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The Year of Ward Jarvis: Using Technology

I love the stories of people who learned to play old-time music by slowing down their record players to figure out passages from tunes on vinyl, or even shellac. Those of us learning today have it so easy by comparison.

In addition to the great instructional resources available by the likes of Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, Erynn Marshall, Wayne Erbsen, Mike Seeger, Ken Perlman and Dan Levenson — just to name the few I've used myself — we also have a treasure trove of written documentation, recordings and videos available on traditional media and online to help us learn technique and tunes.

On top of these source materials, there is a wide variety of software and technology tools that we can harness to improve learning. Not to mention, the internet makes it far easier to connect with other people who share similar passions and can help by providing one-on-one instruction or feedback on our playing.

While I have taken one paid lesson and attended a few different workshops, I've p…
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Vinyl Hunter, Part 6: Portland, Maine

Earlier this month, I was in New England for work. As has become my custom, I scoped out a couple record stores to seek out some vinyl for my collection. I visited two stores in Portland, Maine: Strange Maine and Moody Lords. I walked away with two albums from each store.

Strange Maine had a huge inventory and fairly cheap pricing, mostly specializing in rock, punk and metal. This is your typical crate digger's paradise, with albums crammed tightly into dozens of bins around the store. I picked up two post-"Pet Sounds" Beach Boys albums. But you probably don't care about that.

Moody Lords had a much smaller selection, but it was well-curated and very clean in terms of decor and vinyl condition. The shop also doubles as a vintage clothing store. There, I stumbled upon two nice old-time compilations: "Echoes in the Ozarks, Volume 1: Arkansas String Bands 1927-1930" (1970) and "More Clawhammer Banjo Songs & Tunes from the Mountains" (1969), both…

Rhiannon Giddens Wins MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant'

Rhiannon Giddens has been on a roll this past year. In 2016, she was awarded the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. In February, her third solo album, "Freedom Highway," was released on Nonesuch Records. On Sept. 26, she was selected as the keynote speaker at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) conference. And today, she was named among the recipients of the MacArthur Foundation fellowships, the so-called "Genius Grants."

Of course, like many of you, I first became aware of Giddens' work with the wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that studied under the late, great fiddler Joe Thompson and sought to reclaim the African American tradition of Appalachian string band music. Along with founding bandmates Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons, Giddens won a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album with "Genuine Negro Jig."

The Chocolate Drops were among the earliest influences that sparked my love for th…

Erynn Marshall, Mark Olitsky, Doug Unger: An Old-Time Smorgasbord in Peninsula, Ohio, for Music on the Porches, Sept. 23

Old-time music and banjo fans alike would do well to aim their GPS units toward Peninsula, Ohio, the historic village nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron. This Saturday is Music on the Porches, which features a number of musical acts playing all around town, starting at 11 a.m. 
The showcase event is Saturday night at the G.A.R. Hall, an evening concert that will feature fiddler Erynn Marshall and multi-instrumentalist Carl Jones, the married old-time duo based in Galax, Virginia; followed by Sean Watkins, formerly of the progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek; and finally headliner Tim O'Brien, who has recorded with everyone from Steve Martin to Dirk Powell, including the excellent "Songs From the Mountain" album with Powell and John Herrmann (one of my all-time favorites). Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with Marshall and Jones set to start at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online via Eventbrite
But wait, that's not all! 
Marshall wi…

Doug Unger to Host Clawhammer Banjo Workshop at Blue Sky Folk Festival, Sept. 16

Master banjo builder Doug Unger will be presenting a clawhammer banjo workshop Sept. 16 at the Blue Sky Folk Festival, in Kirtland, Ohio. Unger is a former Kent State University art professor and an Ohio Arts Council grants and fellowships recipient, as well as an accomplished banjo player in his own right.

Unger will be leading a clawhammer banjo workshop with Paul Kovac under the "Small Tent" from 2 to 2:45 p.m.

Established in 2010, the Blue Sky festival is hosted at the East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church on Chillicothe Road in Kirtland. The event features concerts, workshops, community jams, family crafts and other fun activities. Tickets are $15 at the gate or $12 if you purchase online. Get a $3 discount at the door if you bring and instrument to join in the various jam sessions. Youths age 12 and under are free.

Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. With multiple indoor and outdoor jam areas and an inside main stage, visitors will have plenty o…

The Year of Ward Jarvis: Tomahawk

My latest Ward Jarvis tune is "Tomahawk." Jarvis learned this tune from Tommy Jackson, either on record or radio, according to the field recordings David Brose made in the 1970s. Jackson was a prominent Nashville session fiddler during the 1950s.

The tune appears on Jackson's "Square Dance Tonight" album, released in 1957. Jarvis can be heard playing it on the Field Recorders' Collective album (FRC402), from the recordings of Jeff Goehring. Brose's recording of Jarvis can be heard on the Slippery-Hill website.

Jarvis plays "Tomahawk" in AEAE tuning and is credited for making the tune old-time. There's another variant usually attributed to Missouri fiddler Bob Holt, available on the 1998 Rounder release "Got a Little Home to Go To."

I took my first crack at "Tomahawk" on June 18. Below is my first attempted recording of the tune, which is only twice through because of a major flub in the third repeat of the A part. (Here…

Stuart Brothers Collection Now Available

About a month and a half ago, GBB reported that the Old-Time Tiki Parlour was at work producing a CD and DVD set on the Stuart Brothers. Well, that collection is now available, as you can plainly tell by the video above.

Trevor and Travis Stuart were renowned for their banjo-fiddle duets until Trevor's tragic death in March last year. The previous May, however, Tiki Parlour founder David Bragger recorded the duo for what has turned out to be the brothers' final release. The CD/DVD set contains 23 tunes played in their traditional North Carolina style.

Right now, the Tiki Parlour is running a sale, so you can pick the Stuart Brothers set up for $20.

It's also worth noting that the Tiki Parlour also recently released The Skeleton Keys collection, featuring Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains, along with Charlie Hartness on ukulele, Nancy Hartness on guitar and Brendan Doyle on banjo. The group plays 17 tunes that are accompanied by a full-color, 40-page booklet of illustrations…