Stories from the Road

We’ve just returned from a tour in New York and Mass. We had a great little run of shows, on the way to the Old Tone Roots Music Festival. The shows were a three-part bill featuring, the Foghorn Stringband, Farewell Alligator Man: a tribute to Jimmy C Newman, and the Cajun Country Revival. It was a lot variety in one evening’s performance, and we got to play with some of our favorite musicians, Jesse Lege, Joel Savoy, and Kelli Jones. This was the first time that Farewell Alligator Man had been performed live! The album by that name was released last December on Valcour Records, and all songs on the record were either written or recorded by Jimmy C Newman, Grand Ole Opry star from the 50’s until a few years ago when he passed away. The album features 4 lead singers, Kelli Jones, Joel Savoy, Caleb Klauder, and Reeb Willms. Gary Newman, Jimmy C Newman’s son plays bass on the album, Rusty Blake on steel, Ned Folkerth on drums, and Joel and Kelli on twin fiddles, and Caleb and Reeb on rhythm guitar, forming the main backing band.

Old Tone Roots Music Festival did not disappoint, and continues to be a joyous annual tradition for us as host band of the festival. We are proud to be part of it and really appreciate its mission to provide a strong & honored home for roots music. The lineup each year at this festival is awesome, the pace is relaxing, the food is local and delicious, the site is gorgeous, and everyone is nice! What more could we want. We worked while we were there in all kinds of iterations! Foghorn Stringband had a couple of sets on the main stage. Sammy and Nadine played with Jesse Lege and Kelli Jones as Cajun Country Revival in the dance tent. Caleb hosted the Honky Tonk Revue, an annual tradition of a house band backing many singers for a honky tonk dance. Farewell Alligator Man had a set on the main stage. The Caleb Klauder Country Band had a debut performance at Old Tone, featuring Mike Bub on bass! We also participated in various workshops and dance bands. Sammy and Travis Stewart did a set on the side stage. Caleb lead a mandolin workshop with legendary Frank Wakefield. Nadine lead a bass workshop with legendary Mike Bub. Sammy lead a fiddle workshop. (I guess I got off the hook on workshops this year!) Anyhow, leave it to say we really love and support this up and coming festival and hope you all will too! Join us next September in Hillsdale, NY at Cool Whisper Farm.

We did a little teaser Old Tone pre-release of our new album, Rock Island Grange. It will soon be released and widely available on our web store, and at CDBaby. We are very excited to get it out there, so spread the word and buy yourself a copy! We hope you enjoy our latest recording.

Foghorn Stringband can next be found in Kauai, HI in mid-November at the second annual Kauai Old Time Music Gathering! Pack your flip flops and a couple of bikinis and come join us! It will be a great mingling of old time musicians from the mainland and Hawaiian musicians from the islands.

Spring Sunshine Tour of Alaska!

Ok, time has got away… I started writing this entry right after I got home from our Alaska tour, in April, and then didn’t finish it until now! It’s a bit late, but our trip to Alaska deserves to be noted, so here it goes.

In an unusual stroke of good fortune, sunshine followed us through Alaska. Not that we’d enjoy Alaska less in its usual dressing of rain, but heck, it cheered us all to feel that sunshine direct on our skin for the first time this year, and to see the sun beaming down on those epic landscapes. It seems everywhere you turn, there is another stunning mountain range, alongside a gorgeous waterway. We toured AK for two weeks, and we had an absolute blast. We have always found a special connection with Alaska, and I was sitting here thinking about how to describe that… I guess we bond in a northwest kind of way, we all love the wildness of nature and the sense of space that is in the Pacific Northwest and on up the coast. And we want to protect that, and care for it. And moreover, they celebrate and value music, food, and fellowship in a way that is unreserved, and they don’t mind showing it. It really comes from the heart, and we are kindred spirits in that regard.

One of our favorite things is traveling to play music in small towns. And we did that a lot on this tour. In fact, we only had one show that wasn’t in a small town. People seem to appreciate it all the more that we took time to travel to them, and bring them some music. Maybe it is the lack of frequency of live entertainment that makes it feel so important, but whatever the case, it’s good. And it brings the community together, to share a common experience that is hopefully a moment apart from life’s stresses.

We really had great audiences everywhere we went, and for the first four gigs we were accompanied by our guide, driver, and fearless assistant, Garren. We started in Palmer at Vagabond Blues, then played a night in the beautiful ballroom of the 49th State Brewery in Anchorage, ‘neath some epic moose horn chandeliers. Both of these shows were full up, and we were welcomed to Alaska by a couple of fired up audiences! We were hosted in Anchorage by our good pals the magnanimous Marvin family who fed us, showed us the resident moose, and gave us soft pillows at night.

We went from there on down to Homer and Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Though the rest of the band had been to Homer many times, it was my first time. We were happily accompanied by some good old friends that drove down from Anchorage with us, so I was given a proper tour of the place, by some old hands, telling stories in the car on the way down, and promptly taking me to the Homer Brewery for a glass of birch bitter in the sunshine. The next morning it was out the spit for a magnificent view all around of water and mountains. We played at Alice’s Champagne Palace, a perfect little dance hall, complete with dark smooth-worn plywood floors, and chandeliers. People showed up with bellies full of Easter dinner to dance it all off again.

