Front Country France Tour Day 1, Le Puy

 

Summer tour is in the home stretch. Over the last month we’ve been all over the; the South, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Alaska, and now France. We’ll be here for a week to play at the Country Rendezvous Festival in Crappone, and the La Roche Bluegrass Festival, next weekend in La Roche. We’re staying in Le Puy for two days, we got in very late last night after about 24 hours of travel. I’ve long since given up trying to get my head around the many time and date changes that occur during international travel. It makes little difference if I know intellectually that I left Anchorage at 3:30 PM on Thursday and landed in Frankfort at around 1pm on Friday after a 9-hour flight (which is exactly what I did yesterday, or was it two days ago? See what I mean?); what my body knows is that is it’s out of time for while, and that’s what I go with. I do my best to get to sleep and get up at a reasonable time once I’m at my destination and take it from there.

 

Easier said than done.

That stop in Frankfurt, on the way to Lyon, was a seven hour layover. It was a happy coincidence that Kimber Ludiker happened to be laid-over in Frankfort at the same time. he came over from another terminal to have a beer, and hang out for a while. Little things like that can make a long, lonesome layover much easier. Thanks, Kimber!

This morning we had breakfast at our hotel, breakfast in continental Europe is steps ahead of it’s UK counterpart. Fresh pastries, fruit, yogurt, good coffee are typical. That’s not to say that I don’t like a good English Breakfast, croissant and cafe’ au lait is just more my speed.  After breakfast we walked around Le Puy for a couple of hours, mostly at the market. It’s a cliche’ to talk about the sights, smells, and sounds of an outdoor market, and for good reason. Unfortunately I woke up with a cold and my nose is stuffed up. The only thing I smelled today were some extremely fragrant olives, which I bought. Otherwise, I’ve been limited to sights and sounds, still pretty good. The market was full of stalls heaped with produce, bread, sausage, and cheese (so much cheese!). As I walked past his table, a vendor waved a paper thin slice of fat-dotted sausage, dangling from the end of very long knife, under my nose. It began to melt immediately in my mouth, the layers of flavor unfolding and blooming one at a time. Food like this is more than sustenance, it’s an expression of the place, of the time of year that it was made, and many more things I’m sure I’m not aware of. If you just scarf it down, something I have been known to be guilty of, you miss all of that.

After a lunch of bread, cheese, fruit, and those olives, I went for a run with Leif and Adam, then on a solo trip to the Chapel of St. Michael of Aiguilhe. The chapel, which sits on a towering rock more that 100 feet above town, was completed in 962 and has remained an active chapel since that time. The walk up to the chapel was grueling, but the just view was worth it; let alone the privilege of being in such an ancient place. Standing inside the chapel, it’s impossible to not feel connected to the people who built the place and to those who have inhabited it, despite the vastness of more than a thousand years between us. On the way back to the hotel I walked through some of the older neighborhoods of Le Puy. Ancient towns like this one have a way of leading you into places that feel private, almost secret, if you walk around for a short while. I found myself in narrow alleys outside of private homes. Though open windows I could hear people inside talking and cooking. I paused  few times to soak in those sounds as they rattled through the narrow streets, I felt briefly that I was really experiencing the place. I’m looking forward to more walks when we get to La Roche tomorrow.

By the way, Front Country has been running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of our new album. We tracked it in May with Wes Corbett, formerly of Joy Kills Sorrow, at the helm as our producer. It’s loaded with fresh-sounding new songs and tunes, we’re all very proud of it. The tracks are being mixed right now by the extremely talented Dave Sinko, who has worked with Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Punch Brothers, and more. We’re extremely excited about this record, and we need your help to release it. We don’t have a label and cannot afford to do it without YOUR help. Please take a moment to visit our Kickstarter page and make a pledge. We have great donor premiums for you to choose from and a promo video which has a few snippets of the music. Thank you!

 

Thanks for reading,

 

JD

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IBMA Award Voting is Open, We Need to Talk.

