Categories
Musical Adventures

Live in the Land of 10K Streams

Like all performers at this time in history, my gigs for the past month (and foreseeable future) have been cancelled or postponed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to play a livestream set last weekend at a three-day online streaming festival featuring Minnesota musicians called the Land of 10K Streams.

Flying Solo

The festival only required a short 30-minute set of original music from each performer but it was definitely a challenge (albeit a fun one) to take songs that were written and arranged for four and five-piece bands and rearrange them as solo pieces.

I started my musical career as a drummer and had some old drum gear and percussion instruments tucked away in the closet so decided to add a little foot-percussion to the songs. This way I could play with the rhythm between verses, bridges, choruses etc. to add more interest to the arrangements.

Foot percussion rig for livestream
Makeshift foot percussion rig for livestream

I rigged up my old floor tom with a kick drum pedal for some low end on the down beats and then tucked my other foot into a tambourine to add some off-beat rhythmic “sparkle.”

To be honest, it was my first go at this and thought it was a bit clumsy at times. I definitely didn’t spend enough time practicing the foot percussion aspects of the arrangements (too busy figuring out the sound, video, lighting etc.).

That being said, I really enjoyed what the percussion brought to the songs and it’s potential for helping me put together a rocking solo set, so, I am definitely looking forward to continuing to explore its potential.

Given the short set time, I decided to just focus on songs with singing and chose to alternate between the clawhammer banjo and guitar. I played around with some instrumental arrangements on the 3-finger banjo but, as solo pieces, they weren’t quite ready for prime time. 🙂

You have to start (streaming) somewhere

Another cool thing about this festival was that it provided a great excuse to figure out the technology needed to perform live during this age of social distancing. It was just the kick in the pants that I needed to move things forward online.

I have a feeling this fest pushed many of the 60 bands involved pretty hard to figure this live-streaming stuff out in a hurry, which I think is a cool and good for everybody!

Livestreaming isn’t close to the same as performing in front of an audience but, being so isolated for the last month, just seeing the comments scroll across the screen in real-time felt like a connection and made the whole endeavor feel worthwhile!

Here is the full show, enjoy!

SET LIST

1. Missing Ghosts
2. Retreat
3. That Train Has Left the Station
4. Red Lights on the Radio Tower

5. Great Northern Railroad
6. Never Mention Your Name
7. Rewriting My Memories

By the way, the festival featured a really great lineup including Charlie Parr, Chastity Brown, Chris Koza, Dakota Dave Hull, Mark Mallman and many others, you can check out all the great music on the festival’s website.

Categories
Banjo Instruction

Blue Ox Banjo Workshop (why group learning is cool!)

The Banjo Workshop at 2019 Blue Ox Music Festival
Blue Ox Banjo Workshop Class of 2019!

Last month I was invited to teach the banjo workshop at the Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, WI and was reminded of the value of group banjo lessons. As much as I believe in the benefits of one-on-one lessons, group instruction has its own set of advantages, for instance:

You Make Banjo Buddies

I’d say my favorite aspect of the group workshop format is the fact that you are not learning alone and you have the opportunity to meet other people who are on the same banjo journey that you are (even if they are a little ahead or behind you).

The banjo world is fairly small and, depending on where you live, there may not be any other banjo players to talk to, play with or learn from. If you walk away with nothing else from a group workshop, hopefully you feel a little more connected to the banjo world, have a better sense of where you are on the learning curve, and have made some new banjo buddies that you can jam with and stay in contact with after the festival.

The Banjo Hive Mind

Another huge advantege of learning in a group setting is the benefit of hearing the answers to other people’s questions:

  • Some people are just too shy to ask questions and are grateful when someone else raises their hand. They may never have spoken up and now get a chance to learn through other people’s questions.
  • Others are embarrassed to ask a question they feel like they should know already (this was always how I felt). I see this often—a rank beginner asks a very basic question and then others, with more experience, have a “lightbulb moment” and say something like, “I’ve always wondered about that.”
  • Finally, perhaps the biggest advantage is that you get to hear answers to questions that you never even thought to ask. The curse of every beginner is that you really don’t know what you don’t know. However, when you are exposed to the questions of others, it can open up whole new channels of inquiry and expand your banjo universe in ways that you hadn’t yet imagined.

A Place for the Banjo Curious

Lastly, when the workshop is free to anyone attending the festival (which is common practice), it provides a safe place for people who are considering learning the banjo to immerse themselves in banjo instruction and see if it is really something that interests them.

I was truly surprised by how many people showed up to the Blue Ox banjo workshop (at 10am even) just to watch. I made a point to talk to some of those folks without banjos and, at least a few said they were there because they were thinking of taking up the instrument. I’d like to think I converted one or two by the end 🙂

If you’re learning the banjo and get the opportunity to attend a group workshop, I highly recommend you give it a try. As mentioned above, many bluegrass and folk festivals offer them for free as part of the price of admission.

If you don’t have access to one then round up your friends and send me a message—I love teaching private workshops and would love to work with you!