We drove the beautiful drive to Seward the next day to play a concert at Zudy’s Cafe, a lovely eatery inside of an old railroad depot. The acoustics were easy in that big open room, and people packed in there like sardines. It was hard to take our eyes off the view out the window! Very distracting. We had to drive on back to Anchorage that night back to the bosom of the Marvin residence to catch our morning flight to Petersburg.

From here on out we were getting into an airport culture that I could really dig. No funneling through sickeningly perfumed shopping experiences, no overpriced eateries selling crap food, no stale air, no eternal security lines, just a walk from the plane through the great outdoors into a little room where the baggage came through a wall passthrough, and there was only one ticket agent and a small waiting area. We could’ve walked to town from there. But our gracious host Josef was there to greet us, and for the next two days, he gave us a memorable tour of Petersburg. We started off playing on the community radio station to promote the concert the following evening. It was snowing big fat flakes all afternoon. That night we played music at the weekly Tuesday tunes session. Someone in town gifted us a smoked black cod, and the next night, a beautiful salmon, and Josef cooked both to perfection. Plans for the following day were hatched. Josef would take us in his boat to see Leconte Glacier. We packed a lunch, and after an excellent breakfast at the Salty Pantry, we were off. It was a bluebird day and we sped across Fredrick Sound toward Leconte Bay. As we neared the bay, we started to see icebergs, icy blue translucent sculptures floating slowly out of Leconte Bay, massive bits of the tidal glacier that had calved off and were suspended there, almost eerily. As we circumnavigated some of the burgs, I imagined how I’d heard of them suddenly flipping over in the water as just enough ice melted to set them off balance and roll. Some were bottomed out, standing sentries atop jet black beach rock, deposited there by the tides. Josef skillfully inched his way through floating ice chunks, and then sped along when there was clear water. The farther we got up the fjord, the mountains drew closer, and the view become more and more stunning. And at last, we rounded the corner, and saw the glacier! It was breathtakingly massive, and we couldn’t help but think of how old all that ice was, and how long it took to creep its way down the long valleys to the sea. We kept a safe distance, and Josef killed the engine. We sat in silence, watching and listening as pieces of glacier ice calved into the water. The sun was warm and it was a hallowed experience none of us will soon forget! The places old time music takes you! Once again! As we arrived back in the harbor, it was time to get ready for the show, and do our sound check. The show was in the high school auditorium, and we had a great audience that night. There was a growing flock of dancing children that broke the ice and before long many of the adults were up in the aisles dancing too.

Next morning we flew to Juneau, and had a night off before taking the Alaska State Ferry up to Haines. We stayed with our friends who were getting ready to host a wedding dinner the next week, and before we knew it, we were making ourselves useful by helping them wash windows, and construct a roof over the outdoor deck. So there you have it, Foghorn Stringband can put in a little good honest work!

The ferry ride was pretty epic. As we glided along the Inside Passage, from our quiet and comfortable seats in the front of the ferry, we sat and watched snow capped peaks dropping into the ocean passing us by set by set. Beautiful inlets and glaciers, little islands, and birds just became almost something you’d start to take for granted as the hours ticked by but then you’d wake up and think, “Holy crap! Look at this place!” We were picked up at the ferry landing by our friendly hosts, members of the Arts Council of Haines, who took us to our B&B, gave us a resident car to use, and showed us the lay of the land. We stayed in Haines two days. We settled in and then got over to the local public radio station for an interview to promote the show that night. Haines was good to us, and we had some time the next day to go for a hike, and visit with some friends who had come down from the Yukon. Since we had the night off we went for a session at the Pioneer Bar that night. Our flight the next morning took us back to Juneau, and we prepared for the evening’s house concert there. Our hosts had prepared a big gumbo, and the house was filled with friends new and old.

There was only one show yet to play on our tour, and that was at the Rendezvous bar in Juneau on the Thursday night of the Alaska Folk Festival. We would otherwise enjoy the many festivities of the Folk Fest all weekend long. The Folk Fest is in its 44th year I believe, and it is one of our favorite festivals, one we try not to miss if we can help it. The festival takes place in Centennial Hall, and for most of a week, performers of all scopes, (from exceptional professional musicians to musicians performing for the first time ever, and everything in between), give 15 minute performances in front of a large audience seated in the vast, dark, warm hall. It’s also broadcast live on TV and radio, so you can tune in wherever you are. And it’s eclectic and amazing to take in what comes by. Much of the time it’s actually amazing, and sometimes, it’s amazingly painful! But even when it’s painful, the audience is ever encouraging, and many an accomplished musician has got a start there. There is also a featured guest artist/band each year who gives workshops, and full length performances in the hall. This year it was Pharis and Jason Romero. In addition to all of that, there is, concurrently, (though unassociated in any official way with the Folk Fest), an array of bar shows at night downtown. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a smorgasbord of great live bands playing night after night in various bars mere steps from one another. It’s a music-lover’s or a bar-hopper’s dream! R&B, bluegrass, country, old time, jugband, you name it. And every bar is packed and rowdy! Friends and acquaintances from all over the place, (Alaska and elsewhere) trickled into town that week for the Folk Fest, and it was a happy reunion that would inspire much music-making and merriment of all kinds day after day and night after night.

