This mix covered a couple of themes I've been meaning to get to: a personal connection to music and music that I think needs a wider audience.
I started grabbing tunes and had a good start at a comprehensive playlist when I started looking at playing time. I wasn't anywhere near done but I was already in multi-disc territory. I decided to limit it to two discs and still had over half an hour extra left over.
I decided to include tunes based on how interesting the backstory was. I still had too much, but it got more manageable. I guess what I'm saying is there's a lot more where this comes from.
The liner notes:
I went looking thru my collection to pick a theme for this disc and it occurred to me that an awful lot of the music I own was picked up at live shows. These songs are all from discs acquired directly from the musicians who made them. I’ll list the venue for each and tell a long rambling story anecdote about each. I’ll try to keep it brief but no promises.
Disc 11. Montana Mandolin Society – Icarus Ellen theater, Bozeman, MT
Shortly after this album was released the band just sort of petered out. Before it did it launched or boosted the performing careers of several friends, some of whom you’ll hear from later.
2. Bulgari - Trugnala e biala Dona Salvation Army church, Bozeman
A Bozeman Folklore Society concert. As the folk dancers in the audience recognized tunes they got up and danced around the church. Not sure the venue approved (we never did another concert there) but the band did. They did Brubeck’s Take Five as an encore but they played it in some bizarre Bulgarian rhythm, like 9/13 or some such. It was pretty cool.
3. Chris Coole and Ivan Rosenberg - Carolyn Sanaskol Pilgrim Church, Bozeman
I don’t normally care for Dobro but these guys kicked it. Also some fine clawhammer. Ivan is Canadian but sings Appalachian music. Go hear ‘em if you get a chance.
4. Darrell Scott - A Crooked Road Ellen Theater, Bozeman
One of my musical heroes so I was a little starstruck when he signed my CDs. Didn’t get to ask him all the questions I wanted to about his songwriting, just mumbled some incoherent thank-you and tottered off into the cold night air. He was sweet and down-to-earth.
5. Sassafras Stomp - Washburn Blues Verge theater, Bozeman
Sassafras Stomp is Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis, a couple who farm in Maine in the warm months and tour playing concerts and dances in the winter. They are beloved fixtures in the dance world I come from, and they’ve played our dance weekend (an annual event) twice. The opening act that night was Weatherwood (about whom more, below) and they traded places on stage in the middle of a tune. While playing. Best stage transition ever.
6. Larry Ungar and Ginny Snowe – Lucky Penny Bear Hug dance weekend, Flathead Lake, MT
Larry Ungar (no relation to Jay) has written something like a thousand waltzes. If you’ve danced the waltz in the US chances are you’ve heard at least one of his tunes. While they were on stage the band kept trading instruments behind the fiddler’s back so every time he looked behind him there was somebody different playing the bass. They did it so seamlessly if you closed your eyes (or faced the audience) you’d never know.
7. Four Shillings Short – The Bigler Pilgrim Church, Bozeman
Four Shillings Short is Aodh Og O'Tuama on things you blow into and Christy Martin on things with strings (including hammered dulcimer and sitar). They tour the country in a van and have no permanent address, so they play most nights of the week. It takes them two years to complete a lap of the US, something they’ve accomplished five times. Their show was a bit involved to mic but well worth it—they’re bound to be in your neighborhood sooner or later, go hear ‘em.
I ran into them six months later at an Irish festival in Butte, MT and Aodh recognized me from the show. I know the Irish are legendary for long memories (and short tempers) but I have no idea how he does that.
8. Retrospectacles - Elzic's Farewell NW Folklife, Seattle
Danced to this band at Folklife and based on that performance we hired them the next year for our dance weekend. They are technically Seattle based but they’re all college students studying all over the place. Their piano player, Scotty Leach (who may be the Benmont Tench of dance music) had to fly in from Nicaragua. Scotty, by the way, is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet—even after several days with no sleep, many many airports, and US Customs.