It’s time to start the voting for IBMA’s annual awards. This is always an exciting time, few things are as professionally satisfying as acknowledging the accomplishments of ones’ colleagues over the last year, recognizing the challenges we all face and suppporting those among us who have stood out the most for their commitment to producing their own best work. This first ballot is an open ballot, which means that voters can write in the name of whomever they feel is deserving of awards, setting the ballot for the following two rounds of voting. If the name of an individual, band, or project doesn’t appear on this ballot, it won’t appear later by magic.

So, before filling out your ballot, please think about your selections. Have the individual players and bands you’re voting for actually had an outstanding year? Have they been out on the road, working hard, playing lots of gigs? Are they active professionals? Is your favorite for Emerging Artist actually a new band? Or is it a new collaboration of veteran players? If it’s the latter, please don’t nominate them for Emerging Artist. They are not emerging. They have already tackled the challenges that new bands and artists face and are not starting from the same place.

You get the idea. This is a personal plea from me to you, IBMA voters; please vote thoughtfully and with the understanding that the awards in October may be the only thing the rest of the music industry, and the public at large, hears about professional Bluegrass music this year. The more those people see the same names over and over the less likely it is that they will take a look at what we’re up to, and the less likely it is that they will take us and our music seriously.

Most importantly, our continual failure to recognize many of the most innovative and impactful members of our community should be a collective embarrassment. There are marvelous contributors to our art, new and established, who are repeatedly overlooked. It’s only a matter of time before those great artists will consider moving on to greener pastures rather than continue to produce work amongst peers who refuse to support them.

It’s time to vote with the future of Bluegrass in mind; not its’ past. Let’s be thoughtful NOW and talk about it NOW. Not in a few months when the final ballot mirrors the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that.

It really matters.

 

Thanks for reading.

JD

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What To Do About HB2?

Lots of ink has been spilt over the matter since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed NC House Bill 2 into law last week. This law supersedes any local laws providing anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ people and bans any such future laws. This law is odious, even more so has been the argument put forth by GOP lawmakers that this is common sense legislation that will “…keep men out of womens’ locker rooms.”. That is not the purpose of this law at all, it exists only to further institutionalize bigotry. Period. I have lived many places, but I have always thought of North Carolina as my home, and this law (Not to mention efforts by the NC GOP to wreck the state education system and generally make NC a national embarrassment.) sickens me.

I have little concern, however, that HB2 will ultimately prove to have been one of the last desperate opposition efforts by bigots, on the road to eventual equality. That’s a long road, and it will be a long time before the vision of universal equality becomes reality. All of us have a role to play on this journey, there’s no room on the sidelines.

Later this year, the City of Raleigh, NC, will once again host IBMAs’ World of Bluegrass business conference and the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival that follows. Many organizations have voiced distress over HB2, threatening to avoid doing business in or with the state. San Francisco has even barred city employees from traveling to NC for nonessential city business using public funds. It is only natural for those of us making plans to attend WOB to consider whether we should likewise refuse to do business in the state, missing WOB and perhaps other engagements. There are reasonable arguments on both sides (To attend or not to attend that is, there is no reasonable argument for HB2), but I have decided to go. I’ll tell you why.

While the NC State House, including the clownish Pat McCrory, may be a snake-pit of bigotry and backward policies; North Carolinians in general are not. From more than a dozen local governments whose equality laws were just overturned, to the businesses and individuals who have been horrified by HB2, there’s no shortage of North Carolinians on the correct side of this issue. Even NCs’ own Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced that his office won’t defend HB2, rendering the law impotent unless McCrory hires outside council. Raleigh’s Mayor, Nancy McFarlane has come short of condemning HB2, but made it clear in this statement that the city of Raleigh doesn’t share the bigotry of the State House.