Our Foghorn set at the Rendezvous Thursday was aptly scheduled before we would be too worn out with festivity, and the bar was packed full of dancers and watchers. We love playing for a rowdy crowd like this, and we slung tunes and songs as best we could. There was a devoted crowd of dancers up front, and at the break we invited our ponderous local celebrity friend Jay on stage to accompany us with his large and heavy banjo. We aren’t exactly sure why Jay is a celebrity, and yet we know in our heart of hearts exactly why he is one. At any rate, there was an assembly of adoring Jay fans (including all of us in the Foghorn Stringband) secretly wearing Jay Marvin t-shirts which were revealed en mass as he set foot on the stage. This only fed the fire and what followed was a whole lot of chanting and crowd surfing as we played on through the night. Crowd surfing to old time music, well, it was a rowdy enough night. Loved it. Thanks Alaska. And thanks to KTOO for the video shoot on the boardwalk in the sunshine!

Alaska, we do love thee. Hope to come back and see you real soon.

Coming up: Foghorn reconvenes in New Hampshire for Miles of Music in mid June. And then it’s time for the National Old Time Fiddle Contest, Weiser out in Idaho! And then the Great Big Fais Do Do in Portland, a festival was started by Caleb 5 years ago and is a whole lot of fun and dance music. Foghorn will be performing as a square dance band, as well as accompanying Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy as the Cajun Country Revival later in the weekend. Caleb and I will be a Voiceworks in Port Townsend, and then in July we all meet again in Port Townsend for the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. New at Fiddle Tunes this year, please check out the Lucas Hicks Shining Light Front Porch Fellowship if you wish to contribute, or perhaps apply to be a fellow in upcoming years. Looking forward to all of that! Come join us!


Just enjoying a few days at home after a two-week tour in Norway with the rest of the Foghorn Stringband, and our good pals, the Cajuns: Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy, together forming one of the many iterations of the Cajun Country Revival. Joel is from Eunice, LA, and Jesse is from not too far away Gueydan, LA, both from the heart of Cajun music country. For those of you who don’t know, the Cajun Country Revival was formed out of a spontaneous meeting at KEXP in Seattle years ago when the Caleb Klauder Country Band (Caleb Klauder, Jesse Emerson, Paul Brainard, Sammy Lind, Ned Folkerth) and Joel and Jesse shared a session on the radio. Later that evening at the show they had so much fun playing together that they decided to make a recording of this collaboration, called the Right Combination, which featured the Caleb Klauder Band, (plus Nadine, minus Jesse Emerson), along with Jesse and Joel. The idea behind it was to again bring together two musics that have long mingled and crossed over. It was modern in the sense that Caleb’s songwriting is new, not to mention Jesse Lege’s own original tunes, but also was very traditional with Jesse and Joel’s arresting versions of old Cajun dancehall tunes. When you listen back to recordings from the golden era of country music, you’ll hear much cajun influence there. And visa versa too. Songs have been translated from French to English, or English to French over the years. Many great players from Louisiana, are heard on the recordings of country greats.

Half a year ago or more, the Cajun Country Revival was hired to play a new festival in Oslo called Riksscenen Festival. In recent years, the band has been comprised more often than not of Joel and Jesse, and some or all members of the Foghorn Stringband. And thus, Foghorn was also hired to play a set there. So we booked a few more gigs around Norway to make a tour out of it, traveling out west to Bergen, and also to Rauland, in the mountains in south central Norway.

The tour began when we arrived in Oslo Feb 28. We all had a night’s rest before starting the tour… well sort of… it’s hard to get a night’s rest the first night no matter how many hours/days it took you to get there. At least when you’re meeting up with old pals you haven’t seen in awhile. Caleb and I arrived first, then Sammy, Nadine, & Jesse. Joel was supposed to be there too, but his flights had been delayed from Amsterdam. We rested at our friend Olav’s apartment, waiting for news from Joel, catching up, napping, drinking coffee. When it was time to eat, we ventured out into the city, walking across town, through a biting cold wind, to eat at a seafood market. We got our first taste of Norway, fresh seafood soup, rye breads, and lovely seafood dishes. Of course we also learned how the American dollar doesn’t hold up terribly well to the Norwegian crown, but we won’t dwell on that too long! It was all very comforting after long travel and wintery temperatures. We walked home on full bellies, and went to a bar to await Joel, knowing he would need some festivity to revive his spirits. He was quite travel weary upon arrival, so we ordered him the strongest drink in the house, some sort of herbal liqueur… a gingery thing that was very invigorating! It revived Joel, and also kept us all up long enough to practice our time zone changing strategy of staying up late in the new time zone, and then sleeping through the night until, bam!, you magically trick your mind into being in the new time zone as if it you’d been in that time zone all your life. No big deal… sleep when it’s nighttime, and it will be morning when it’s morning. That’s just how it is.

