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??!

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