Stories from the Road: “The Places Old Time Music Takes You”

We have this saying in the Foghorn Stringband, “…the places old time music takes ya….”

We find a great many moments where this little adage seems to properly capture the strange and beautiful moments when we find ourselves in an unexpected little corner of the world, one we certainly would never have stumbled upon were it not for the fact that we are musicians that have chosen a pursuit of traditional music. Sometimes I look around in awe, “what luck to be here, and how unexpected!” Why is it notable that we are old time musicians? Well, it may not be, but there seems to be a lovely sort of community that centers itself around traditional music all ‘round the world, and these little pockets of community always seem to welcome us in and show us around their unique corners of the world. I often think how charmed I am (not just to ride the coat tails of the Foghorn Stringband legacy), but moreover, simply get to enjoy experiences and meet people that a typical tourist would not so easily find. It seems as much as we spend time traveling to far corners of our countries and beyond, here today, and somewhere else tomorrow, the hosts we find, in the places we perform, enjoy letting the a part of the world come to them and stir up ordinary life for a day.

It’s a privilege to have so many fine moments. And the trick is, to take each in fully, and to connect in each moment with presence and heart. My good friend, (also a performing musician) and I once spoke about this, and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said with great humility and appreciation, “…just as a rich man might be a glutton for rich food and hedonistic experiences, it is like we have been given a gluttony of experiences.” For when we are with those we visit and for whom we perform music, it is usually a party of some kind… a festival, a wedding, a bar gig, theater, someone’s Saturday night somewhere, and people are out for the evening to be entertained and relax, after a long day’s work. It might even be their biggest party of the year, and we know we must rise to each occasion and be the best party band we can be, even after the gig is through. Luckily, I think this comes with relative ease to everyone in this band. We genuinely enjoy meeting people, seeing old friends, socializing, and showing people a good time with our music, whether on or off stage. I think it is important to us all, and frankly makes life on the road more livable, to get to know folks along the way. And because we’re open to it, we get shown around, and are given a dose of local flavor, even when we least expect it.

Foghorn is just wrapping up a six week tour that began on the east coast of the US, and finished in rural western Wales. I’m already wondering how on earth to capture this tour without some kind of mundane description by the day… there were so many wonderful moments. Maybe I should just focus on the moments….

Part 1 The End of April

We had a great week teaching in the schools at the end of April in Rockport, Mass. a sleepy coastal town NE of Boston, thanks to an arts outreach program put on by Stephanie Woolf and the Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center. Stephanie is an understated woman, yet when we began to speak with her, we learned with intrigue that she had enjoyed a career as a session fiddler in Nashville. She had worked with many of our musical heroes that we will never get to meet… Maybelle Carter, Johnny Cash…. And what’s more, in her quiet way, she goes about doing her own research to seek out an interesting and eclectic range of musicians to bring into the schools, giving the kids a wide scope of exposure. They are lucky to have her. Over the course of three days, we appeared in classes of all ages. Pre-K to high school. Those little kids were so sweet and innocent and free from all the cares they are about to encounter in what seems like a very strange time to grow up. We did brief presentations of our traditional music, telling of the history, with time to answer questions. With the young kids we usually offered a little quiz so they could guess what instruments we played. They were familiar for the most part, but it was mandolin that stumped them the most. I think my favorite guess was when one little boy raised his hand, and earnestly said, “is it a trombone?” We had a public show on the last night in the beautiful performing arts center. Shalin Liu is right on the water with enormous windows taking up the whole of the wall behind the stage, looking out to sea. It was one of the best sounding rooms I’ve played in. I could hear every subtlety, and the crowd was rowdy and engaged, just the way you’d want them to be.

Just prior to that, we had performed in Charleston, WV. Sammy had flown in from Sore Fingers music week over in UK, and Nadine from home, where they’d been madly remodeling the house that she and Sammy purchased and moved into less than a year ago in Pointe-à-la-Croix, Quebec, down the road from her family. Caleb and I flew in from Portland, OR after a duo tour in California. Foghorn’s first show of the tour was at the Performing Arts Center in Charleston for the Friends of Old Time Music and Dance. It was a great night there. We love being in the southern Appalachians where so much of this traditional music has been fostered. We are always welcomed, though we come from other parts of the continent. As Caleb always says, “the fiddle is small and it has always traveled, and the tunes with it.”