We awoke the next morning revived and refreshed and ready for the infamous train ride to Bergen. We’d all been told this was incredible, and when we were studying up on Norway, this very train ride was listed as one of the top ten things to do there. So we were feeling pretty pleased that not only were we going to do this, but that it happened to be our commute to work. We all made it to the train station in time to pick up some snacks for the seven hour ride, knowing hunger would visit us, and that a little bit of cheese, a rye cracker, a sliced apple, was just the thing.

The trip was all that it was cracked up to be. Even in the wintertime. We could only imagine what it would have been like in summer. Snow-covered landscapes would be green and bursting. Trees and pastures vibrant. Frozen rivers and lakes rushing and blue. Wintered cabins opened up and filled with life. But there was something so serene about the snow. Clean, white, lonesome. The train went on and on, stopping every so often in a quiet mountain town. It seemed that every good Norwegian was walking about with a set of cross country skis. Standard issue. It is admirable that they love nature and the outdoors so much. One would suffer terribly in a place with such extensive winters if one didn’t embrace the outdoors. In fact, I will just go ahead and say that people everywhere suffer terribly when they don’t go enjoy the outdoors… y’all get outside!

We arrived in Bergen that evening, and taxied to our hotel. Out to dinner to a seafood market, and we got filled up on beautiful fresh fishes. Everything from mussels and scallops to urchin and haddock. The next day we went to work. Our host and promoter, Gabriel, founder of Columbi Egg, a folk music series, met us and escorted us across the city to Gimle, an elegant hall upstairs in an old building. The hall had high ceilings, a fireplace, huge windows looking out to the mountain, a cozy stage, and three large romantic paintings hung high on the wall. One painting had Lady Norway, looking very sad, lamenting the loss of Norwegian independence to Denmark. Another had a depiction of three of Norway’s great fiddlers. The three were sitting beneath a large tree in a pasture, each holding their fiddle, and dressed finely. The last of the three paintings was a depiction of Ivar Aasen, (if I’m remembering correctly), a self-taught linguist, who walked all over Norway collecting words, and creating a written language for Norway, reviving what had been overtaken by the Danish language.

We taught a workshop that afternoon to the folk dance club of Bergen. We taught cajun dancing; waltz and two-step. Jesse talked about how in the old dance halls, everyone would dance around the room in a big circle, moving the ladies around the room, and in the middle couples could step in and out to do “fancy dancing”. They could go in for more space and do their moves. Then step into the circle again.

We returned to give a concert that evening. The concert began with a performance by a local group of fiddlers. They all played hardanger fiddle, which for those who don’t know, is a traditional Scandinavian fiddle that has 8 strings. 4 are tuned like a regular fiddle, and are noted and bowed. The other four are below, and are sympathetic strings, vibrating and droning along. The hall was filled with their beautiful tunes. Something grand about so many fiddles playing together all at once. It was choral in a way, and reverberated through the hall. Cajun Country Revival followed with a concert and then the chairs were cleared away for a dance. We traded sets with the hardanger fiddlers, and the dancers traded off with traditional Norwegian couple dancing, and Cajun dancing. Sammy, Caleb, and Joel even took turns on the hardanger fiddles! At the end of the night we, along with the hardanger fiddlers, walked through the narrow cobblestone streets to the oldest bar in Norway, and visited and played a few tunes til late.

The next day, Sunday, was a day off. And so, we made the most of our day by catching up on some sleep, waking just in time for the hotel breakfast, a typical scandinavian smorgasbord: an array of fresh breads, including the typical dense sour rye breads, jams and butter, eggs, soft and hard boiled, cured meats, cheeses, sliced vegetables, pickled and salted fishes, lox, yogurts and muesli and seeds, bacon, sausage, beans, coffee and tea, juice. My my, where to begin. They even had a bottle of cod liver oil next to a basket of spoons…

Then we went on a walk up the mountain behind Bergen. There is a tram that goes up the mountain, but there is also a walking trail. Up up up into the snow we went. I guess that Bergen is one of the rainiest places… kind of like Seattle. 250 days a year of rain. So the fact that it had snowed and was cold and sunny was quite unusual. The city was out en mass, schlepping skis to the top of the mountain and taking off on the many trails out into the wilds from there. We did not have skis, and apparently it is impossible to rent skis in Bergen. Probably because every proper Norwegian owns their own, so why would there be need for a rental place? We had to be satisfied with walking. Bergen is on a fjord, and the view of the inland waterways reminded us of the Pacific Northwest. It’s no wonder that Seattle is Bergen’s sister city. We all met up that night at the oldest bar again, and played tunes just for fun, our Sunday night tradition, missing the Moon and Sixpence in Portland.

Monday we had the day to look around the city, and climb the mountain again. Caleb and I went on a long hike up to the top of the mountain, way up in the snowy wonderland. I was so impressed at the number of Norwegians out for a walk up there. I can’t think of another place where I would be hiking on a snowy mountaintop where there not only was a nice trail packed down by all the walkers, but also where I would see such a number of people of all ages out walking. There were many older people, taking their time and enjoying nature. Even an old lady in a cast.. she looked to be about 80, was out by herself on the snowy mountain trail.

