those who have The Feel and those of us who do not. For these lucky few, The Feel is the bridge, the glowing path of the id's impulsive drive through the transformative creative crucible to the medium that
is the musician's instrument. Conscious thought has little to do with it -- The Feel reigns supreme.

It may be that all of this is but an illusion cooked up in a feverish flatpicker's brain. I have to be willing to accept that possibility. But, I don't know what else to call it when it physically -hurts- to hit the wrong note -- the brain winces, the sense of revulsion rises. Conversely, the bliss, the ecstatic joy of making it through the break without blowing it, and whats more, actually hitting that hot lick at the right time and getting a nod of approval from your jam-mates -- that bliss is too real to ignore.

I call that path -- the process of converting the wince into the bliss -- the pursuit of The Feel, and that pursuit is the reason why I pick my instrument every day, and play.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quicklink: flatpicker hangout tab archive

check it out, there are about 50 different tunes in there, mostly fiddle but some singing tunes as well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Some songs to learn

Dumping this list 'cuz I keep losing the little pieces of paper.

Why Did You Wander
My Saro Jane
Washington County
Country Boy Rock 'n' Roll
Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong
Home In the Mountains
Will you be Loving Another Man
All the Good Times are Passed and Gone
My Blue Eyed Darlin
Going Back to Old Kentucky
Hills of Roane County
Dill Pickle Rag
Sweet Potato Rag
She's no Angel

Quicklink: Pickin' in SF GG Park

From the fj-list

Saturday, May 9
Dahlia Dell Picnic Area @ Fell and Stanyan, Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco
free/all welcome
Presented by the California Bluegrass Association
Free drawing for tickets to the
CBA Father's Day Festival
Details coming soon!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

04/02/2009 RWC/5th Qtr Jam Report

Ah, spring is here. The days are longer, the nights are warmer, something about moonshine. Yeah.

I think the jam has hit critical mass and is just about self-sustaining. Folks are showing up without even really knowing how/where they heard of us. I think this is a good sign -- the jam has had enough impact to permeate into the collective, er, subconscious of the local bluegrass scene.

Or something like that.

In any case, the warmer and longer days mean that the 5th quarter jam is a sunny affair, where we hike up the blinds and let the evening sun keep us company whilst we pick. If we're lucky, we don't have to run the heat, for which the instruments thank us.

I've also noticed a movement away from the 'same old stuff' phenomenon. Yes, of course, we still play a lot of standards, but I've also noticed that folks are making the effort to bring out new (old) material to play at the jam. I think this is the sign of a healthy jam.

Here's the attendance list (best as I can remember) and the jam-setlist. UPDATE: Thx to Patrick for helping with Michael's name.

In attendance:
5 guitar: Linda G, Mark H, Michael S, Chris and a gentleman who gave me his name but was promptly .. lost. I'm sorry. I blame all the fast living in my youth. Michael S was HOT on the flatpicked Martin. I'm glad he came and hope he comes on back again.
3 banjo: Autumn, Robert, Jerry
1 dobro/saw: Patrick
1 mandolin: Dan (and darling daughter)

Some songs played:
Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke
Mother's Not Dead (She's Only a'Sleeping)
Red River Valley
I Saw the Light
Lonesome Road Blues
Turkey in the Straw
Cripple Creek
Cherokee Shuffle
Blackberry Blossom
Foggy Mtn. Breakdown
Cumberland Gap
My Home Aint in the Hall of Fame
Little Maggie

I'm sure I missed about 30% of songs played. I know that the new gentleman picked a couple of tunes that, like his name, have flown the proverbial coop. Ah well. I'll bring a pen and paper next week.