Part 2 Ireland

Oh Ireland, you’re always good to us with your unmatched keen humor, your cozy pub culture, your discriminating knack for never enduring bullshit or pretense, and your ever remarkable landscapes. Just keep things as they are, and don’t change. The slower pace of life, the appreciation for communing with fellow man, the love of tradition, and the treasuring of music, are all things unique in their expression in Ireland.

The Baltimore Fiddle Fair is, in our opinion, a pretty special festival, where many incredible musicians converge in a gorgeous and small village in SW Cork. The focus of the festival is plainly about the fiddle, and mostly in traditional and roots music. We were very happy to spend several days there this year, with a day or two off before and after the festival to enjoy Baltimore, a rare feat amidst a busy tour schedule. We were fortunate to encounter some unseasonable weather in the form of bright warm sunshine, and we used it well. We jumped into the sea, enjoyed pints and oysters in the sun on the square, and walked out to the ever iconic beacon, a tall hive-shape whitewashed stone structure marking the entrance to Baltimore Harbour. (Incidently, there is song in progress by the title, Sneakin’ Round the Beacon.)  The Fiddle Fair is in its 25th year, and this year it was celebrated in many ways, one of which was the first ever at the festival square dance. Our good pal, Ava Honey, from Boise, Idaho was the caller, and the marquis was full to the brim with dancers. It was a big hit, and the word on the street was that it would become an annual tradition at Fiddle Fair. We had a concert set, and a kids show one morning for the local schools. There are always great pub sessions throughout the festival. The performances at Fiddle Fair are unfailing in might and quality, and I find myself enjoying rare moments sitting quietly, listening to the music and getting inspired. There is no overlooking the grassroots approach of Fiddle Fair. The McCarthy family puts on a great party, with Declan at the helm, booking and organizing, his mother Etna priming the artist housing larders with beautiful homemade breads, good Irish butter, her homemade preserves and pickles, and farm eggs, and sausages. His sisters run a tight ship, managing door and tickets at each festival event, along with the Fiddle Fair girls, a tight crew of ladies that sells the merchandise; and lets not forget Archie, a Baltimore boy who keeps a sharp eye on the door. The craic only seems to improve as the weekend goes on, as everyone grows more sleep deprived and partied out. I think they are all legends, and the more we get to nurture our friendships with this great family, the more we enjoy each visit we have with them. This year we had the added joy of luring some of our friends from back home over to the Fiddle Fair. Besides Ava Honey, there was a pack of Alaskan friends, and Ava’s sister & friend from Denmark, not to mention friends from around Ireland who were down for the fest. They all took to the scene like champions, leaning right into the fray. I think I saw daylight at the end of most nights there before making it into my bed. You know its good fun if you find yourself trading sleep for it, for sleep is a precious thing.

 

It is always sad to leave Baltimore. But this time it was eased by the jubilance of a promotor in Clonmel, Ireland, Gerry Lawless who hosts the Clonmel World Music concert series. He is the kind of person you wish you could clone and place in each town with a venue. He humbly exudes a kind of joy, appreciation, and energy for music, and has clearly become trusted by both his audience and performers alike. Gerry wrote us a beautiful email after the show, and I checked to see if it would be ok if I printed it here. I thought it was a sentiment worth sharing:

After thanking us for a great show he wrote… “What it is all about, in my opinion, is a collaboration between us all to produce a musical treat and it feeds the souls of all present, and gives us all a high and an escape from whatever our life struggles are at that time. It is a huge team effort between myself, you guys, Pat on sound, the Clonmel Music Crew, and the hotel staff, and most of all the audience who trust what we are all doing…. I am really proud of my part in it and am so grateful to you guys for responding to all the hard work in giving you the platform to perform, by giving your all in a really brilliant show….The most pleasure I get on these nights, apart from the joy of the music itself is seeing the happy smiling faces of the audience and the band who all contribute to two hours of bliss and joy. The happiness and massive smiles on peoples faces… as they headed home from the show was a massive buzz. Thanks so much. You guys have it really tough at times with all the thankless traveling, tough shows, hard work, bad audiences, shit promoters and venues. You also have it brilliant when it all comes together. I hope ye got a lot out of the show last Thursday night, and that it renews your faith and confidence in your ability, in your hard work, your songs, tunes and stories and your faith in what you do to lift peoples’ spirits and bring joy and happiness. I loved your own songs and tunes, and I especially loved your carrying on of the old songs and traditions, your respect for the musicians that came before you and your keeping the songs and tunes alive. Musicians are such an important part in bringing joy to the world, and it’s often not appreciated. You really do dish out healing in the key of C!” Thanks Gerry for all that you do and for your outlook.