North Carolina may be going through a troubling time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s time to abandon the good people, cities, and towns there. Quite the opposite, I feel it’s time to visit. It’s time to be with them in the spirit of equality, and to show them that they haven’t been abandoned; left to the devices of the lunatics who are temporarily in charge. I’m choosing to go to North Carolina as often as I can, to show them that I am an Ally. I’m going to play music in the face of bigotry. I’m going to go there to be with friends, LGBTQ and otherwise, in spite of people who would rather see people kept separate and afraid of each other. I’m going to show them my smiling face and support the people and business who need it right now more than I need to express my anger and frustration at the backward lawmakers who have scarred North Carolina with HB2.

See you in Raleigh.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

JD

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My Family Motto

It seems that we have all survived the temporary banishment of Bluegrass Junction from satellite broadcast only to be faced with the short-lived but embarrassing hack of the IBMA Facebook page. What are we embattled bluegrassers to do!?

Allow me to share my family’s motto with you:

Don’t freak out.

It seems so simple, right? Let me tell you, when you have small children at home, like I do, not freaking out several times a day can seem like a lofty aspiration. And at first it is. But as you practice and refine the art of not freaking out, something really helpful happens; you begin to learn what things require an urgent response and what things don’t. You learn that lots of things can be ignored completely until they sort themselves out or go away. In your efforts to not freak out, you might gain a new sense of poise. You could even find yourself with a little extra time on your hands.

The now-resolved IBMA hack is a great example; social media hacks like this are an embarrassing fact of life now. They happen, then, with some effort (often somebody else’s), they usually get sorted out, and then they’re forgotten. It may be worthwhile getting a laugh out of it, but it’s not worth the energy, and time it takes to lose your head.

You may now be asking yourself what you can do with yourself, now that you have kept your act together in the face of minor aggravation. I have a suggestion.

Even if you aren’t someone who is “in the business”, if you’re a fan of Bluegrass, or any music, you have an interest in the success of that music. Hopefully, you want to see the form persist so that it grows and new music is made. So that boundaries are pushed, and new people are made fans. In this sense, we are all ambassadors for our favorite kinds of music and our favorite bands. In niche markets, like Bluegrass, especially, the vigorous support of fans is crucial; it is the lifeblood of the smaller, mostly independent, corners of the industry where influential publicity firms and big promotional budgets are rare. Social media, like Facebook, make it extremely easy to share music that you like with your friends. It is now effortless to share a song that you love, along with a small testimonial, and potentially turn your digital “friends” on to something that could be very special to them. And, it’s absolutely helpful to the artists behind the song. What better way to spend that newfound time and show off the new cool, calm, and collected you?

So, instead of losing our minds over temporary non-issues, let’s all strive to not freak out and instead share something good with our friends in the digital world.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

JD

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No Bluegrass for nine days?! Let’s all relax.

It was recently announced that SiriusXM made the decision to temporarily preempt the the usual programming of the Bluegrass Junction channel from December 6-15 in favor of a program of Chanukah music. The temporary programming starts tonight at midnight and will continue until December 15th. Predictably (sigh) there has been lots of complaining and general gnashing of teeth over this in Bluegrass communty. One Bluegrass industry pro even asked their attorney to write a letter to SiriusXM management, which was then shared via social media. That may have garnered some cheers from the crowd, but is a pretty pointless and ultimately embarrassing stunt.

(Edit: I have been informed that the letter was not written at the request of a client.)

So, before we all cancel our satellite radio subscriptions, rip receivers out of our cars, whatever, let’s relax for a moment and take an honest look at the situation then decide what to do.

Start by reading this letter from IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger, he explains the situation quite clearly.

Bluegrass Junction is a good channel and one of the highest-profile outlets for Bluegrass music. It’s particularly kind to new artists and is crucial to their exposure and development. We as a community are lucky to have it. Despite what we sometimes think (and read in the Bluegrass press) Bluegrass is a fairly small niche market within the music industry. We do not have a massive amount of leverage to exert. The support of SiriusXM and a few other players is big for us, we need to cultivate those relationships rather than test them. I have seen many people threaten to cancel their subscription over this interruption, claiming that BGJ is the only channel they listen to and that this is the most egregious betrayal since Brutus stabbed Caesar.

Let’s walk that down the road a bit.