9. Patty Griffin – Ohio Ellen Theater, Bozeman
Maybe some of the people in the audience wearing Led Zeppelin t-shirts were disappointed that Robert Plan didn’t show up but she did an excellent performance despite an awful sound system and a venue change at the last minute. Amazingly humble person despite having enough talent for an entire band. The audience was very vocal in their enthusiasm (something that happens a lot here, and which freaks some musicians out) and she handled it well.
10. The Roe Family Singers - The Buckeye Tree Pilgrim church
They brought their own mics so sound setup went faster than expected. I had time to take them out to dinner. Turns out old-time bands really like Korean food, at least our local. The singer taught herself to clog by watching YouTube videos.
11. Storyhill - Blazing Out of Sight Wilson theater, Bozeman
Two local boys made good—you may have heard them on A Prairie Home Companion. Storyhill is named after a local sledding hill/dog walking trail/makeout spot. They host an annual music festival at a nearby lake.
12. Annalisa - Either Way Museum of the Rockies amphitheater, Bozeman
Heard her playing with her band, Bearfoot Bluegrass. They’re from Alaska. Got to hang out with them a little; the guitarist played a carbon fiber guitar. She let me try it—you had to really wail on it to get it to make any sound. Anyway…I only had enough money for one CD so I bought Annalisa’s solo effort.
13. Nina Nastasia - The Blackened Air My living room
Got a phone call from a friend of the band; they would be passing thru and could they stay with us? So we made a party out of it. Barbecued a bunch of elk and lamb, and tried barbecuing portabella mushroom caps for the first time for the one vegetarian (there’s one in every band). One of the musicians had a one-man-band suit with him in the van; my midmost tried it on and stomped around making noise with a huge grin on his face. Turns out he was the first person to ever wear that suit besides its owner.
They gave me some CDs to pass out to local radio stations; turns out there was an extra.
14. Chirgilchin – Doshpoulour Ellen Theater
Every time throat singers come to town they sell out whatever venue they’re playing and this was no exception. They had a translator on stage to explain the stories the songs tell; one involves sheep blocking a road and has the musicians making “baaaaa!” noises (it was too long to include, go buy the album Aryskan's Wind if you can find it if you need to know what that sounds like).
I got to meet the band but I have no idea what they wrote on the CD.
15. Jason Isbell – Stockholm Big Sky Summer Music Festival, Big Sky, MT
Someone in the crowd kept calling out song requests; Jason got irritated and asked “How much did y’all pay to get in?” (It’s a free festival.)
They did a fabulous show and closed with a kick-ass version of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.
16. Mean Lids - Trip to Pakistan/La Sansonett Wintergreen dance weekend, Bozeman
Was amazed at how little luggage they carried. The banjo player had a take-down banjo that fit in a carry-on suitcase. Loaned them my beater Subaru for the weekend; my midmost had thoughtfully used it to haul two dead deer the weekend before and the carpet had blood on it.
17. Pete's Posse - The Virgins/ Grateful Place Pilgrim church
Pete Sutherland has been one of my musical heroes for decades so it was a real thrill to get to meet him. His band included a hot-shot teenage fiddler just out of high school. Turns out they had spent the night before at a mutual friend’s house in Billings. Got his business card; hope to hire them for a dance someday.
The song Grateful Place kinda sums up Pete’s attitude toward life. He spends a lot of time teaching and mentoring young musicians back in Vermont. It’s nice to see someone putting his money where his mouth is.
18. The Latter Day Lizards - Rainy Night in Montague Stellar Days and Nights dance weekend, Buena Vista, CO
The sounds you hear in the background are contra dancers stomping and whooping it up, and that’s how I heard them first as well. They aren’t your typical dance band—a lot jazzier and swingier. It’s a trip dancing a traditional square to these guys. Shared a ride with two of them and got to buy them a beer in the Denver airport. Their next gig was a week-long English Country Dance festival in Hawaii. Brutal.