From Clonmel we continued to a little tiny village hall north of Dublin. Here a promotor puts on a lovely small show, but the dinner before the show was the special treat. We walked into a houseful of smiling faces looking up at us. We didn’t know we were eating dinner with the whole extended family! Three sisters bustled around the kitchen putting out beautiful fresh salads and roasted potatoes, a leg of lamb, and cheeses. It was quite a spread! We were instantly made comfortable with all the chatter and teasing between the siblings and their husbands. The meal was delicious, everything made fresh from scratch.

They were all from right there in that village, and the family bonds seemed strong and full of friendship. They loved the music, and so we felt we had returned something for their hospitality.

Part 3 Germany

We had a very early morning flight to Germany for three days, an adventure all its own. A few years ago, Foghorn Stringband toured Germany, and along the way, stumbled into one of those “the places old time music takes you” moments. We were to play a show for a promoter in his wine shop. When we arrived he had cleared all the shop contents to the side, and filled the room with as many chairs as he could. We were sat down to platters piled high with paper thin slices of charcuterie and cheeses with good bread and wine. The show was a great success with his band opening, (we found out he’s a fine old time fiddler) and at the end of the night he informed us we’d be staying at an inn in a nearby village, owned by some friends of his. The inn turned out to be charming and cozy, and when we met our hosts the next morning, what followed was one of those fast friend situations. We happened to have a day off, and were invited to stay over another night. In spite of our lack of German (though Sammy speaks a little), and their half decent English, we found kindred spirits. The inn and adjoining barns had been in the family a long time, and are beautiful old buildings dating back many centuries. The courtyard in between the barns was the perfect spot to enjoy the local beer in the sun. Scherdel. My dad who happened to be on tour with us at the time said it best after a long day of travel: “Ah… Scherdel! It’s like an angel pissing on my tongue!” As our friendship blossomed, (in no small way due to Silke’s home cooking, wild boar sausage, and cute little spring house  filled with flowers and veggies, where we could fill our glasses from the cool stone trough), we learned that there was a hall up above one of the barns. though it was dusty and unused, it was a charming little hall with a stage and wood floor. Silke’s father, Conrad, now in his eighties, carried kegs of beer on his shoulder like it was no big deal, up the steep stone stairs into the hall a week or so later when we returned to put on an impromptu show on a day off. They rallied the locals and with short notice had a hall full of good beer drinking Germans to see a night of music. Anyhow, you get the idea.

So when we returned this time, it had been three years since we last saw our friends. You can imagine what a joyful reunion it was, and in no time it felt like we had never been apart. Conrad was still up early doing chores around the place as though he was 20 years younger than he is. And though my dad wasn’t there to say it, our first sip of Scherdel in the sun tasted heavenly. This time they went big for the show. They rented a renovated barn across the street… one that had been standing there since the 1200s, and had more space than their own hall. And Scherdel Brewery provided all the accoutrements necessary to set up a good beer hall, including wooden tables and benches, and a massive beer truck with a fold down bar balcony on the side, and a copper tap. They rounded up a couple hundred attendees, and we had a big old party.

The next evening as we sat with them out back in the little hunter’s cottage near the field, and had a BBQ on our night off, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate we are to meet such good people along our way. If you open your eyes a little past your own little world, there are good people all over the place. They are like family now, and I look forward to the next time we get to visit Germany. Who could wait to get back to Silke’s home cooking? Her family inn is a special place, and they work very hard to keep it up and running. Gatshof Rotes Ross is where it’s at! Hurray for Höchstadt!

Part 4 England and Wales, with a short venture into Denmark

Onto the UK. We had many special moments during our two weeks there that are worth mentioning… once we finally got past customs! We had a roundabout tour of England and some amazing forays into Wales also.