As dedicated Bluegrass fans we may get a sense of satisfaction from canceling; “I sure showed them!” we might say to ourselves. But, nine days from now BGJ will return and those of us who cancelled with either re-up, which makes the fact that we canceled in the first place meaningless, or we’ll no longer have access to BGJ. Both of these are crummy options. Not mention that a mass of cancellations might make SiriusXM take a look at the role of BGJ in their offerings. “A niche channel with an unreliable subscriber base? Hmm… We’ve been looking for place to put the new Pinterest channel.”

You see where I’m going with this?

If you feel that you must register your disapproval, by all means send a polite note; I understand that you can get a refund for the time BGJ will be unavailable, that’s generous. Understand that SiriusXM does these preemptions in rotation, so it’s unlikely to happen again for a long time. Think of this as the radio equivalent of jury duty; it’s a drag but it’s temporary and doesn’t happen often.

Then, scan around the other channels; there’s a lot of great music out there aside from Bluegrass. You could even listen to the Chanukah programming, maybe you’ll hear some Andy Statman. Or listen to your local station, dig through your record collection for old chestnuts or buy some new records. Radio is kind of passive anyway and music shouldn’t be a spectator sport, so discover a new artist and let yourself go down a rabbit hole exploring their music (NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, available on YouTube, are a great place to start. I’ve discovered many new favorites there). Are you concerned about artists losing income through nine days of lost programming? Go attend a concert, buy some merch, tell your friends about them. Be the great fan that all great music deserves and find a way to support the music you care about rather than complaining that you have been let down in some way.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

JD

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Tour Blog 16, Spalding and home

After an outstanding evening at the Square and Compass we had to hightail it north for the final gig of tour at the modern and lovely South Holland Centre in Spalding. We said goodbye to our host, Brian, and his lovely antique car and hopped in the van. A bit of London traffic and some GPS confusion confusion conspired for us to arrive just in time for soundcheck.  The South Holland Centre is a first rate space that is used for live music as well as movies and theatre, including the Christmas Pantomimes that are popular for families this time of year all over the UK.

It felt like the last day of school when we got on stage, giddy with relief and excitement over the great tour and the trip home in the morning. The crowd was a bit reserved but crowded us at the CD table, helping to make sure that we didn’t have much to bring back with us. Our sets flew by, we packed the gear for the last time and I packed my travel bass for the first time in three weeks. The hotel was just a few blocks away, we had a 5am call to drop me and Roscoe at the airport, so we all did out best to get to bed early.

5 AM came and we were rolling towards Gatwick, the smaller of Londons’ two airports. We arrived with enough time to figure out the free airport wifi and get a bite to eat, then it was time to board. We flew through Reykjavik again, this time in daylight, so we were able to really see Iceland for the first time. Rocky and green against the deep blue of the ocean and dotted with low, cozy-looking buildings painted in vaguely institutional colors. I like cozy places situated in severe locations, (Probably why I loved Scotland) Iceland seems to also fit that bill nicely; I hope to visit there in the future. I had enough time to buy a chocolate bar and a yogurt (which I would eat in line to board the next flight. The second leg, from Reykjavik to Baltimore, left minutes later. Moments after takeoff we were back over the water, it’s amazing to me how the waves and breakers on the ocean can seem still from a great height. I closed my eyes for a while, when I opened them we were over Greenland. At least I think it was Greenland. We seemed to be flying low over enormous, stony, snowy mountains, but it may have just been clear and the mountains may have been that big. Either way, the sight was beautiful and there are pictures below. After that, the view was mostly ice and ocean until I drifted to sleep again. We got to Baltimore late, but I made my connection to Nashville. Before I knew it I was standing outside at arrivals waiting for a ride home after a month on the road. It felt as if I could have been gone for a year, or just a weekend. It was an incredible trip and I’m very glad to be home for a while. Thanks to Loudon Temple for bringing us over, to Gerry Roche for showing us the ropes, keeping us on track, and delivering us safely to every gig, meal, and hotel, to the people who were kind enough to host us in their homes.  Most of all, THANK YOU! to everyone who came to see us, we’ll be back and we can’t wait to to see you all again!