Disc 21. Genticorum - La Grondeuse Opossum Wintergreen dance weekend
Three of the absolutely sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. I don’t think anybody has as much fun at what they do as Quebecois musicians. I was the only member of the organizing committee who spoke any French so I got to introduce them at their concert. The fiddler (the guy doing foot percussion on this tune) travels with his own chair so it won’t collapse on stage. We nicknamed him Obelix.
2. Greg Brown - Small Dark Movie Gateway Inn, Gallatin Gateway, MT
Greg used to be a park ranger in Yellowstone and played his first open mic nights in Livingston on his nights off. We took the kids to this show because his music up to then was kinda family-friendly, but he had just gotten divorced and he was all about the dark and brooding at this point. Tells fantastic stories on stage but the kids were disappointed they didn’t get to hear Rooty-Toot-Toot For the Moon.
3. Fiddle Dundee - Waiting for Snow Grace Bible Church, Bozeman
I didn’t technically acquire this record from the band since it was never released, but I did help pay for it. That’s my youngest on guitar. The band has since recorded a full CD but it’s not out yet, and 2/3 of its current members are moving to Hawaii with their parents so the band will soon be no more.
4. Ben Bullington - Twangy Guitars Pilgrim Church
First heard this song on the local college radio station and it stopped me in my tracks. Besides the personal resonance it has for me it’s the best depiction of what it’s like to live here I’ve ever heard.
A few months later I heard it in concert and sat there with tears rolling down my cheeks. It still has the same effect on me. Ben helped organize the Red Ants Pants Festival and played it every year until he died in 2013 of pancreatic cancer, which he was already suffering from when I heard him. Last year the White Sulphur Springs High School choir opened the festival with his songs.
5. Iron & Wine - Monkeys Uptown Wilma Theater, Missoula, MT
My kids and I are all long-time fans so when I heard this show was coming but had already sold out I worked the network. Somebody knew the sound guy and my youngest and I got comped. VIP treatment! Thanked the sound guy after and he told us this was the hardest-working band he’d ever toured with—they played every single day, a festival or a concert or a dive bar, but somewhere.
I wasn’t that impressed with this album until I heard this stellar show (including a ten minute version of House By the Sea) and we listened to the disc on the way home.
6. Hit & Run Bluegrass - The Whole World Round Pilgrim Church
Unquestionably the best-dressed bluegrass band I’ve ever heard.
7. Joy Kills Sorrow - Darkness Sure Becomes This City Pilgrim Church
An urban bluegrass band from NYC. Great fun to hear traditional instruments and technique applied to modern lyrics.
8. Nat Kendal Presents - Heart of Stone Zebra Cocktail Lounge, Bozeman
I used to work with Nat back before he became a full-time musician. He was touring with his band, Eightrack Mind, and met me at the bar before the show with a fistful of CDs to distribute to local radio stations. This is from his solo work.
9. Perpetual e-Motion - Flying Tent Wintergreen dance weekend
Hardest-working band I’ve ever worked with. They did sound as well as headlined the show and spent a week in the area doing free promotional shows and touring Yellowstone. Another band I loaned my beater Subaru to. Sadly they have announced they are splitting up later this year; there’s still time to catch them live. If you can’t make it to some of the most exhilarating dance music you’ll ever hear enjoy this number, which they wrote as kind of a calling card to show off what they can do.
There are only two people here, one on fiddle and the other playing guitar and didgeridoo. They loop and sample to build their layered sound. That really baked some dancers’ noodles.
10. Special Consensus - Dusk 'Til Dawn Pilgrim Church
These guys are a big draw in the bluegrass world so when they walked into the venue to see only a dozen or so in the audience you could see their faces fall. Until they started playing, and the crowd (if you can call it that) was into it. Hollering and applauding solos, it lit them up. It wound up being a damned fine show.
