Monday, July 18, 2016

Elkins, West-By-God-Virginia

All too soon, Cajun and Country Week at Augusta Heritage Center came to a close. Students cleared out for home early Saturday, and I and a few other holdovers, waiting for Blues Week to start on Monday, scrambled to find easy non-musical pursuits to rest our overloaded brains.

First, into the mountains to witness the gently unfolding pink petals of rhododendron, along an Otter Creek Wilderness trail.

All alone in the mountains on a beautiful Saturday. Where are all the other hikers, I wondered?? Hearing a shout and scream far ahead, I considered: Kids splashing in an ice-cold mountain stream? Backpackers arguing with mama bear? Or...hikers encountering armed wilderness rednecks? It had not escaped my attention that signs along the trail were peppered with bullet holes.
I paused. Listened carefully. 
Prudence prevailed. Rather than running ahead, potentially to help a wounded walker, I retreated from the mostly deserted Otter Creek Wilderness in favor of a different recreation area--Bear Heaven--that turned out to be just as deserted. But this one had a view.
A quiet day; a pleasant interlude. Yawn.... No music jams tonight; just a good night's sleep in my new AirBnB lodging.

What to do in a podunk town on a sleepy summer Sunday morning? Shops closed. College quiet. Streets empty. No, wait, not completely empty...there's a classic car show in the town square.

And a bustling train station. Then it's aaaaaalllllll aboard for an excursion on a vintage (I.e., old, smelly) diesel train to the High Falls of the Cheat River. (High refers to altitude, not height of the drop.)
Traveling alone? We have a half-empty table reserved just for you, in the Parlor Car. Away from the riff-raff. Enjoy the sophisticated roast beef-and-cheese-with-mustard-sandwich buffet.

"On the left you can begin to see views of the scenic Shavers Fork River." (And--unsaid--trailer homes with outhouses, shot-out windows of wooden shacks, fancy RV parks on the river for rich people.) "As we gain elevation, you will see spectacular river views." Maybe a tad overblown. Still, a quietly pleasant  trip.

We pass the sites of former lumber and coal camps, mostly deserted because they are accessible only by train, and of course those are defunct (except for nostalgic tourist excursions.) Onward and upward. Only to come to an abrupt stop at the start of a 180-degree curve, which our tourist train cannot negotiate. "The sharpest mainline curve east of the Rockies." End of the line for "the little engine that couldn't."
Instead, a little walk in the woods. Then suddenly it's Niagara! Well, quarter-sized Niagara, maybe. And obligatory-picture-taking time.

Then it's aaaaaallllllll aboard again--back down the mountain to Elkins and the rest of the sleepy summer Sunday afternoon

Making Music While the Sun Shines

Here I am in beautiful downtown Elkins, West Virginia, on the campus of Davis and Elkins College. The sun is shining, clouds roll by in a blue sky, and Cajun and Country Week is drawing to a close.
The campus with its Victorian mansions  is lovely, the cool nights a refreshing relief from Washington, with breezes bouncing off the mountaintops.
The last jams with Cajun superstars like Sheryl Cormier, Courtney Grangier and talented youth from Louisiana are diminishing into the last throes of harmony.

What did I learn at music camp? 

-How to master songs in high C, in Cajun dialect, with French R's, employing complex rhythms, thanks to the relentless drills and ministrations of former Mamou Playboy fiddler David Greeley. Always found on the back porch, singing while the sun shines.
-Refining my language technique a bit more precisely, thanks to up-and-coming superstar and multi-instrumentalist Blake Miller.

-Walk-ups and runs on my guitar strings from country singer Lynn Healey--a lesson long overdue after 40 years of fooling around strumming open chords. We worked HARD in class!

Seriously, though, all was not serious. My fellow musicians and I shared a few laughs and the occasional prank.

Thanks to the magical musical wisdom (and humor) of our Michigan friend John, I learned some new guitar grooves: the "air mordant," which quickly leads to the "dominant fifth." (Which John demonstrated. Or are those just cramped fingers, from clutching too many wine glasses?)

The mini-lesson quickly led to a blistering critique of John's potentially bogus musical research by ultra-serious jam leaders Patrick and Terri (or was that just the whiskey talking?). 
It led also to a look of pure unembellished admiration (or was it stupefaction?) from fellow Michigander Frank...

...who promptly put thought into action, trying in vain to coax a reluctant mordant from his stand-up bass.

Ah, the joys of being schooled in music theory and then putting it to the test. Every afternoon and evening people gather on the porch, patio, meadow, lounge, wherever, to make beautiful music while the sun shines and sets, once again, over the hills.