That night Foghorn Stringband played a concert in a lovely room at Hotel Augustin as part of the Columbi Egg series. We let the Cajuns join us for a few tunes, and I think the music went over well to that warm and appreciative audience.

Tuesday was another day off. We aren’t too accustomed to having days off while on tour, so despite feeling a little stir crazy we made the most of it going walking up the mountain again, and then meeting up at night for dinner at Doktor Weisenors, a pub that let us in to play a session, organized by Gabriel. The bar owner welcomed us with open arms, thrilled that we wanted to play for his patrons. This was all we needed to put on a good show… just a little welcoming and enthusiasm. We had intended just to sit in the corner and play a session, but the bar owner had cleared a space in the middle of the room, and it ended up being more like a performance, though casual. We played for several hours, people danced, and some of the locals got up and sang a song or played accordion with us. One man, named Bjorn, and his girlfriend Ana were amazing yodelers, and they sang some Hank Williams songs and yodeled like nobody’s business.

The next morning was an early one. We roused ourselves for the bus ride to Rauland, a small village in the center of Norway. As impressive and scenic as the train ride to Bergen was, this bus ride was every bit as scenic! We went from fjord to fjord, valley to valley through a series of winding roads and tunnels. Some of these tunnels were quite long, straight through mountains. Caleb became fascinated with filming our trips through the tunnels, and one was 9 minutes long. (I’m sure these will be super entertaining to watch later!) We’d pop out the other side into a vast fjord valley, sheer walls of mountains going up up up, and in the small valleys, quaint little fishing villages. Sometimes the road was going along with sheer drops below, and at times it was white knuckles as these bus drivers were fearless, flying down snow and ice covered roads at a good clip. The last part of the drive we were in pure whiteout, snow falling and wind and fog making the sky indistinguishable from the land. Needless to say, I could fully relax when we arrived safely. As Caleb observed, each driver carried a leather bag with all the tools of the trade contained within. The bags were very worn with a nice patina, indicating that they’d been at it awhile. Many a snowy winter behind them.

Our Canadian friend Robbie and his friend David met us all at the bus station. We drove 17km to Rauland, the home of the University of Norway Folk School. Here students come to learn all sorts of folk arts from music to carpentry and blacksmithing and sewing. The music program is quite impressive, and we were hired to teach workshops and give a concert over a two day period. To Norwegians, education is a universal right, and so education is available to all who want it. I can’t help but think that it can only be a strength to a society to make education so accessible. The snow in Rauland was piled high, several feet atop each roofline. And it was quiet there compared to the bustle of Bergen. The school had a pile of skis to lend, and we took advantage of this. The ski trail system was walking distance from the school, and we clipped in and off we went for a few hours along beautiful freshly groomed trails. In Norway, trails like these are everywhere! Miles and miles as far as you’d ever want to go.

Our concert that night was given in a historical reproduction of a traditional Norwegian house. The house was of log construction, and would have had an open fire pit in the middle of the room, with a hole in the ceiling for smoke and light. This house of course lacked the fire pit, and there was a skylight where the ceiling hole would have been. But all the same it was cozy, and the wooden walls gave a good sound. We played acoustic with no mics. The house was filled to standing room only, and we gave a dynamic set playing all together as a whole band, the Cajun Country Revival, and breaking it down into duos, trios, Foghorn numbers and building it back into a whole band. After the concert we went next door to a cozy pub, and watched a beautiful scene unfold. Solo fiddlers took turns playing hardanger for set dances in a big dimly lit wooden room lined with long benches. Others nestled into corners to visit with their friends. It was a fun evening. The next day the workshop was well attended. We gave one altogether as a group, talking about cajun music and old time music, and teaching tunes to the students, who were very adept and learned quickly. That evening we trekked through the snow to a community house where there was a traditional tune swap all with hardanger fiddles, several of which were lent to all of us to attempt to play along! Then we trekked further through the snow to Robbie’s cabin for a cozy little visit before bed. The night walk through the snow was magical, puffy piles mounded up along the roadway and into the woods.

Next day we had a very early bus ride to Oslo, or at least Foghorn did. Jesse and Joel got to sleep in. Foghorn had an early soundcheck for our set that night so caught the early bus. We arrived in time to check in to the hotel and get our bearings. The festival was a two day event held at Riksscenen, in the Grønland neighborhood of Oslo. Both evenings showcased three bands, some local and some from abroad. Foghorn would headline that night, and Cajun Country the next. We also taught workshops during the day. We had a great time and the venue was full both nights. Folks stayed and played sessions in the bar after, and it seemed like the first year was a success! Hopefully they will keep on doing it for years to come. Thanks to Heinrich and Asgaut for making us so welcome and well cared for.