We finally got to collaborate with some promoters that we’ve been in touch with for years. We played in Leeds at the Brudenell. And the next day for our buddy Michael McGoldrich, legendary pipe and flute player from Manchester, who hosts a great series called the Carousel Sessions over at the Chorleton Irish Center, a family owned pub and hall. We had a great night there sharing the bill with John Doyle, followed by a late night session in the pub. John puts on a stellar solo show in case you were wondering. Stories and songs woven into one another with riotous guitar tunes mixed in. And of course we had the joy of sharing the stage with John and “Goldie”, as we call him, at the end of our set. Talk about lifting and separating! The Reverend PT Grover used to say of the Key of A, “It’s the people’s key. The key that lifts and separates!” It’s difficult to explain, but perhaps you know just what he meant. Anyhow, I would apply the same adage to John and Goldie. They have an electrifying musical presence, and the tunes we played together really did lift to another level.

We had a special night in Richmond, playing a square dance and concert for the Richmond Old Time Music and Dance Club at a nifty sporting club overlooking vast rugby fields and the famous Kew Gardens, the largest botanical garden in the world. Quite a lot of Londoners braved the city’s traffic to come across town for the evening. The next morning our pal and host Julian took us to the Kew Gardens, and we got to wander about the vast expanse admiring that astonishing collection of plants and trees.

Down at Lewes the next night, in the south of England, we were hosted by the Cajun Barn, a couple who have been promoting great Cajun and roots music for almost 20 years! Their crowd is a rowdy one, and you would’ve thought you were up in Liverpool or something, a compliment in my opinion, since Liverpool has a love and joy of music that is rarely rivaled. We played in a little club, and folks were up dancing from start to finish.

Copenhagen

We were met at the airport by our friend and liaison, Lee West from Virginia, who was in Copenhagen for work. He escorted us to the venue by taxi. It was a sunny afternoon, and the Danes were out and about. They said it was one of their first good weather days all spring, and the cabin fever was being aired! We were met as we stepped out of the taxi by a mysterious fan who had photos and papers ready for autographing… I’m not sure how she knew we would be there at that early hour, but she barely said a word, or made eye contact, got the autographs, then disappeared. I don’t recall seeing her again that night, but hopefully she made it to the show.

Danish people seem to be out and about no matter what the weather, but they seemed especially festive that day with all the sunshine. Copenhagen just has a nice feeling as you walk through it, with lots of people outdoors, sitting by the river drinking wine, or walking or biking somewhere. The first time I went to Copenhagen, I was startled by the bicycling culture there. They have dedicated bike lanes, that are completely separate from pedestrian walkways, which you will quickly find out if you should be walking in a bike lane! Watch out or you’ll get run over! Or at least yelled at by a chiding Dane. I wish every place had such a strong bicycle culture. We flew to Copenhagen for just one day, to perform a concert at a venue called Global. Caleb and I played there as a duo a few years ago, and it was just as fun then as it was this time. Global is a great venue, and my favorite part is that for dinner before the show, once all the chores of sound check, etc are finished, the staff sets a big long table in the middle of the hall, complete with tall fancy candelabras, and everyone eats a meal together.

Our show was well attended, due in part I’m sure to the fact that we played the Roskilde Festival last summer in Denmark. The audience was a rowdy mix of young and old and everything in between, including a little boy fast asleep by the stage on a pile of coats. At the end of the show, we walked off the stage in the midst of a tune and took the party outside for a last couple of tunes. People were singing along, and it was such a nice night altogether. I think we all wished to stay around Copenhagen a little longer.

Back in UK now…

There was the day where we played a show in the wood shop of a timber framer, whose home was artfully constructed of oak timbers, and whose farm sat adjacent to a large earthen ring that had been raised by the Romans in 1200. It was the shape of a horseshoe with a vast meadow in the middle, and on the ring were massive old oak trees that had been there for who knows how long. As the sun set with rays of golden light bursting through the branches, I started to feel like I was in Middle Earth, and that a hobbit might wander out from amidst the trees any moment. Or maybe Gandalf with his pipe, curls of smoke winding up into the leaves. I wouldn’t mind a quiet chat with old Gandalf. We had the day off next day, and our hosts provided a most welcome respite for us to rest, catch up on sleep, and enjoy a day outside of a car. We slept in, ate well, rode horses, went for a beautiful walk up into the woods and hills around the farm. Eli West was in the neighborhood, and we spent the day with him there. Wales is most certainly a magical place, with its little wooded hollows and grassy hills. It does feel an awful lot like I would imagine the shire to be.

