Fiddlin' AroundNancy Buchan

Fiddlin’ Around – February 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerEnvision festivalEnvision Fest time is rolling around again, and most of us here in Dominical are happy for the diversion and happy to witness the folks attending the fest’s commitment to global and spiritual ideals and progress. Over the years I have met many young people with lofty goals who came here hoping to meet others with the same interests, and clearly this festival is not just about the music. Actually, it’s not even mainly about the music—it’s about yoga and meditation and healing arts and dance and permaculture and visual art and global awareness and eco-consciousness and alternative lifestyles. But browsing through the bios of some of the live musicians, I must confess that I do not understand a lot of the labels that are used now to describe different types of music. I have nothing but vague ideas of what global bass is, or glitch hop, or psydub, or what makes it sacred drumming as opposed to plain old drumming.

2 guys playing drums and fluteIt’s hard for me to relate to relentless rhythms and electronically produced sounds. I’m not going to apologize for that—I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of melodies and meaningful lyrics and harmonies and exploration of sounds produced by actual people, not machines. To me much of the techno stuff is just taking a cheesy 60s style drum machine from the mediocre band at the local Hotel Notell and elaborating on it. But I will defend anyone’s right to listen to what they want, and truth be told I can sometimes be found dancing along…

There are several stages at Envision, and the beautiful yet functional designs used to showcase what is happening on them is inspiring. Outstanding artistry and imagination goes into their making. You’re gonna have to go to the Envision 2019 website and read up on the different acts and which stages are used for techno or dance or acoustic or reggae so you can find the musical medium you like. The Sol stage is described as having big band music, but I am pretty sure they aren’t talking about Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman. But I’m clueless about what it is. It’s hard for me to tell by the names whether it is a DJ or a band or a combination of both. I am happy that reggae music still has a place at this festival—I like reggae and over the years it has been an important genre both musically and politically. There will be plenty of jamming going on—especially with drums and flutes and homemade instruments. To me, sitting on the beach with a bunch of others banging on stuff and being mesmerized by a bonfire is time well spent!

Bob MarleyThe great Jamaican musician Bob Marley wrote a song back in the late 70’s about jamming. It was a celebration of sorts—an enthusiastic anthem for the Rastafari movement and an effort to take music outside of the socially deprived areas of Jamaica to an international audience and help foster regional peacefulness. He says the word jammin’ about 35 times in the song, but here are some of the other lyrics,

I wanna jam it wid you and I hope you like jammin’ too… Ain’t no rules, ain’t no vow—we can do it anyhow, I and I will see you through. ‘Cos every day we pay the price with a little sacrifice…”

It was troubled times in Jamaica in 1976—rival political factions were warring on the streets in tense anticipation of the election between Michael Manley’s Peoples National Party (who were affiliated with Cuba and Russia) and the Jamaican Labor Party (dubbed CIAga because of American Secret Service support). Marley understood all the unrest, but was planning a free concert that would not be in support of either party.

No bullet can stop us now, we neither beg nor we won’t bow. Neither can be bought or sold. We all defend the right—Jah children must unite—your life is worth much more than gold.

One day while the band and their families were smoking ganja and rehearsing, their peace was forever shattered by thugs with automatic weapons. Marley was injured, but not killed, and when he returned from his self-imposed exile in England the song turned into a sort of mystical ritual to cast out the plague of political violence. But the theme of this song has endured, “True love that now exists is the love I can’t resist—so jam by my side.” Love, peace and jammin’!