For our last night in Oslo as a crew we ate dinner together, and then sat up late in Jesse’s room drinking a little wine and visiting together with our magnificent German friend Andy, who has hosted us many times in Germany. Sammy, Nadine, Joel, and Jesse would go on to Sweden for another week of shows as Cajun Country Revival. See Joel’s post here and Nadine’s post here to hear more about that part of the tour:

Caleb and I returned to Portland for other gigs. As usual it was a fun collaboration, and I never take it for granted getting to play music with Jesse and Joel. They are such amazing musicians, each in his own rite, and I love the chance to collaborate with them.

Foghorn Stringband reconvenes March 30 in Alaska for our April tour! We start the tour in Anchorage, Palmer, and Homer, then head toward SE Alaska: Seward, Petersburg, Haines, and ending in Juneau at the formidable Alaska Folk Festival. Can’t wait!

From autumn at home to spring in Australia!


Day one. Nadine and Sammy landed in Melbourne after something like a 41 hour trip from their front door in Eastern Quebec to Melbourne. Caleb and I landed in Melbourne the next day after a 16 hour overnight flight from LA. Our tour of SE Australia would be 21 days long, with performances each night. Before long we were all sitting drinking iced coffee in the spring sun, a major body temperature adjustment from the chilly autumn weather we had all came from less than 24 hours before. After a solid breakfast and a couple of coffees, we were on our way. How strange to have flown halfway around the world in a matter of hours, popped out in a different hemisphere, and gone to eat something so ordinary as breakfast. We already felt the laid back attitude of the Australians, friendly as can be. I drank more coffee on that trip than I ever drink at home. Maybe it’s due to the ready availability of good coffee. I hear tell that Starbucks failed altogether in Australia due to the Italian influence of good quality coffee. When you arrive at a place, any polite Australian would say within moments, “Would you like a cuppa?” Yet in direct disagreement the above coffee comments, Australians seem to get along fine with instant coffee when there is no espresso nearby. I have to say, I have a soft spot for instant coffee. There is something comforting about the humble simplicity of stirring a spoonful of instant coffee into a cup of hot water.


After our arrival that first morning, our van was loaded down, and we drove out of the city 3 hours into the pastoral countryside of Gibbsland, northeast of Melbourne. I was struck by the landscape in the delightful way that being in a strange and foreign land can stir our awareness. Everything looked so different, even the light felt different, it was spring! We were off on a new set of adventures. We drove to a ranch out in the country near Valencia Creek. Garry greeted us with casual ease as we met and stood outside his farm house talking about music, cattle ranching, and the drought. He occasionally puts on shows at the Valencia Creek Hall, a community hall with a lovely dance floor and local volunteers that cooked us a nice dinner before the show. When we pulled up to the hall, some folks had already set up camp for the night in the field beside the hall. Their camping setups were rad… tents that folded out from atop their pickups with little ladders to climb up inside. Some had come from far away, a few hours’ drive to see us play. And one couple came all the way from Western Australia! Garry and his daughter are musicians and the audience was made up at least in part by other musicians from their community. It was the perfect way to begin the tour out in the countryside. Down home. We went on a nice walk the next morning, accompanied by Garry’s charming dog, saw an emu, and heard a lot of strange sounding birds.

We headed back to Melbourne to play the Caravan Club. Appalachain Heaven opened the show that night, a local Melbourne band. And we stayed with kind hosts, Ian and Linda at their home in Melbourne. They sent us off early the next morning for a long drive to Canberra, the capitol of Australia, sweetly packing us a bagful of snacks, and a jar of Australian honey to fend off colds. The show at the Caravan club was one of the last to be held in that great hall. And Caleb got to visit with an old buddy from his early days in Portland, who had been living in Melbourne for many years. In Canberra, ACT we played at the Polish White Eagle Club, a nice old bar and hall akin to our Elks or Eagles clubs in the US. We were hosted by Donal & Kerry Baylor, of the Baylor Brothers, an Australian bluegrass band. A local band Kristabelle and the Southern Jubilee Ringers opened up that night. We were not only smitten by their music, but also by the plywood campfire that they set up on the stage.

Our drive the next day took us to the Blue Mountains. Of course even Australians would be the first to say, they aren’t really mountains… not like we have in the States. But they were beautiful just the same. A local promoter put on a concert for us up high on the top floor of the old Metropole Guest House. It was packed that night, and sold out. We stayed in a house on the edge of a cliff by the Three Sisters, a distinct rock formation and tourist destination. As legend tells it, three aboriginal sisters were turned to stone by a shaman to protect them during a battle between two tribes that began when three brothers from another tribe wanted to take the sisters for their wives. The shaman intended to reverse the spell after the battle, however was killed, thus the three sisters stand in stone today.