There once was an audience we dubbed The Saddest Audience in the UK. Only because their love of the sad song was rather unrivaled. Not only did they doggedly request sad songs, but they sang along with them! We picked our saddest for them, and they were as happy as could be about it! From murder ballads to heartbreak songs, we couldn’t throw them. They ate it up. This was a special acoustic night, with no mics, and a load of folks crammed tightly into the back the Cross Keys pub in Sellatyn. Our good buddy Jock puts on this show, and I think there is people like about being packed in so tightly like that, a mild hardship that we secretly enjoy. It’s very intimate in a way, and it’s nice to enjoy that once in awhile.

We traveled into the very NW of Wales to a little island called Menai Bridge where a wonderful man named Owen puts on a concert series at the Vic Hotel. He’s been promoting music for 40 years! Owen is a musician himself and was lovely to visit with considering his encyclopedic knowledge of many things including the local history of his area. He took us on a little tour of Electric Mountain, an amazing hydro power system that was constructed to accommodate power surges. There is a lake at the top of the mountain and a lake at the bottom. Inside the mountain is the hydro system. During power surges, the water from the upper lake is released, flowing down into the lower lake. Then it gets slowly pumped back up again during low power times of day.  It should be noted, that one major time when they have power surges is during a television break in the evenings when everyone gets up to make tea! Owen also took us to an old castle nearby, not to mention a gorgeous classic view of Snowdonia National Park. Snowdonia is a stunning place, and we took advantage of the opportunity for a walk and swim along our way the next day.

In Shrewsbury we performed at the Wightman Theater, a show promoted by our booking agent, Angie, of Access All Areas. The next day we drove up to Sheffield to play a double bill with Evie Laden and Kieth at the Graystones. What a great audience that was! A very fun night. And our hosts that evening shared their music with us in the form of a nice sing-song before bed. And then the tour was winding down. We drove down to Dorset Country for two days playing in Village Halls in the villages of Corfe Castle, and Portesham. These shows are put on by ArtsReach, a program that funds arts shows in village halls all around Dorset County. The bigger shows help fund the smaller shows, and then everybody, even in the rural parts has access to arts performances. The halls were both sold out and many folks were seeing us for the first time. Thanks to our hosts Barbara and Robert, who have a beautiful farm up on the hillside. The tour ended with a bang up near Aberystwyth in Wales, where we played a private party for a friend’s birthday party out in the countryside. The show was held inside a traveling barn. What is a traveling barn you might wonder? Well, it is a gorgeous timber frame structure covered in heavy canvas. It can be taken down and put up as needed. You know the term, “they were swinging from the rafters” as in, it was a wild night? Well, they literally were swinging from the rafters that night! People were dancing on the bar, flatfooting on the stage, swinging from the rafters, and well, it was a wild time! There was a English folk song sing-off, and we realized that we need to have more anthems in our own repertoire… We heard the dawn chorus in the wee hours before catching a few hours of sleep in front of a long journey back to the States.

We’re glad to have had a memorable tour in Ireland, UK, Germany, and Denmark. Thanks to all the folks who hosted us, helped promote our shows, and supported live music! Foghorn Stringband will reconvene in July at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. In the mean time, Caleb has taught mandolin at the Midwest Banjo Camp, and along with Reeb toured in the NE with the Caleb Klauder Country Band in early June. We are also hosting the 4th Annual Great Big Fais Do Do Festival in Portland, OR this weekend. Sammy and Nadine will be enjoying their newly remodeled kitchen, hopefully christening it with some amazing meals. And are teaching at the Yukon Woodshed Camp. Summer is here!

Stories from the Road: Spring is here! 

I guess it’s been since before the holidays that I last wrote. I don’t need to tell you how time flies. Our winter has been busy, and continues to be so into spring. Caleb and I did a few shows as a duo in the Bay Area in early January while Sammy and Nadine spent some time at their new house in Puente de la Croix, Quebec. We met up in Portland for the Portland Old Time Gathering, a festival of traditional old time music that’s now in its 16th year. It’s always a good time where many friends converge, we stay up too late, and play a lot of music. Portland had a rare moment of heavy snows that stuck around for nearly a week, so much to our delight, it was a winter wonderland outside.

We’ve been hitting the bluegrass circuit this winter, starting with Blythe, CA in late January, Midwinter Festival in CO, and Wintergrass in WA at the end of February. We played a fun show at Timewarp Records in LA, and also participated in a musical film project headed by David Bragger documenting roots music traditions. Keep your eyes peeled as it comes to fruition in a couple of years, as it will have some great footage of some legendary players.