 

Thanks for reading,

 

JD

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Tour Blog 15, Worth Matraverse

The penultimate gig of this tour was at the legendary Square and Compass in Worth Matraverse on Englands’ Jurassic Coast. Gerry had been telling us about this gig since he picked us up at Heathrow. We had heard so much about the gorgeous coastline, the pub itself, the cider and pasties, that we were beyond excited to get on the road to Dorset on Saturday. It was all just as advertised. Worth Matraverse is an old seaside town on England’s southern coast, the high concentration of fossils earned the area the nickname “Jurassic Coast”, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival we piled into the Square and Compass and each dove into a pint of the house made cider. This isn’t the syrupy stuff you tend to get in the states. It’s not sweet and seems to me to have more in common with white wine than beer, it’s also strong. Really strong. Warmed by our ciders, we followed the directions of Charlie, the owner of the bar that has been in his family for more than one hundred years, and made our way down to the coast. A walk down a path of about one mile brought us out to the top of a cliff that overlooks the English Channel and is marked with a handful of caves carved into the rock when the area had been an active quarry. The view is absolutely incredible, there are some pictures below that won’t do it justice. It was one of those places that gives you a sense of how big and powerful the planet is, and how small we each are in comparison. We explored for an hour or so before the wind and cold drove us back up the path to the Square and Compass for another pint and piping hot pasties.

The Square and Compass is an old pub and seems to serve as the social hub for the area. When we arrived the patio was full of cyclists and climbers who had been outside all day and were beginning the evenings’ festivities. The building itself was built around 1700, with its’ roaring wood stove, low ceiling, and small rooms, it is the single coziest bar I have ever visited. The owner, the aforementioned Charlie, is a fossil collector and the very back of the place is one-room fossil museum and is a great place to look over while waiting for a seat. We had some time to kill, so there was some jamming and some napping done. Later on we set-up and soundchecked with the Kevin, the bar manager, and then it was go time! This was one of the smallest rooms we’ve played on the tour and the crowd present was more than enough to pack the place. We had a fantastic close quarters show, literally toe-to-toe with the audience. It was an incredible night and we can’t wait to get back! After the gig we went to the nights’ lodging, a lovely house owned by a retired gentleman named Brian who kept us up late and then was up before any of us making breakfast. Thank you, Brian!

Reluctantly, we were up early to get on the road to Spalding and the final gig of the tour. Thank you to everyone who joined and Charlie, Kevin, Tom, and Zoe at the S+Q who took such good care of us and kept the pints and pasties coming!

 

Thanks for reading,

 

JD

 

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Tour Blog 14, Tuppenny Barn, Elmsworth

The Drive from Norwich to Elsmworth took most of our day today, thanks a mercifully late 10:00 AM start and some London traffic. Elmsworth is a quaint town in southern England and is full of some fantastic people. We didn’t have time to explore today, but  we did have the chance to take a peek around the venue, called Tuppenny Barn. The barn itself is a cobb building, and is a really pleasant public space attached to an organic farm. We were treated to a loud, standing-room crowd tonight, we came out past the monitors for an acoustic encore and I didn’t think they were going to let us go. Thank you, Elmsworth, we’ll see you again!

Tomorrow we play at the legendary Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. We’ll have a chance to visit the Jurassic Coast and enjoy what I have been told are the best homemade cider and pasties to be found.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

JD

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UK Tour Blog 14, Norwich

We’re in the final stretch of the tour and todays’ gig was in the medieval city of Norwich. We had the day off yesterday and we spend the day traveling and getting some much-needed laundry done; it was a typically glamorous day on the road. Since we had travelled already and were close to the gig, we had the luxury of a free day Norwich. We started with food, treating ourselves to a bit of a posh English Breakfast at a restaurant called Pandora. We’re all pretty into the traditional breakfast and this one was delicious, the meats (most of an English Breakfast is meat) were fantastic and the tea was the best I’ve had on this trip. The decor in the place made it feel like we were eating in a dolls’ house, but that didn’t interfere with anyones appetite. The food vanished in a flash.