We drove back out to the coast to Thirroul to perform at the Railway Hall. This room was right along the tracks, and was a beautiful space for music. Tall ceilings and a wooden floor. No trains went by during the performance, though I was sort of hoping one would. We did as many train songs and tunes as we could think of anyhow. We had a great time that night and two local bands opened for us. It continues to amaze me that everywhere we go we find a community that loves and plays American old time and bluegrass music. The next morning we had our first swim in the sea… Australian beach towns tend to have not only gorgeous beaches, but also they often have seawater swimming pools right on the beach. Any hour of the day you might see someone swimming laps or playing in a pool filled with saltwater. Who needs chlorine? It was divine to be in the sunshine, and have a swim in the sea ourselves. Thanks to Mark and Shooshi for hosting us there. They had a lot of beautiful birds in their backyard, not the least of which were some large cockatoos. Caleb tried to lure them close by placing bird seed on his foot…

Our return to Nerrigundah the next day, after four years’ time was a welcome reunion at one of our homes away from home at John and Pam’s. They not only cooked us a beautiful dinner with food from their garden, but also hosted a show for us down the road from their homestead at the Nerrigundah Ag Bureau, a lovely rustic metal shed out in the countryside, somewhat kindred to our rural grange halls in the States. The metal sheeting had a perfect patina, and the lawn around the place was neatly maintained. I found myself once again saying, ‘the places old time music takes ya!” There was a pool table inside, where everyone set their sweet treats and potluck items, a little stage, a kitchen, and tables and chairs. People came out of the woodwork to fill the place with food, drink, and fine company. On they way home, John told us to drive in front to give us the best chances of seeing some local wildlife. He wasn’t kidding. We first saw wallabies as they bounced across the road in front of the van, then kangaroos, and even a wombat! I regret trying to take a photo because I pretty much missed the entire wombat sighting trying to get my camera going. The next morning we drank fresh pressed citrus juice from John and Pam’s trees, including the juice of the lemonade, a citrus fruit that is like an orange and lemon crossed.

The next day we charged onward on the long drive up to Sydney to perform at the Leichhart Bowling Club. Of course in this case it was lawn bowling. Local promoter John Gallagher would put on two shows for us in Sydney. We got up early the next morning and went to ABC to perform live on the radio. Nice folks there at ABC. On to Newcastle after that to play in the school for the local music class. Then that evening we played a small room called Sunset Studio, a series promoted by our musician friend Gleny Rae. She’s a firecracker of a gal, and talented too, who sings and plays and tours around Australia, all while maintaining the family farm. She is currently working on a show with Ilona Harker where the two tell the untold story of lady bush rangers of Australia. Bush rangers are sort of like outlaws in the wild west. And just as written history tends to leave out stories from the perspectives of women and indigenous people, this aspect of Australian history is no exception. The gals have put together a great theatrical show with their original music. We got to see them perform at the Dorrigo Bluegrass Festival.

The next day took us back up into the highlands, near the village of Uralla, to a country house concert in a Buddhist temple. A lot of folks showed up and we had a wonderful evening meeting and visiting with everyone over a dinner of “roo stew” and after the show. One fan came up to us at the break and wanted to buy one of everything on the merch table! I said, “are you sure…, one of everything?!” and he said, without blinking, “yes!” I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened. Needless to say, we threw in a couple of freebies, and then went to eat at his cafe the next morning for breakfast to return the favor!


Bill and Aileen Shipman, A Land Rover for Caleb, and Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass:

Four years ago when we toured Australia we played the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival, just as we did  this time around. It is a lovely festival that feels small, yet has a high quality lineup of music. It is on a show grounds in the mountain town of Dorrigo, settled in the rainforest west of the Central Coast. After our performance in the main hall one afternoon at the festival, I walked out to join my bandmates in the sun, and chat with some folks after the set. An older couple was standing talking to them, and it was clear they’d already been talking for a good while. They were very fond of our music, and I would learn years later that Bill and Ailieen had started a radio station in Coffs Harbor where they lived, that was known for its country and old time music shows. I’d like to see their record collection! Anyhow we’d all had such an ease talking with one another that it was almost hard to walk away, but they went off to the campground somewhere, and we went on with our day. After the festival came to an end, there was a party of the volunteers and musicians. I couldn’t quit thinking of Bill and Aileen, and ventured out into the campground to track them down and invite them to the party. I had no idea where to look, and wandered through until finally, at the last camp I came to, there they were, packing up after a session and going inside for the night. They invited me in for tea, (a cuppa). I accepted and before I knew it the kettle was on, the tin of biscuits was out, and we were deep in conversation. After awhile I suddenly felt a keen awareness that I’d been there a long time, and my bandmates didn’t know where I was, and may be waiting for me so we could all go home. Bill and Aileen (80’s) insisted on accompanying me (a 32 year old) across the dark field, so arm in arm the three of us walked across to the hall where the party was going strong. We all joined in for awhile and when it came time to go, Caleb and I knew we couldn’t let Bill and Aileen walk alone out across the dark field, so four across, arm in arm we walked them back to their camper. When we arrived, they invited us in for tea, and before I knew it I heard Caleb saying, “we’d love to!” So in we went again, and down came the tin of biscuits, and the kettle was on, and sure enough, we fell into conversation with ease. I think we lost track of time entirely for what seemed like an hour by the time we came to. And you know that they tried to walk us back across the field! But we laughingly refused, knowing that it could go on, even if pleasantly so, for eternity. Well, Bill and I wrote letters these four years since that meeting, and have become good friends. Sadly Aileen has passed on since then, leaving Bill after 50 years of marriage. It was a real pleasure to visit with him again in person. He brought his camper to Dorrigo, and visited us there.