None of the band had ever been out east of LA, so we took our opportunity to hike in Joshua Tree on our way back to the city after Blythe Bluegrass Festival. Blythe was unseasonably cool due to the storms that had been blowing in, so we actually had to wear jackets, and didn’t get to work on our tans at all. We did get to wear some symbolic matching t-shirts on the day of the Women’s March, which happened during our time at Blythe Bluegass. In our own little way we could stand for human rights and women’s rights and acknowledge all the work to that has been done and is yet to be done to make our world a place of equality & respect. Many folks at the festival thanked us for wearing those shirts.

In February we all flew to Nashville for a short tour from there to Boone, NC. We played on Music City Roots, made it over to Asheville for a great evening at the Grey Eagle with our pals Bill and the Belles, and stopped off for some radio spots along the way at WDVX in Knoxville, TN, and WNCW in Spindale, NC. It’s always fun to play on the radio… you just send the music out there on the airwaves, and who knows who’s out there tuning in? We played the Laurel Theater in Knoxville, and finished up with a concert and workshops at the Fiddler’s Convention at Appalachian State in Boone, NC. And, a sweet and generous fan brought us one of the most beautiful pies I have ever seen.

photo by Roz Powell

Back on the West Coast we met up with our Cajun buddies Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege, for a run as the Cajun Country Revival. In the Bay Area, we played a dance at Ashkenaz in Berkeley, with our pals Suzy and Eric Thompson, and a wonderful concert the following night at the Freight and Salvage. It’s always a pleasure to collaborate with Jesse and Joel. They are both musicians whose music I love and respect, not to mention they’re just plain good humans. I feel privileged to play on stage with the both of them, especially Jesse, living legend of the Cajun dance halls. He’s one of the only musicians from that hay day out touring and playing traditional dancehall music. He’s as pure as they come, and if you’ve ever heard him sing, you know what I’m talking about. It gets you right there…uh-huh! Man knows how to move a dance floor. We played concerts in Seattle at the Royal Room, Vancouver at the Rogue Folk Club, and Portland at the Secret Society Ballroom

Foghorn reconvened in Denver, CO for a fun weekend at the Midwinter Festival. We really didn’t set foot outside of the hotel the whole weekend! Par for the course for a winter hotel bluegrass festival. We had a great time meeting folks there, and making some new friends and fans.

We spent the following week down in rural Blodgett, OR teaching music at House Camp. It is a wonderful small music camp in its seventh year running, started by a mother and daughter after the passing of their husband/father in the interest of bringing joy back into the house. I think they succeeded! Students and teachers alike had a fabulous time, played a ton of music, ate delicious home cooked food, and made new friends. Each day’s curriculum was planned over breakfast, and great care was taken to create classes and lessons tailored to the students in attendance. The camp culminated with a concert at the Summit Community Center, a dear small old church converted into a hall, featuring performances by the students and teachers. It seemed that everyone gained a lot through the experience and I, for one, left feeling very inspired.

Many in Blodgett continued on the pilgrimage up to Bellevue, WA to attend the Wintergrass Festival. Foghorn played a concert and a dance, both of which were well attended. We played tunes in the hallways, stayed up late, and had a great time seeing many friends there. It was our first time at Wintergrass as the Foghorn Stringband, and it was wonderful to be there at last. I must say, between Blythe, Midwinter, and Wintergrass, a shout out to our bluegrass audience: thanks for being awesome! We are really enjoying meeting you all, and can feel the love coming from you when we are on and off the stage!

Next stop was Minnesota, Sammy’s homeland. We flew out there just at the beginning of March to play at the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Association’s Winter Weekend. We converged again with Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege to make a stops in Madison, Cedar Rapids, and Duluth on our way up to colder northern climes to perform at the Moosejaw Festival at the Mapelag Resort near Callaway, MN. On the way, we stopped at the one and only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Combine nordic skiing, a wood fired sauna near a hole in a frozen lake, a weekend of music, dances, and workshops, and you’ve got yourself a good time! Our good buddy Caroline Oakley was there too, hired on as the guest square dance caller. We tried our best to get the Cajuns to jump into the hole in the ice, but that’s about like trying to get a cat into a bucket of water.

