Frank Caught a Woodchuck

I really like Dave Landreth’s banjo playing. He posted this original on the YouTube the other day and this tune simply makes me smile so I thought I’d share it here. It’s got a lot of stuff going on in it.  If you like it, check out his other videos.  He also has a CD available online that I also like a whole bunch (just ask Mr. Google, that’s how I found it).

The Drop

We watched a matinee screening of The Drop this afternoon, a crime drama starring Tom Hardy, the late James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace. The film is about a Brooklyn bartender, underworld nasties, a waitress with a super-cute puppy in her trash can, and a guy named Cousin Marv with a desperate plan to score.

Unusual film, well written and acted, capturing plenty of neighbourhood atmosphere. I enjoyed the understated chemistry between Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace. As well, James Gandolfini did a great job in what must have been his last role, as Cousin Marv.


Late Summer Garden

I love the way the gardens evolve through the season.  The past few weeks we’ve been busy with other projects and we’ve given them little attention. Today we were out there giving the gardens some much needed TLC.

We also added some new plants, from our friend Ruth’s garden. Ruth has been tending a delightful garden tucked in beside her warehouse/studio building, but now train track expansion beside the building is threatening her garden. Fortunately, we have some garden space right now, as we’ve recently removed a hedge between our property and the property to the north of us, leaving excellent potential for new gardens. IMG_2289IMG_2283

The fall gardens are not so showy as they are in high summer, but they instead offer maturity and rich earth tones.


A cat called Jack Shadbolt
A cat called Jack Shadbolt

Camp videos

Regular readers of this blog know I attended the Midwest Banjo Camp back in June. I noticed they posted a few videos last week from this year’s camp concerts. There were two faculty concerts, once on the Friday and the other on the Saturday evening.

Here’s Chuck Levy with Erynn Marshall…

Chuck led the slow jams, which were handy for the “jam challenged” players (like me). I’ve been learning pretty much in isolation and haven’t had much jam experience. I participated in a couple of Chuck’s slow jams, and found them to be a really good confidence booster. I finally felt comfortable enough to start playing in intermediate jams. While I found some of the tunes difficult to jump in and play along to, I surprised myself in managing to find something to play in most of the tunes – and in some  other tunes I was able to play with some confidence.

Here’s Adam Hurt with Mike Compton on mandolin. Adam Hurt is a very strong teacher as well as being a great player. I took his class on fills where we started with a basic melody and inserted various fills to build an arrangement.

Then there were the Bluegrass guys. There were some very fine Scruggs-style players at camp.

I took one class at camp from Joe Newberry – all about the Galax lick. He’s a very likeable fellow. I was impressed Joe took the trouble to learn everyone’s name. He taught by ear and was really good at making sure everyone in the class got down what he was teaching.

Here’s Joe with Bruce Molsky, Mike Compton and more playing Rockingham Cindy.

I hope they post more videos soon – these brought me right back to camp.

Sawmill tunes

My brother and I were exchanging emails about tunes in modal or “sawmill” tuning. I like a lot of the modal tunes but I don’t play them that often on clawhammer. One I particularly like is Bonaparte’s March. Here are the Indian Creek Delta Boys.

Another great tune in modal tuning is Cluck Old Hen. Here’s Aubrey Atwater having a go at it. She also plays it slowly to teach the tune.

For a while I was playing Boatin’ up Sandy quite a bit – also in modal tuning. I went looking for a version on YouTube and realized that I posted me playing that tune quite a while ago….here it is.  For some reason I stopped playing this one – not sure why – it’s got a wonderfully hypnotic melody. I’ll have to add it back into my tune list.

On banjo, when players say they are in Sawmill tuning, they mean that tuned in standard G tuning, they tune the second string up a half tone from B to C.  That’s G modal tuning. To make it A modal, you can capo up to the second fret.

Good Morning from Long Branch

here's the 411: he whimpers at 3:30am he sets out the little sharp barks at 4:30am if he gets his way - he flies outside at 4:40am howling and barking into the backyard at absolutely nothing. he's a pup part goof, part newf he burps he likes cats he likes treats he likes everyone he's George!
here’s the 411:
he whimpers at 3:30am
and sends out the little sharp barks at 4:30am
if he gets his way – he flies outside at 4:40am howling and barking into the backyard at absolutely nothing.
he’s a pup
part goof, part newf
he burps
he likes cats
he likes treats
he likes everyone
he’s George!

Monarch Butterflies, Sam Smith Park

Visitors to Sam Smith Park here in Toronto are being treated to a great show of monarch butterflies right now. We took a walk with the dogs a short while ago and saw butterflies anywere there were flowers.

DSC06988DSC06991DSC06981DSC06963DSC06993By the way, Sam Smith Park is currently being studied by the city for designation as an environmentally sensitive area. I’m not sure all this designation implies yet, and so I don’t have any opinion on it. I’m all for keeping lots of natural areas in the park, but I also appreciate the park is used for many things from playing sports to watching birds. There’s a yacht club in the midst of it and schools. There’s a balance in there somewhere. Is this designation the right thing in the long run?  There will be some public meetings in November, where we can find out more.