Jam sessionNow my stodgy old dictionary says that a jam session is a musical event, process or activity where musicians play by improvising, without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements. Fair enough. Jamming together often helps musicians develop new material, find appropriate arrangements, or simply exchange thoughts at a communal practice session. It’s also a great way for less experienced musicians or week-end players to noodle around within a loose musical framework that they can understand. It will help them hone their rhythmic skills and explore melodic possibilities in a less structured and friendlier environment. ‘Course it can also drive an experienced player nuts when the noodling gets redundant and no one will end the freaking song…

The Gibson guitar people claim the origin of the word ‘jamming’ is in reference to music played at the Black Musicians Union Hall in Kansas City in the early 1900s. The late night playing between the musicians got so popular that they crowded up or jammed up the stage—hence the name. In the 20s both black and white musicians would hang together after their gigs to play the fun stuff they couldn’t indulge in on stage. One story said Bing Crosby loved to show up and sing, and the jazz cats said he was “jamming the beat”—clapping on the 1 and the 3, instead of on the offbeat. Geez, just like a white guy… For jazz musicians it was a fertile meeting place and proving ground, and the skill standard of the musicians was pretty high, so it kept out those who couldn’t keep up.

Bluegrass players are always jamming—at a bluegrass festival usually the campfire and parking lot picking is as good and as much fun to listen to as the guys being paid to play on stage. Bluegrass tunes are fairly predictable, and the musicians are almost always welcoming and generous with teaching newbies the songs as they were passed down to them. In a circle of bluegrass players everyone will get the chance to lead a song, or at least to play a solo—about as democratic of a musical enterprise you’ll ever witness, and a whole lot of fun.

Grateful DeadWhich brings me to “Jam bands”—a whole genre the last twenty years or so of musicians who like to free-form it during their performances. Of course the leader of that pack was the Grateful Dead, and there are lots of other bands who are known for playing in that style. Widespread Panic, Phish, Max Creek, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, Further, and others fall into this category. They will throw in ‘quotes’—a melody from some other song that at least for a minute fits into what they are playing. Or someone will play a phrase that leads them into another loosely arranged section of the song. You gotta be on your toes and really listening to your band mates, instead of just relying on counting or rehearsed parts—casual front porch jamming requires the same abilities and is a great training ground for this style of music. For the lazy players, the ability to jam can cover your butt when you don’t have the initiative to rehearse.

Jam Bands initially were somewhat ignored by the media, as they usually don’t have big radio hits, but their followers are loyal and travel great distances to be part of a unique musical experience that won’t happen in the same manner ever again. The Dead encouraged, rather than prohibited, their audience to record them—knowing that the fans would generate a whole other side industry exchanging live recordings and collecting them, which of course meant going to see them play live. Jerry and the boys loved doing the unexpected musically, and loved taking the audience along with them.

So let’s be jammin’! Besides Envision Fest (from Thursday Feb. 28th to March 3rd) there are a bunch of good bands or soloists playing down here in Dominical, so check out the local venues for what’s going on. Kim Carson and I —The Tropi-Cowgirls—are playing every Monday around sunset at Tortilla Flats, and we do a bunch of Kim’s originals as well as some rowdy country standards. We often end up jammin’ with some of the traveling minstrels passing through. Tortillas is also hosting different soloists on Thursday evenings, and Fuego Brew Co. regularly hires soloists or duos inside and bands at their outdoor stage. The G String Cowboys are an interesting and innovative band who combine several styles to create their own sound. Ken Nickell and Shorty Hill from that band have been inviting me to play along at their regular gig Friday nights at Roca Verde and I have really been enjoying their music and their positive attitude! Ben Jammin’ is another accomplished player who enjoys the free-form part of jamming and whose originals show his many influences. Lots of good music going on this month—so have an open mind, join a drum circle or jam under a palm tree with a guy playing a didgeridoo—it’s all about self-expression and FUN!

That’s why I hate to get started in these jam sessions. I’m always the last one to leave! Elvis Presley

It’s very hard to write a song alone. It’s only by jamming that you can get a song together. Maurice Gibb

Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace and abolishing strife. Kahlil Gibran

3 thoughts on “Fiddlin’ Around – February 2019

  • Another great article. I remember the Tea Room at one of the first Envision festivals. And all the good vibes.

  • Bravo Nancy!! So eloquently put!!! Miss ya girl!!!

  • Great article. I had a blast at the Envision Festival in 2011. Love reading Fiddlin’ Around. Look forward to reading them every month.

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