Sunday, July 21, 2019

Notes from Augusta, Week 2: Diary from Blues Music Camp

Augusta Heritage Center is a summer camp for musicians, would-be musicians, and hangers-on who are willing to listen to musicians, held at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia each July. It is a place to practice, perform, pass on, and preserve the music of our continent, including Cajun, country, blues, swing, old time, bluegrass, and other genres.
Week 2 - Blues Week, July 14-20, 2019:

Sun afternoon - register for Blues Week; looks like jam-packed schedule AGAIN. Yikes. Had hoped it would be less hectic, more laid back. Feeling the blues. Or maybe that's just lack of sleep, leftover from last week. (For a recount of Week 1 - Cajun/Country Week, click here.) Or maybe it's the Seattle-like mist and rain.
Sun evening -quick snacks in my room; peanut butter, crackers, apple. Need nap but no time; orientation to Blues Week starting soon. Then a dance. Sleep? Ha ha. That will have to wait a week! Mountain views in between showers.
Monday-Thursday - ya got me running, jogging, staggering crazily to classes, concerts, cultural sessions, lunch, dinner, pick up guitar, put away guitar, which key harmonica? Where's that guitar pick? Oh gee, that hectic schedule sounds familiar. But this week, unlike last week, I skipped the dances and went to bed by midnight.
 Blues guitar instructor Eric Noden, in library of Halliehurst mansion, teaching
"Key to the Highway" in key of G
Plenty to practice in the coming months!

Thursday night- pivotal moments. Woo-hoo! My goal this week was to develop the ability--and confidence--to take an instrumental "break" (i.e., perform an instrumental solo for one verse) during a jam session. I practiced in classes. Got my moment in the sun--actually, under the full moon--at a jam on the porch with some instructors, fellow musicians from the Archie Edwards blues jams in Maryland, and my friend Melissa who lives in West Virginia.
I love meeting up with Augusta friends each year, complimenting each other's musical progress--and complementing each other at the jams 
We sing and play, and sing and play some more, 'til the wee hours, on the porch under a full moon; this is why we come to music camp

Friday afternoon - prolific students this week! Student showcase, four hours long. Very impressive--about half. Promising potential--the other half. 🤭  I performed "Mockingbird" with one of my harmonica classes; see video below. (Soloed in a previous year--video of that performance here).
We huff and puff, and play and sing, along with our instructor, renowned harmonica virtuoso Joe Filisko from Chicago
Oh yeah, it's true, getting old sucks! Sing the blues out, buddy
Fellow students can be very entertaining, showcasing original songs and harmonica tricks; others are more serious about just plain singin' the blues
Friday night - A fabulous, fun dance to close out the week. Prominent blues musicians--Jontavious Willis, Sunpie Barnes, Andrew Alli, others--on stage. Students, instructors, and townspeople taking to the dance floor to shake their booties while the moon comes up, and over, and starts back down again. Sleep? Yeah, no problem. Tomorrow!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Notes From Augusta, Week 1: Diary From Cajun Music Camp

Augusta Heritage Center is a summer camp for musicians, would-be musicians, and hangers-on who are willing to listen to musicians, held at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia each July. It is a place to practice, perform, pass on, and preserve the music of our continent, including Cajjun, country, blues, swing, old time, bluegrass, and other genres.

Week 1 - July 7-13, 2019:

Sun 11 am- Carpool with Sheridan, who leads a Cajun jam in the Washington area. Wind through mountains and hop on the Byrd freeway, a relatively recent road that is truly a mixed blessing--bringing more tourists to West Virginia but also revolting, polluting chicken factories. Many a mountain was cut down to build it.
Sun 3 pm - Register for Cajun/Country Week. Delighted to see friends from previous years, from Michigan, Pennsylvsnia, Florida, Vermont. Laugh a lot! Heavy rain here. Misty mountain views when the clouds clear, just like in the John Denver song.
Almost heaven: shades of blue and gray in the West Virginia mountains

Sun 8 pm - The first dance with old and new friends, Cajun two-step and Country honky-tonk.
Mon-Fri 9 am- 1 am- The daily schedule: race crazily here and there all over campus for classes, cultural talks, music jams, concerts, dances, lunches, errands, pick up guitar, put away guitar, put on raincoat, take off raincoat. It rains a lot. Take off my suede shoes to keep them dry, and run around barefoot. Try to find a few minutes at lunch time for a nap. Ha ha, that never works. 
The daily "formal" Cajun jam, with professional musicians from southwest Louisiana; a place for beginning and intermediate fiddlers and accordionists to practice in the background; guitarists make up the rhythm section.
Tutoring the next generation: kids from southwest Louisiana come to Augusta on scholarship; they can play every instrument and sing most of the songs--in high-pitched pre-adolescent voices. Every morning they participate in the formal Cajun jam.

