I took these shots this morning at Jack Darling Park in Mississauga. What a beautiful crisp, sunny morning to be out goofing around with the Rangers (our nickname for our two Newfs, Memphis and Georgie). The dogs had a blast playing with all kinds of dogs at this fantastic leash-free dog park.
I’m planning to attend a banjo camp this year in June. In fact it’s the Mid-west Banjo Camp, held annually in Olivet Michigan (not far from Lansing). I’m going to attend both the “pre-camp” activities and the weekend camp, meaning I’m going to be immersed in all things banjo from the Thursday evening of that week through to lunch on Sunday, packed with demonstrations, classes, jam sessions and staff concerts.
This camp teaches both Old-Time and Bluegrass banjo styles. Although I like listening to Bluegrass, I don’t have any interest in playing Scruggs-style or bluegrass style banjo. I like playing Old-Time and I like playing clawhammer. Clawhammer, or frailing, describes the way you strike the strings, hand forming a claw shape, down-picking with the fingernail of your index or middle finger and your thumb. All the classes I plan to attend will focus on playing Old-time and playing clawhammer. There are classes on other picking styles for Old-Time music, but for now I’ll stick to one approach.
Instructors on the Old-Time side include Cathy Barton Para, Riley Baugus, Bob Carlin, Adam Hurt, Chuck Levy, Bruce Molsky, Joe Newberry and Ken Perlman – some of the best players around.
There is a full schedule of classes that covers everything from specific techniques to certain songs or styles. There are many scheduled jams as well as time for un-scheduled jams late evenings plus there are two staff concerts. The pre-camp activities are more demonstration oriented, with opportunities for questions and answers.
The camp is on a college campus with basic accommodation and all meals included. It’s about a 5.5 hour drive from Toronto. I’m really looking forward to this. For me, the jams are a huge resource because I want to develop some experience playing with others. And the opportunity to meet and learn from so many top-rate players all in one place at one time should be tremendously helpful, not to mention loads of fun.
Vox and I have been playing Go together since sometime in the mid-80s. It started as a chess game, and then eventually we tried go, just to see what it was all about. We would play a few games of chess and then perhaps one game of Go. Later, we played less chess and more Go and eventually we left chess behind. It’s been many years now since we’ve played a game of chess but we’ve played thousands of games of Go. On a typical evening we will usually play 5-7 games. Some games take a lot longer to play than others. Occasionally an early kill leads to a quick resignation, but most games are tough battles to the end.
The board we’re playing on in the photo is our portable set, which I made many years ago from leather and beach stones. Initially the idea was to gather black and white stones that did not have to be altered in colour but we found that led to quite a few black stones and white stones that were all somewhere in the middle grey area, very confusing for play. Eventually we took to painting the black ones black and the white ones white. Every now and then, when too much paint wears off, we repaint them. The lines wear out eventually too, so usually when we paint the stones we also redo the lines.
I have another wooden set at home as well, with glass stones.
When Vox and I play, our games are friendly in that we enjoy good play, regardless of which of us made it. Make no mistake though, the games are fiercely competitive. When we sit across the board from one another, I want to trash his stones, invade his areas and destroy his best laid plans.
Go doesn’t get old for us. The challenges of the game get richer as we get stronger. The game involves many battles at once, life and death struggles as well as real estate grabs. Often a move made against one group is ultimately designed to attack another later in the game. Some games are all about balanced structural development. Others are kill or be killed bloody battles.
Last night we played a number of well-fought games. The highlight for me was a big kill in which I trapped a large group of Vox’s stones, perhaps 15 or 16 of them, blocking their escape and destroying their shape. Of course Vox got his licks in too, and most of the games were won or lost by a few points.
Not much to say tonight. My brain is running on empty and needs recharging. I’m tired, and I think I might just play some banjo for a short while and hit the hay early..
While I do that, why don’t you listen to some blues. Here’s one of my all-time favourite blues performances. I love the way this one builds. It’s Howlin Wolf playing Meet me at the Bottom. If the blues had to stop at some point, if there was going to be a moratorium on the blues, this would be a good place to stop.
Yes friends, we’re going to do a little time travel. I shot a video of my time machine in action. People of my generation are going to say, aw c’mon, that’s just a record player, but in fact it’s a time machine. Today I’m taking you back to 1954, when Canadian Fiddle great Ward Allen recorded three volumes of his Maple Leaf Hoedown. Tonight we’re going check out Volume 3 of the collection, and specifically, Back to the Sugar Camp.