We are just returning from performing at the Savannah Music Festival in Savannah, GA. It’s a phenomenal 17 day festival with an eclectic lineup. Foghorn played a sold out show with Dom Flemons, and the next day Caleb and I did a lunchtime set as a duo. Savannah is a lovely town with tons of history, beautiful architecture, and countless garden squares filled with live oaks hung with spanish moss. It was summery there compared to the PNW or Eastern Quebec! The weather was so sunny and warm, that we found ourselves basking in the sun and jumping into the outdoor pool at the hotel after our sound check. Making a set list pool-side, now I could get used to that. Sammy and Nadine returned home to several feet of snow, had to shovel the walk and fire up the wood stove!

Next up, Sammy will be away in England for a week, teaching fiddle at the Sore Fingers Music Camp. Foghorn will reconvene on the east coast in late April to perform at the Kanawha Friends of Old Time Music and Dance event in Charleston, WV, and to be in Rockport, MA the following week for performance and school residency put on by the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Then it’s off to Ireland, UK, and Bavaria for the month of May! Don’t know if I’m coming or going sometimes, but who could complain? We will return to the Baltimore Fiddle Fair in SW Cork, one of our all time favorite festivals, and we will also be at the Féile na Bealtaine festival in Dingle. Then we’ll be in England & Wales the rest of May with short jaunts over to Germany and Denmark in the middle.

Summertime plans in June find Caleb teaching mandolin at the Midwest Banjo Camp in Michigan, and then joining Reeb on a NE tour with the Caleb Klauder Country Band in RI and MA before heading back to the good old NW for the National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest in Weiser, ID. Toward the end of June, Caleb will be hosting the Great Big Fais Do Do, gaining momentum in its 4th year, a dance and music festival featuring roots country, cajun, bluegrass, and old time music in a dance setting in NE Portland, OR.

Sammy and Nadine will be up in the Yukon in June teaching and playing music for a week before we all reconvene at the beginning of July in Port Townsend, WA for the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, where Nadine will be patiently tutoring budding bass players, and the rest of us will be roving musicians, playing for dances and helping with classes. Fiddle Tunes is truly an amazing convergence of musicians and friends from all over the place, representing many fiddle traditions from around the country and beyond. If you’ve never been, you should go. The faculty, performances, and dances are not to be missed.

So, that pretty well gets us up to speed. Wishing all of you a wonderful spring ahead and hope to see you down the road!

-Reeb Willms

Foghorn Stringband in Höchstädt on te%

Stories from the Road: Pacific NW Winter Tour

img_5847Winter is here, and the days we recently spent on Orcas Island, WA were clear and COLD! But I’d take sunny and cold over rainy and cold any day! It was perfect weather for sitting fireside in the evenings at Polly’s house, (Caleb’s mother), and perfect weather for cutting a new album. We spent a few days in the land of Caleb’s rearing, and recorded within the rounded walls of the Orcas Island Grange Hall where many community events of Caleb’s childhood were held, including a notable performance by Emmy Lou Harris and Ricky Skaggs. Though Caleb was merely a baby and didn’t attend the concert, a bootleg tape made its way into Caleb’s hands later in life, and was indeed influential. It was half the performance, and half the sound of that room on tape that was inspiring I think. That room has a sound unique to itself, and one that is recognizable to me after hearing that tape many times over the years. It has a woody warmth, and a gentle img_5846reverberation. img_5845Our pal Bruce Harvie, who lives way out on Orcas, brought his gear over to the hall, cleared away the theater seats, and set up a bunch of his vintage mics in the middle of the room. It was his idea to record there actually. He said, “it’s one of the best sounding rooms you’ll ever hear.” We set up Monday evening, tested the mics, cut a few tracks to get our sound dialed in, and then started in for real on Tuesday after lunch. Two full days in the hall with Bruce at the helm, and we had what we needed. Our new manager Matt Morelock was on hand to smile, help out, give feedback, and generally keep spirits high. We are also very grateful to have had the company of my folks, Norm and Bobby Willms, img_5830who graciously accepted our request for a cheap cook and bottle washer, and an intermittent audience. Bobby kept us well fed, and Norm listened in at the hall, kept the home fires blazing, and the Bushmills flowing. It was truly a blessing to come home to a cozy house smelling thickly-good of dinner! And my ma makes some of the best apple pie around! And she never lets a meal go by without a lengthy and news-filled blessing. Leave it to say, it was a pleasure getting to record in that setting. It was relaxed & fun, felt creative, and after all was said and done, we spent time mixing back in Bruce’s studio are really happy with the results. I think we got a great mix of songs and tunes that you will enjoy. It is an album true to Foghorn’s legacy, and yet offers a variety of material and sound that is unlike any previous album. We’re not quite sure what the release date will be, but you can be sure we’ll be letting you know!

