Thursday, January 11, 2018


The 36th Annual Pat Strawhun* Memorial Winter Bluegrass Festival was held this past weekend at the Six Flags Holiday Inn in Eureka, Missouri. Thirty-six years, but the first time for yours truly to attend.

And I'll almost certainly be back.

It was a great show, featuring a Friday evening show and a Saturday afternoon and evening show. My buddy Dale went Friday, and my brother and I (along with Busterboy) went Saturday.

The hotel is a massive, sprawling building, overlooking Interstate 44 southwest of St. Louis. It sets on a hill, so that the 3rd floor (where we stayed) is accessible from the outside as well as in, and has numerous hallways and wings and banquet/meeting rooms as well as an indoor swimming pool and recreation area -- known as a "Holidome" back in the day.

We saw Possum Trot (great band name!), That Dalton Gang, Riverbend (from Alton, IL), the Bakers, and David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition. Each band did a set in the afternoon and another during the evening show. Parmley and his fine new outfit (Steve Day, fiddle; Steve Thomas, mandolin, fiddle; Dale Perry, banjo; and Ron Spears, bass) were the headliners, and rightly so. They did great stuff, such as Randal Hylton's "32 Acres" and gospel and folk standards such as "Working on a Building" and "Darcy Farrow." All delivered with superb showmanship, humor, and great stage presence.
That Dalton Gang
The future of solid, hard-driving traditional bluegrass is in good hands. Exhibit A: That Dalton Gang, featuring teen sisters Cheyenne and Mattie Dalton and their three young (oldest: age 20) bandmates. Exhibit B: The Bakers, a family band from Birch Tree, Missouri, featuring mom (Carrie) on guitar, sons Trustin (17) on fiddle and Elijah (14) on bass and daughter Carina (16) on mandolin. Both exhibit great family harmonies (of course!) and an appreciation for quality "older" material such as "Gentle on My Mind," which the former did, and "Lovers Hit Parade," done by the latter.
The Bakers
Riverbend has a new breath of life with the recent addition of veteran St. Louis-area musician Greg Silsby. He sang a great lead on standards such as "Drink Up and Go Home," and the rest of the quintet from Alton chipped in wonderful licks on such Monroe classics as "Big Mon" and "Cheyenne." Possum Trot features a face from the past -- Herbie Johnston, former fiddler with Second Exit, a solid band from Missouri's staple of '90s bluegrass bands.
And both shows were more than amply emceed by Walter and Willa Volz. Congrats to the committee for another excellent festival!

*A key figure on the bluegrass scene in this part of Missouri, Pat served on the MABC (Missouri Area Bluegrass Committee) for 38 years. She died in 2014.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2017 Desert Night Acoustic Music Camp

Mesa near Tucumcari, NM
After flying to northwest Arkansas, Jim and I left early last Wednesday for New Mexico in the old Ford Focus that used to be mine. We encountered intermittent rain and cloudy skies most of the way, through Tulsa and Oklahoma City and west Texas, until just east of the New Mexico state line. Then the skies cleared, giving us a wonderful desert sunset.

We had supper at Taco Villa in Amarillo, then bought gas for a young couple en route from Montana to Tennessee. In Tucumcari, New Mexico, we checked into the Desert Inn, a locally owned hotel, as night was falling. It falls quickly here in the desert. We then drove to a nearby eatery, Ken's, for some ice cream.

Making merry in Tucumcari.

We woke to rain the next morning -- always a welcome sight for those who dwell in the desert, not so much for us visitors. We drove in it to Albuquerque, where the skies cleared and the temperature heated up. I bought some Martin mandolin strings at the Guitar Center.

Jim in front of Ken's in Tucumcari
After our PBJ lunch, we went for a hike at the Rio Grande Nature Center, Albuquerque's "urban oasis" located near the Rio Grande river. It is a bosque, a Spanish word meaning (according to Wikipedia) "an oasis-like ribbon of green vegetation, often canopied, that only exists near rivers, streams, or other water courses. The most notable bosque is the 200-mile-long ecosystem along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico." It welcomes 130,000 visitors per year and provides indoor and outdoor education for groups of school children.

From there, we headed south for Truth or Consequences, the last town of any size before the ascent to our destination in the Black Range Mountains. At T or C, we bought groceries for the weekend at a Wal-Mart.