 Dorrigo Bluegrass and Folk Festival is a big reason why we find ourselves all the way across the world in Australia. We love this festival and without it we might not be so likely to make the trip. Bridgett puts on a great lineup, and there are a host of volunteers that make the festival organized and welcoming. The festival lined up a home stay for us with John and Sandra, and we found ourselves grumbling a bit as we drove farther and farther out of town to their house, knowing we’d have to be in the car a bit more the next few days instead of being able to walk back and forth at the festival. Not that we were ungrateful mind you. The roads got smaller and smaller as we got closer to John and Sandra’s. As we passed by a garage on the property we saw an old Land Rover covered in dust and a light covering of moss. It caught Caleb’s eye, as his grandfather had always kept a Land Rover, and they had spent hours tinkering on it together. When we arrived at the house and met our very kind hosts, Caleb got to talking to them and mentioned the Land Rover. John said, “oh, that old thing, I’ve got to get that thing hauled off.” Caleb offered to buy it from him right then and there. John had a look on his face like, why would anyone want that old piece of junk?! He looked at Caleb, and Caleb looked at him, but he could see that Caleb wasn’t kidding, and so he said, “well you can have that old thing! I don’t want it!”  Caleb bought it for a crisp $2 bill, and will have it shipped over to the West Coast!

The Pitts Family Circus are a joy and a delight. Not to mention they are incredibly talented and funny. They performed at the Dorrigo Festival, in their brand new custom big top. We had met them four years ago when we last toured Australia. They hosted a show for us then, and did so again this time around on their property in Barker’s Vale. They live out in the bush and the concert occurred on the front porch of their hand built house. The audience sat out on the vast lawn in chairs and on hay bales. They got a show from the Pitts in the form or humor, acrobatics, and trapeze! And then a lovely concert ensued with Two if By Sea, a cello duo, and then Foghorn played to round out the evening, with Garreth (daddy Pitt) sitting on banjo.

Boo Radley’s Hall.

Imagine a small wooden hall in a small timber town that had lived many lives. It was a store, a pub, and a  community gathering space, and now after nearly being torn down, it was lovingly disassembled, and reassembled over the course of 10 years by Rob and Shawna, a couple of music-loving potters who live on main street in Glenreigh, NSW. Incidentally, this is the town where our friend Bill Shipman grew up, though in his day it would have been a different place in many ways. His family settled there, first making a bush camp, building a house from scratch out of local timber, and carving out a life there working timber, fishing and hunting, gardening, and the like. Rob and Shawna know many Shipmans, as there are quite a lot of them around those parts. Every so often they host a concert in that beautiful little hall at their home. We pulled up and Sammy sat down on the porch and got out the fiddle, right at home, and serenaded us while we set up merchandise and got the sound system going. It hardly needed any sound at all with those warm wood walls. Bill drove up for the show, and we invited him to open the show with a few tunes on the mountain dulcimer. He’s a great singer too. And you know for the second set, we had him tell a few yarns. He had the audience cracking up with his jokes and stories. In fact he was cracking himself up too, which made it even funnier. We drove down the mountain to Coffs Harbor to stay with Bill that night. It was nice to finally see his home after writing letters all these years. He put the kettle on and fed us some cake before bed!


Petersham & Wagga Wagga

We had an early morning, and awoke to Bill Shipman cooking up a mountain of bacon and eggs with tea and coffee. We bid our farewells, and drove the long haul to Sydney and arrived at the Petersham Bowling Club. It was a packed house that night, and any enthusiasm that may have been lacking in attendance for the the Leichhart show, was made up for in full! We shared the bill with Mac Traynam and Shay Garriock. We were kindly hosted by our good pals Jacinta and Terry, who would accompany us to Wagga Wagga the next day, and on to the Blackwood Festival. We had a very nice audience for the Wagga show, and it was nice to have a stop off between Sydney and the long haul to Blackwood where we were to perform at the Blackwood Festival, our last stop of the tour.

Blackwood Festival

Blackwood is a tiny mountain town about an hour outside of Melbourne to the NW. Crystal clear streams and huge trees make up the landscape, including one of the largest trees in the southern hemisphere, massive pine that stands watch over Blackwood. There is a musical family that lives there, the Dears. And aside from timber framing, sailing and fishing, they also put on a great music festival. It’s a young festival, this being the third or fourth year, but it didn’t lack anything. It’s rough and tumble, and the music lineup was great. The festival grounds was a beautiful setting below town in a field along the river. We spent the weekend in the sun during the day, and keeping warm around the barrel campfires at night. It was fairly cold there being up in the mountains. We even got a frost of couple of the nights. But playing a set of music to a rowdy audience kept our fingers warm enough to play!

All in all it was wonderful to be back in Australia and I think we all agree that we hope to be back there again before four years’ time! Thanks to George and Nadine for heading up the booking of this tour, and thanks to all of our kind hosts and promoters in Australia. And now Foghorn is taking a well needed break through the holidays. We will reconvene in February in the Boston area, and have a trip to Norway in the works for March. April brings an Alaska tour. Lots of exciting things coming up in the new year. I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!!