We did a Northwest Tour this early December, leading up to the holiday season. It seemed like it had been awhile since we had toured in the region. Since Sammy and Nadine have been living in the Yukon, we have no longer been a local Portland band. And now, they have purchased their very own house in Pointe-à-la-Croix, Quebec, so it felt extra special to all be in and around the Pacific NW for a couple of weeks. They now live in Nadine’s hometown, right down the street from her folks and extended family. They seem thrilled to have made the move, and to have their own little home.

img_5820Our NW Tour began with a weekend in Canada: Vancouver, Victoria, and Quallicum Beach. The Canadians were in top form, all great audiences! Thanks to the Rogue Folk Club, the Victoria Bluegrass img_5854Association, and Joyce and John Beaton. We crossed the water and the border by ferry over to the San Juan Islands, and spent those few days on Orcas, working on a new recording. While changing ferries in Friday Harbor, we ran into our buddies from Louisiana, The Revelers! They were only passing through, though we tried our best to convince them to stay the night. We managed to grab dinner and beers with them at the Lower Tavern on Orcas before they had to press on.

img_5856Our Washington dates included The Conway Muse, in Conway, WA. We played a dance and concert there with square dance caller, Charmaine Slaven. We went to Olympia for a concert and workshops at Arbutus Folk School where our young buddies the Bow Weevils opened for us. Those are some talented kids who are carrying on the old time music tradition! Thank goodness. We taught workshops the following morning. The Folk School is doing some great work there… lucky Oly. We busted back north for a concert and dance in Seattle at the Royal Room. Squirrel Butter opened the show, and Charmaine Slaven called the dances. We continued north to Bellingham for the Bellingham Folk Fest. This event is in its third year or so, and it’s a sweet small festival that is structured with a large daily workshop schedule, followed by evening concerts, and late night dances and downtown shows. We played a downtown show at the Green Frog, and as usual Bellingham made a good rowdy showing. We made a stop on our way south to play the Monday Tractor Tavern Square Dance, a dance started by Charmaine Slaven years ago. Our good friend Lucas Hicks joined us on the banjo for the evening. img_5890 img_5895

The last leg of our tour was in NW Oregon. We had a cancelled show in Bend, due to 20” of snowfall. So we stayed home by the fire for a night, and didn’t mind a bit to sit still fireside. We played a house concert in Hood River, at the mayor’s house. We shared a very special evening with legendary Irish fiddler, Kevin Burke at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. It10557484_10152215573785738_2804598559201906263_o was magical as usual to play with Kevin. Not only is he completely charming and full of jokes and stories on and off the stage, but he is a heck of a musician! He has truly cultivated a touch for the fiddle that most will never attain. It is powerful and he had the audience, and ourselves wrapped around his little finger during his set. We joined him on stage for a couple of tunes, and then played a set ourselves, bringing him up to join us for a grand finale. Our show in Eugene was at the Wow Hall. It was a quiet Saturday night in Eugene, but the folks that showed up were a good bunch. We shared the bill with local band, Breaker’s Yard. The tour finished on home turf with the Every Sunday Square Dance in Portland, followed by a good old late session at the Moon and Sixpence. It was delightful to see many old friends out that evening and we always love to play our old session at the Moon.

It won’t be long before Foghorn is all together again in the PNW. Coming up in January, Foghorn will perform at the Portland Old Time Gathering, and will also be teaching a 3-day workshop in Blodget, OR with Eli West. We also have a few dates in Southern California toward the end of January. Then we’re off to the southeastern US in February for a tour through Nashville, TN, Asheville, NC, Knoxville, TN, and Boone, NC. We’ll be at the Midwinter Festival in Denver, CO, and then Wintergrass in Bellevue, WA! Fun times ahead. But for the near future, we are looking forward to some much needed time at home for the holidays! Hope you all have cozy holidays, and a Happy New Year! See you in 2017!
– Reeb Willms