Then we bid adieu to civilization as we know it and began the gradual ascent to Kingston (elevation, 6000 ft.) along the curving, winding, two-lane Highway 152. Steep dropoffs provided excellent views as well as a good reminder that I wasn't in central Illinois anymore.

We arrived at the Black Range Lodge, our home for the next three days, in time to meet some fellow campers before enjoying an excellent supper of vegetable lasagna, garlic bread, and salad. This was followed by an orientation in the "classroom" -- a building adjacent to the lodge. Here we met the faculty and got the schedule for the weekend.

Then, after our long day, it was time to retire for the night.

Black Range Lodge in Kingston, NM
Friday was the first full day of the camp. After breakfast, everyone congregated in the classroom for group warmups. This was a series of stretching, breathing, and vocal exercises lasting about an hour and led by Anne Luna and Chris Sanders. Both are members of the host band, the Hard Road Trio.

The instrument workshops followed. Instruction was available for banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, and vocals. Jim attended the bass session taught by Anne. I went to the mandolin workshop at the Percha Creek House, across the street from the lodge. Percha (Spanish for perch) Creek flows behind the house. Steve Smith, the third member of the host band, taught this session. Smith is an accomplished instrumentalist in many styles, from bluegrass and folk to jazz and Celtic.

Faculty jam (l. to r.): Tom Adler, Anne Luna, Steve Smith, Ezra Bussmann,
Alan Munde, Chris Sanders
After lunch, more instrumental workshops followed. Ezra Bussmann taught the mandolin session this time. He grew up near Kingston in a musical family (his father, Bill, is an accomplished luthier) and has won championships in mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and guitar. And that's in his spare time. He works full-time as a scientist in Albuquerque.

After a brief break, the third session of this musically intense day took place. I attended another mandolin session taught by Steve, then had supper with Jim. That night, the faculty gave a concert in the classroom. I stayed for only part of it, as it was very warm in the building and I was tired.

A New Mexico dawn
Jim and I enjoyed a vigorous, cool, early-morning walk on Saturday. I took a break from all that mandolin instruction of the day before and attended a finger-picking guitar class taught by Micky Rigby (from Little Rock, AR) and Buddy Winston -- both excellent pickers in the style of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed.

After lunch I had another mandolin class with Steve, then visited a nearby local history museum housed in the Percha Bank building. In the ensuing band scramble, I was teamed with Micky (guitar), Bill (banjo), Marty (bass, lead vocal), and Louis (fiddle, harmony vocal). Our "coach" was Tom Adler. We rehearsed two songs, "Two Dollar Bill" and "Redwing," and then performed them in the classroom later that night. Jim's ensemble did "Who'll Sing for Me."

Jim's makeshift ensemble performing during the Sunday stage show
On Sunday morning I had my last mandolin class of the workshop, this time with Ezra. A "rhythm summit" followed in the classroom, which was a panel discussion with each member of the faculty giving his or her ideas on rhythm and timing and such. Alan Munde told some great stories from his days as a Sunny Mountain Boy with Jimmy Martin.

The "really big shew" began at 3:00 that afternoon. The community was welcome to attend. And some actually came. Being the in-demand bass player he is, Jim played with his ensemble from the night before and with the makeshift ensemble pictured above. My ensemble did a repeat performance from the night before.

After that, we hit the road, making it to Tucumcari (yes, the Desert Inn again) around 11:00 pm. The long drive to Bella Vista was accomplished the next day, and on Tuesday I flew home to Springfield.

So sweet to be reunited with my Busterboy!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thinking Big

This book, originally published in 1959, is still motivational today. After all, the human condition doesn't change. And David Schwartz had some good insights into the human condition. Here are some examples:

"Success is determined not so much by the size of one's brain as it is by the size of one's thinking." (p.2)

"Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life." (p.14)

"All confidence is acquired, developed." (p.50) -- For those of us who always lack self-confidence, this is practically a revelation.

"Confident action produces confident thinking." (p.69) -- In other words, just act like you're confident and you will feel confident. Act the way you want to feel.

"Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything." (p.84)

"The price tag the world puts on us is just about identical to the one we put on ourselves." (p.88)

"Believing something can be done sets the mind in motion to find a way to do it." (p.101)

"There is no limit to self-improvement. Capacity is a state of mind." (p.125)

Schwartz writes extensively about the importance of having positive attitudes and thoughts about yourself. In other words, you are what you think you are. Once again, for those of us who incline toward the negative, this is huge.

"Refuse to let others prejudice your thinking." (p.203)

"Don't waste time and energy being discouraged." (p.210)

Our speech, of course, is important as well: "Put vitality into your speaking. ... When you put life in your talk, you put life in you." (p.174) And "get the 'speak up' habit. Each time you speak up, you strengthen yourself." (pp.228-229)

"Action feeds and strengthens confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. ... The saddest words of tongue or pen are these: it might have been." (p.221)

He also is a major proponent of setting goals and planning ahead. "Nothing happens, no forward steps are taken, until a goal is established. ... Get a clear fix on where you want to go." (p.252) Because "energy increases, multiplies, when you set a desired goal and resolve to work toward that goal." (p.260) I've found that to be true, haven't you?

He even offers some investment advice: "The biggest and most rewarding kind of investment is self-investment." (p.270)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Great Pumpkin Patch

The Great Pumpkin Patch is located about two miles south of Arthur, Illinois, in the heart of Amish country. Yesterday it played host to the 5th Annual Chet Kingery Memorial Bluegrass Festival.

A large crowd turned out on a beautiful late summer day for some good Amish cooking, live bluegrass music, jamming, and community -- all in a peaceful country setting. The host band, Mackville, kicked off the festival at noon.

Bluegrass Express, from northern Illinois, soon followed. This band features three generations of Underwoods: Gary; his son, Greg; and his grandson, Jacob. Joining them are Caleb Erickson on lead guitar and Nate Burie on mandolin.

The Harmans, from Shipman, Illinois, were next. This family band includes papa Mike, banjo; mama Stacy, vocals; and their three sons: Mark, Jeff, and John. Midway through their set it was time for the mandolin workshop, held in the nearby schoolhouse.

Wayne Benson, fine mandolinist for Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, was scheduled to lead this workshop. However, due to Russell Moore's recent surgery, the band canceled its appearance. Therefore, Benson was replaced by Darin Aldridge.

Hailing from North Carolina, Aldridge cut his teeth with the Country Gentlemen prior to forming a duo with his wife, Brooke. Good friends with Benson, he is a fine mandolinist in his own right.

The workshop, in the schoolhouse's only classroom, was well attended and quite enjoyable. Aldridge played "East Tennessee Blues" to demonstrate playing the C scale in several different positions. He also answered some questions about technique and then accompanied a workshop attendee as the latter played "Dusty Miller."

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper were on stage when the workshop let out, singing that classic bluegrass tune "Too Late for Goodbyes" by that classic bluegrass songwriter Julian Lennon.

Michael was having a good time in his trademark purple shirt, even referring to his mandolinist as Nathan "Pumpkin Head" Ivers. (Inside joke, I guess.)

After their set, I walked around the grounds some, seeing some goldfish in a nearby stream and stopping to listen to some "parking-lot picking" on the front porch of the Sweet Shop, where I purchased a bag of snickerdoodles.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Case for Christ

Lee Strobel, once a legal reporter for the Chicago Tribune, plays the role of the skeptic he once was in this book that features interviews with 13 of the world's leading historical, archaeological, and Biblical scholars. He challenges them to provide convincing answers to many of the standard objections to the Christian faith, such as "Are the New Testament texts reliable?" and "Is the resurrection of Jesus a historical fact?"

He challenges each, in effect, to make their best case for Christ, to present the credible evidence (eyewitness, scientific, corroborating, circumstantial, forensic, etc.) that Jesus is who he said he is -- the one and only Son of God.

In effect, God is "in the dock" (as the English say), and we are the jurors. It's our responsibility (ultimately) to reach a verdict, to weigh the evidence and come up with the best possible solution based on the facts. It's a decision we all must face, with eternity hanging in the balance.

After facing the avalanche of evidence offered in this book, though, don't be surprised if you discover (as Lee Strobel did) one of the great ironies of life -- that it requires much more faith to maintain our skepticism than to believe in Jesus.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Starvy Creek 2017

I first went to this event July 4th weekend, 1996. Though I've been to the September festival since, this is first time I've been back to the July event. Wow -- 21 years! My how time flies!