Mon-Thur 4 pm - An informal Cajun music slow jam (at a jam, musicians practice/perform in a group; usually take turns singing and performing instrumental solos, or "breaks"). Held on the beautiful wrap-around porch of Halliehurst, the elegant manor house at the center of the college.

 The beautiful Halliehurst mansion, now part of the college, is the venue for many of our daily activities
The afternoon Cajun jam, informally organized by Sheridan (who I carpooled with), me, and my Michigan friends, is the highlight of my week. I get to sing, play, laugh with old friends.
Julie from New York on accordion, Ellen from West Virginia on bass, Nancy and Sheridan on guitar
John from Michigan keeps me entertained with humor and cheer, especially when I'm having trouble staying awake

We play and sing for a couple of hours, lingering--oh please, just one more song! Reluctant to stop; we don't get to do this very often at home.The tradeoff: no time for dinner! Munch on a granola bar while racing crazily to the 6 pm class. I am energized, happy.
 Dinner? Who needs dinner? Let's keep playing! (yawn)

Mon-Thurs 6 pm - Country harmony class. Finally singing harmony again fter a 45-year break, having quit church choir at age 17. This evening class is optional. The tradeoff: no time for dinner! A few crackers with peanut butter. More rain.
Fri 1:30-4:30 pm- The big day! I perform "Ouvre Cette Porte" and "Fool's Waltz" with my Cajun vocals class and a Carter family song with my Country harmony class in student "showcase."
Singing Cajun in front of other students, in the outdoor dance pavilion at the back of the campus
The Louisiana kids perform a Mardi Gras favorite, complete with handmade Mardi Gras masks--the kind that traditionally allows participants to act up and be naughty with anonymity

Fri 5:00 - Week 1 winds down. Hugs,  promises. Come see me sometime! Dinner and a nap; more rain. Dress up for the last dance.

Weekend in between Weeks 1 and 2:

Sat 11 am - Scenic train ride from Elkins to the High Falls of the Cheat River; a beautiful sunny day; looking forward to catching up on sleep tonight!!

Taking the Tygart Flyer to the High Falls of the Cheat with my friend Sheridan
Sat 10:00 pm-Sun 1:30 am (yes, middle of night) - No sleep after all! Instead, the BEST Cajun music jam, with professional musicians arriving early for Blues Week. A Cajun from Louisiana, here to teach blues piano, playing accordion. A blues harp instructor who is also an expert in Cajun harmonica. Three of the musicians I jam with back at DC. Crowded into a corner of the Halliehurst porch. I get to sing and play with the big boys--a rare treat, even here at Augusta. Try out two new songs I learned this week, probably mispronouncing and possibly getting the melody wrong. (Grin.) Yawning. Stumbling back to room for a catnap.
Cajun and blues musician Sunpie Barnes, from New Orleans--jamming with ME! 
(photo from Augusta website)

Sun afternoon - Cajun group gone; blues folks arriving soon; meanwhile, dead quiet on campus. Time to myself, to wash clothes, eat something, nap. Swim 50 lengths (25-yard pool); a mini-attempt to get back into my fitness groove. Missing my daily fitness classes, but no time to exercise here!

And I'm only halfway through! Week 2 is just getting started. Dark circles under eyes. Groggy; stumbling on stairs. Eyesight blurry. Throat scratchy. Will I make it through another week??!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Two Faces of Travel, Part 1

Most of you probably see this picture and think: toes in the white sand, mai tai at the beach bar. I look at the same picture and imagine sunburn and biting sand flies.

This is my nature; I can't help it. I'm a perfectionist pessimist.

When I'm here at music camp, I make an effort to tell people I'm in the beautiful green mountains of West Virginia--even though I'm really suffering from the humidity and disappointed with the dining options (canned/fried cafeteria food and sugar-laden continental breakfasts). 
Not to mention the twice-daily deluge of rain. Pretty clouds--no, spectacular clouds!--drop thousands of gallons of water, overwhelming storm drains, flooding sidewalks, and soaking my brown suede shoes. I have to wrap my guitar in plastic bags.
Yes, travel can be two-faced for a perfectionist pessimist like me. I have a roomy, quiet room but miss my own bed. I am enjoying the camaraderie of fellow musicians while pining for my partner's home-grown vegetables. I feel lost without a car waiting for me curb-side. (I carpooled to West Virginia.) Although I'm walking miles each day among lush grass and trees, I miss the classes at my local gym. (Because it is on pavement....see the point?)

Most of all, I am concerned about the availability of medical care, due to an injury the day before leaving as well as ongoing physical infirmities.

One of the things I appreciate about music camp is the uninterrupted ability--or should I say expectation--to practice, practice, practice. There is no TV and marginal internet. No job, no volunteer obligations, no social invitations. Just classes, playing together, and practice.
That said, you naturally might expect me to become a more accomplished musician by the time I return. Do me a favor: hold me to that. Test me on it. 

After all, that's the goal of this particular round of travel,