Ward Allen was born in London Ontario, but he is known as an Ottawa Valley style fiddler. In his short life – Mr. Allen was born in 1924 and died in 1965 – he treated Canadians and the world to some fantastic fiddle music.
Here’s an except from the liner notes on the record:
Like “Old Man River”, Ward Allen’s popularity “just keeps on rollin’ along”.
Whether it be at a square dance, at a ballroom, in a cabaret, on the stage, on the radio or TV, Ward’s “Maple Leaf Hoedown” music is a listening and dancing treat to Canadian folks.
In this album you will find more of the music and fiddling that has made Ward Allen a national favourite.
Now when you jump into my time machine and take this trip with me, you might notice a little turbulence. This happens when you go back in time. You might say, hey what’s that background noise – is that your Newf Georgie goofing around with a chew toy? Trust me, it’s really time travel turbulence. Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.
By the way, the covered bridge shown on the album cover was photographed at the entrance to the Village of Alma, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick Canada. As it says on the record cover, “there is a basic charm and picturesque attraction in Canada’s covered bridges.”
No I’m not talking about the company, I’m talking about the song. Song, what song? I had forgotten about it myself but I accidentally stumbled into it during an improvisational YouTube travelog.
I remember listening to this tune back in the 80s. I think I had it on some mix-tapes (kids, don’t make me explain cassettes please). It’s by Phranc, everybody’s favourite “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger”. Here’s a great live version….
Sometimes my paintings take years to complete, but ususally, once I decide they’re done, they’re done. However, I finished a painting perhaps a year and a half or more ago that has been bothering me since. I posted it on this blog back then. I was happy with the painting at the time, but I left it out in the studio and after a while I started thinking it wasn’t quite exactly right. I didn’t know just what I wanted to change but it was nagging at me so I just left it out, thinking one day I’ll figure it out.
What makes a painting finished anyway? At times I think I could just keep on working on a painting indefinitely, but usually along the way everything seems to come together in a way that seems inevitable. Ah ha, that’s it, I’m finished with you, finally! (I’ve heard people say painting is relaxing. Not for me. Painting for me is often an anxious yet at times exhilarating experience, and yet I keep going back to it. I think it’s that moment of breaking through, of coming up with an image I couldn’t imagine I would ever make, that draws me in over and over).
In any case, I had this painting finished or so I thought. I called it Afternoon Tea with AJ. I was thinking of this one as a nod to one of my favourite painters, Asger Jorn. I often thought it would be great to hang out with him, drink tea and maybe play go (I read somewhere he was quite an excellent go player). Recently I was working on some other paintings in the studio when I realized I knew what I wanted to do with this painting. Now it looks like this… It’s difficult to read the changes in a photo. The reddish area has bits of glass glued to it – mosaic I suppose. As well, I’ve made some of the black areas a gloss black where before they were matte black. There. That’s better. Done.
I was in a hardware store the other day, one of the old school small ones, not one of the giant warehouse stores that dominate the retail landscape today. We were standing at the cash when I noticed a bin full of these oddball metal items. They were selling them for a couple bucks a piece, calling them back scratchers.
I knew immediately that this was wrong. They were clearly not back scratchers at all, but actually tailpieces for oil can banjos. They’re even better than kitchen forks because they have 5 rather than 4 tines. Perfecto. I bought a few with Tuffy P looking on, clearly thinking I’d lost my marbles.
This served as a reminder to me to get off my butt and get back to some serious banjo building. The problem I have is too many things to do and not enough time to get them all done. C’est la vie, eh?
We stopped by our vet’s clinic tonight on our after dinner walk so the dogs could get weighed. Memphis has been keeping a consistent weight for some time. She’s 137 pounds. Georgie tipped the scales at 87 pounds. When he joined the family on December 20, he was 57 pounds so he’s packed on about 32 pounds in about 42 days. That’s some growing. George is only 6.5 months old. He’s going to be a big boy.
Tuffy P came across Valerie June’s music recently and we’ve been giving her recording, Pushin’ Against a Stone a good listen. She sings with a lot of confidence, strums guitar and uke, and carries around enough hair for 5 or 6 performers. I think maybe she’s the real deal.