11. christopher of the wolves – two hulusi Sidewalk at NW Folklife, Seattle
We were taking a lunch break at Folklife, sitting in the shade on a little grassy knoll and listening to buskers. One nearby was a one-man band with a huge didgeridoo stretched out on the sidewalk, drums, flutes, and probably more. He had a little cart with a stack of CDs on it, and on his back was a sign that read “All $400”.
My midmost asked if he could have four dollars for a CD and we thought what the heck, this sounds kinda cool, why not. Off he skips to the busker and hands him the money. After a brief conversation the busker breaks out laughing and hands him a CD.
It turns out he was selling a package of all his CDs for four hundred, and each was ten bucks. But apparently a cute kid trumps a marketing plan.
12. The Wailin' Jennys - Bright Morning Stars Ellen Theater
During the show they told stories of shopping for shoes in Bozeman (despite the audience’s best efforts they never figured out the pronunciation of “Schnee’s”) and their last gig in town, which included an episode of projectile vomiting and a trip to the hospital. At one point they announced that the only part of the theater they hadn’t heard from was the balcony; someone shouted “More balcony in the monitor!”
If I had brought more money I’d have scored solo albums from each of them; I’ll just have to be content with a CD signed by all three. Despite being thronged by fans they were gracious and friendly.
13. Weatherwood – Ice Fall BFS contra dance, Eagles ballroom, Bozeman
Three of the best musicians in the area—two former Montana Mandolin Society members and my youngest’s fiddle teacher. The ice fall in the title refers to a local ice climbing attraction.
This is the only Weatherwood tune I’ve gotten on the playlist at RP. They told me every year they get a check for a couple bucks.
14. Shel – Freckles Weber Mandolin
OK, I didn’t technically acquire this from the band, my youngest did. He got it when he built them their mandolin. He was smitten (google up pictures of the band if you want to see why) but their music is quite lively too.
15. Baskery - The Big Flo Red Ants Pants Music Festival, White Sulphur Springs, MT
Three sisters from Sweden who play a very raucous show—including at one point the banjo player standing on top of her sister’s bass drum. They look like teenagers but the oldest is 30 or so.
This song is about a Boeing 727 that was sacrificed in a crash test. How could I not fall in love with them?
16. Brother - The Machine: 2006 (Keep The World Turning) Hamilton Scottish Games, Hamilton, MT
My wife’s band was the opening act in the music tent, then they had an afternoon show and a ceilidh dance to play for at night. All day to kill (I’m the roadie) in the pouring rain (good Scottish weather!) so I hung around to hear the other bands. These guys came on after lunch.
Apparently a big deal in their native Australia before the other brothers left, the remainder of the band soldiers on. But a band featuring highland pipes, electric guitar, synth, and didgeridoo that references George Orwell in their lyrics…how could I skip this?
After the ceilidh as things were breaking up the bagpipe judges showed up to play. They’d been sitting in bad weather all day listening to amateur pipers do their best and they had a little whisky in them and it was time to cut loose. Just then the piper from Brother crashes the party and it was on. One bagpipe indoors is a lot, three or four at a time each trying to outdo the others is a riot. High point of the event. The wife’s band is already booked for next year.
17. John McCutcheon - Step By Step A now-defunct supper club in Encinitas, CA
We had been fans of John for years when we heard he was playing a funky little restaurant (a converted house) two days before the place closed. We managed to get tickets and he put on a phenomenal show, playing a half dozen instruments, including the house piano. Got to hear him a few years later at a school auditorium; he left his fiddle case open on stage to take requests while he was on a break. The only thing we had to write on was a Far Side desk calendar. He’s going thru the little slips of paper, mumbling “mm-hmm…ok..” when suddenly he stops and says “That’s sick!”
He played our request tho.
18. Carla Sciaky - Fathers Now Our Meeting Is Over Same supper club, two days later
Another artist we’d wanted to see for years was booked to play the same supper club its last night in business. Got to see her play another stage full of instruments and scored all her records—which have since become even harder to find than they were back then.
One of the people singing harmony on this song is Pete Sutherland. And so the circle closes.