Like most ancient cities, Norwich was once a walled city and in many places the original flint wall is intact. Flint can be slightly translucent and the cloudy stones in the wall and some of the old churches, which are also made of flint and have turned black with the years, give the town a  ghostly feel. The Norwich Cathedral, nearly 1000 years old, is a marvel and has the second tallest spire in the country. It’s still an active church but remains free and open to the public all day. The ceiling of the church is quite intricate, the kind of thing you want to stare at, and some thoughtful person placed two large mirrors on stands in the aisle of the nave so that visitors could look at the ceiling without having to crane their necks upward. There were two works of modern art on display within the church. One a collection of enormous cloaked figures keeping a concerned eye on two other figures, those of an old man being carried on the back of a young man. The second was a series of small paintings depicting scenes from the life of Edith Cavell, an english nurse who had treated soldiers from both sides in WWI Belgium and was eventually tried and executed by the Germans for her role in aiding the escape of prisoners out of occupied Belgium. The juxtaposition of ancient church and contemporary work made both seem more vibrant and added to the power of the art dramatically. I eventually made my way out of the cathedraI and spent the next few hours exploring Norwich on my own, making my way through narrow, twisting streets to the castle (now an art gallery) and the market square and eventually to a cafe before it was time to head to the Norwich Arts Centre for the gig.

The venue is in a converted 15th century church, the original building is small and made from the same flint stones that the city wall and most of the other churches are made of. As with most buildings of that age, modern additions have been made that attach to the original structure. While walking around the arts centre you find yourself moving back and forth between the modern and the extremely old. The front door to the auditorium was new; but the side door, which we used, was ancient and black with age. After soundcheck I couldn’t resist the temptation to play by myself in the church. I wound up playing some Bach and some Eccles, it was a rare treat to play Baroque music in a church that was built before that music was written. The sound has been good on this tour and the sound engineer tonight was particularly good. Plus, we had lights and smoke! We would have had a great show if we had been playing for just the techs, but Norwich showed up so we had a really terrific night. Thanks Norwich for being so awesome! On to Sussex!

Thanks for reading,

JD

 

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UK Tour Blog 13, London!

We finally made it to London! Yesterdays’ show was at The Harrison in Kings’ Cross. We stayed near Cambridge University where Leif was to deliver a talk in the morning, he’s a geology professor as well as a fiddle player. We were up and out early to drop Leif at school, then it was time for breakfast and the ride into London. We frequently eat breakfast at the cafe in Morrison’s Supermarket and that’s what we did yesterday. Morrison’s is a big chain, most of their stores have a cafe inside where you can get a cheap and reliable breakfast. The English Breakfast is tasty enough and I can generally get through until dinner on one, so about five pounds for a plate of sausage, beans, toast, bacon, hash browns, an egg, and a pot of tea is a good deal.

Fed and with several hours to spend, we drove into London. Gerry dropped us off near the gig, which was just a few blocks from The British Museum, so off we went. The British Museum is free to the public, and simply massive with a staggering collection of antiquities. A visitor could spend all day in just the Egyptian galleries and not succeed in taking it all in. Since there was a bit of a tight schedule I opted for the survey-level approach and took in as much as I could in a few hours. I was able to make my way through the Egyptian, Roman, and Celtic galleries before it was time to go. The sheer number of artifacts and the amount of information presented will make your head spin; I wish that we had more time to spend there. On the way out we did stop the see the Rosetta Stone(!), but missed The Great Wave off Kanagawa. That will be first on my list next time.

The Harrison is a snug pub, full of leather couches and tucked down a side street in Kings’ Cross. The performance space downstairs is a nice space for an intimate show and that’s just what we had. It was a pleasure to play in London and I can’t wait until we can come back! Today is a travel day, we play in the medieval city of Norwich tomorrow night, so stay tuned for castle pictures!

Thanks for reading,

JD

 

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