Morning trip to Jack Darling Park

At a certain point in his development, young George simply considered anything that moved to be an object of his doggy lust. This was a good indication it was time for his neuter surgery, which we had done in early August.

Yesterday we took the Newfs to the local dog park in Sam Smith Park to see how he would do with other dogs now.  He interacted very well with all the dogs there, so we’ve reinstated his dog-park privileges.

Our local leash free park is what you might call a minimalist park. The City did the least they possibly could do and still call it a leash-free park. In fact it started out without even a fence – just a sign. As dog parks go, this one is pretty sad. It has a fence now and a couple benches, but that’s it. There is no variety of terrain. In wet weather it gets very mucky. There is no lighting and although it is a stone’s throw from a water filtration plant, there is no water available. The location is part of a north-south wind-corridor between the water filtration plant and Humber College. In the winter, the north winds have nothing to block them on their way to freeze brave dog walkers.

For these reasons, the Sam Smith dog park gets fewer users than most. A lot of visitors to the broader park area have complained about dog-owners letting their pets run loose in the rest of the park, rather than in the dog park.  There are even new signs up in the park encouraging dog-owners to leash their pets and I’ve heard the City has sent by-law enforcement people out to Sam Smith recently to fine the miscreant pet-owners. Although I don’t expect it will ever happen, I’d like to see the dog park in Sam Smith relocated to the area on the east side of what is known as “the spit”, which forms the harbour for the yacht club. I think a better area for the dogs in a more suitable area of the park would attract a lot more dog lovers.

When we want to run our dogs, we like to take them west to Mississauga, to Jack Darling Park. Like the park at Sam Smith, this one is on the property of a filtration plant.

IMG_2178However, the dog area is fully integrated on the filtration plant grounds. There is a great variety of terrain, loads of space, fields, sandy areas, treed areas, brush and hills. There is even drinking water available.IMG_2175

The sandy area is where many dogs go to play. They like goofing about in the sand, chasing and wrestling. IMG_2184Other areas are more isolated if you want to run your dogs away from the crowd. IMG_2179I’m very impressed by what I can only call inspired design at Jack Darling Park. Somebody along the way thought it was a good idea to imagine up a dog park that was more than a patch of muck and grass with a fence around it – and they did it up right.

IMG_2186We like to do a circuit or two of the park, checking out all the different terrain, stopping for some playtime in the sand pit.

The dogs just love to go to Jack Darling. They get a car ride – they love car rides – and they get to goof around in an area with lots of variety and plenty of other dogs to play with.

I’m hoping the candidates for City Council in the upcoming Municipal race read this. Here’s my challenge – make a great leash-free area in Sam Smith Park.  Who’s up for this challenge? I’m not interested in hearing why this can’t be done, but if you can imagine it, and you think you can pull it off, I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments of this blog.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to drive out to Mississauga when we want a top-rate dog-park experience.

Blind but Now I See

Blind but Now I See is Kent Gustavson’s biorgraphy of the late Doc Watson. When I read about this book I was very much looking forward to it because I’ve been listening to and enjoying Doc Watson’s music for many years. I think my introduction to Doc and his son Merle was on the old Folk Ways and Folk Music radio show on CJRT Radio here in Toronto. That must have been the late 70s or early 80s. Host Joe Lewis introduced me to the music of many performers.

The book starts off with pages of accolades about Doc Watson. I thought it was overkill – I figure if you’re reading this book, you know. There are many photographs, which I appreciated, and also many illustrations, each of which is credited c. Kristina Tosic. This over-crediting was a little much. Having some illustrations was nice – you don’t see that so much these days – but I was more interested in the text.

Doc Watson was playing rock-a-billy on a Les Paul electric guitar when he was “discovered”, and only reluctantly switched over to acoustic guitar. The degree to which his career was steered toward traditional music to take advantage of the “great folk music scare” was fascinating. He was even coached on what tunes New Yorkers might be interested in. Watson was discouraged from playing some of the other more citified music he enjoyed, knew, and wanted to play, and it wasn’t until the Southbound recording with his son Merle that they played some of this other music. The music industry wanted us to think Doc Watson was playing traditional mountain music that was in the air around Deep Gap NC, and while this may have been true to some degree, it turns out that Doc Watson learned a lot of his repertoire by listening to records. Authenticity was an attractive attribute of this music to urban folkies, but even in this genre, audiences were being sold a story line. This doesn’t diminish Watson’s accomplishment. He was a remarkable performer, singer and guitar-picker.

This biography also provided a glimpse into a troubled Merle Watson, who struggled with substance abuse for years. I really knew little about Merle beyond his playing – but really it was just a glimpse we were offered. In fact in general, I learned more facts – the plot line of their lives – than I really learned about the people. I guess that’s the challenge with biography. Often when I read a biography I’m left with a feeling of something missing. It’s really difficult to capture the complexity of someone’s life, their thoughts and emotions and motivations.

If you’re interested in Doc Watson’s music and all that folk music history, this is an enjoyable, informative and readable account.


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