I arrived on Friday afternoon to see the Roland White Band. Roland, one of the few bluegrass legends remaining, turns 80 next April. These days he sits on a stool while performing with his band that includes his wife, Diane; Richard Bailey, banjo; Brian Christianson, fiddle; and Jon Weisberger, bass.

Roland White Band

Jim joined me Friday evening for an extended performance (an hour and a half) by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Another bluegrass legend, Lawson will turn 74 next April. And he's still going strong, with a great band accompanying him.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

A pleasant evening, musically and weather-wise, was followed by a fine morning. Jim and I and Buster went to Hidden Waters Nature Park in nearby Marshfield.

Jim and Buster at the park

Saturday afternoon was clear and bright at the festival, not too hot (unless you were in the sun). We saw two Missouri family bands -- the Punches Family and the Bluegrass Martins -- and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper.

Punches Family

Lee Martin of the Bluegrass Martins

And, later in the afternoon, the Gibson Brothers (Eric and Leigh) from New York state took the stage with their fine band.

Gibson Brothers


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sleepless in ... Osage Beach and Jane

Well, not necessarily sleepless ... less-than-adequate sleep, you might say.

Leaving Springfield on Thursday afternoon, my plan was to stay at the Golden Door Motel in Osage Beach, Missouri, near the Lake of the Ozarks. Thinking it would be easy to find, imagine my dismay when the sign on Highway 54 read, "Osage Beach next 6 exits."

Six exits! I thought Osage Beach was a small town! After driving around for a half-hour or so -- and seeing some stunning lake views along the way -- I never did find the Golden Door. But there are plenty of other places to stay, so I pulled in at an Econo Lodge and got a pet-friendly room for the night.

It was a warm and pleasant evening -- the last pleasant weather we would see for a while. I took Buster for two walks, then ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Imo's and settled in for the night. I wanted to get an early start for Bella Vista, so I went to bed early.

I woke up a few hours later, practically sweating. It was very warm in the room, and try as I would, I just couldn't seem to get it to cool down. I turned the fan on the heating/AC unit to the high position, but it didn't seem to make much difference. At least it made enough noise to drown out any outside noise which always is upsetting to Busterboy, my traveling companion.

Eventually, I did get a little more shuteye. I woke up to a rainy morning. Just a light rain, though, as I continued westward on 54 to Nevada, Missouri. That's where I picked up Interstate 49, heading south. I ran into a deluge around Joplin, and it never let up the rest of the way to Bella Vista.

I met up with Mark and Robyn, friends from Portland, at Jim's crib. I hadn't seen them since my last visit to Portland a few years ago, so we had some catching up to do. We drove down to Fayetteville in the rain and spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the University of Arkansas campus.

Plans were to take in a Naturals game (the local minor league team), but that was washed away in all the rain. Instead, we supped at an authentic Mexican restaurant (El Cunado) in Springdale before heading back to BV.

That evening I checked in at the Booneslick (or Boones Lick) Lodge in nearby Jane, Missouri. Quite rustic, as the name implies. Adequate accommodations, though, if not a little noisy. That, and another warm room, interrupted my sleep for a second night in a row.

Saturday was cool and overcast, with intermittent spits of rain -- very Oregon-like, making Mark and Robyn feel at home. We did some shopping in Bentonville after a stop at the library, then lunched at Zaxby's, one of Jim's favorite places. Later, back at the crib, Jim and I did some jamming until it was time to eat again -- pizza at Gusano's.

We closed the cool, damp evening with hot chocolate at Jim's, then it was back to the Booneslick for another sleep-interrupted night. But it wasn't the temperature in the room this time, but the inhabitants in the room above. It sounded like they were moving furniture all night long. Crash, bang, boom! This lasted until 3:30 or so.

Sunshine and a cloudless blue sky greeted us on Sunday. What a welcome sight! We attended service at Calvary Chapel of the Ozarks in Rogers, then lunched at a nearby Freddy's. In the afternoon, Jim and some of his guitar students gave a performance at the Crystal Bridges art museum in Bentonville.

Buster and I then hit the road. I was determined not to spend another night in a hotel, so I drove straight through, with only two stops, arriving home around 11 p.m.