Saturday, February 07, 2015

Chris Thile subs for Garrison Keillor on APHC


"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." - Garrison Keillor

As we come up on WoodSongs 800th broadcast I can get a small idea of why Garrison Keillor would want to take a break, step back and listen to A Prairie Home Companion like any fan would ... sitting at home with the radio on while doing other things.

It gives you a whole new perspective of what, why and how you are doing something. Sometimes, your brain needs a ding dang break from doing something so well for so long. Garrison is the king and he deserves it.

And what better sub-host could he pick than Chris Thile? Chris has been on WoodSongs nine times in various musical incarnations. He's creative, personable, fun, happy and fearless. And APHC is about the art form, not the ratings. Because of that, they have great ratings because good art is all this audience cares about. Having  a seasoned "pro" host wouldn't serve the art form as well as having a genuine, respected artist at the helm like Chris. Garrison has done his fans and his show well. And I hope everyone tunes in, it will be a special night indeed.

I'll probably add more to this later. For now, I'm getting ready to relax and tune in A Prairie Home Companion with the wifey and the twins here at the log cabin.

We'll be listening while doing other things, too :)

 mj
_______


So the weekend has past and we are getting ready for a WoodSongs broadcast tonight. I got to listen to most of the first hour of Chris Thile's premier as guest host ... and then the last 15 minutes or so.

Chris did a great job. Actually, he did a fantastic job. He was fun, he sounded relaxed. The music was impeccable as expected, Sarah sang like an angel ( I liked the jokes about their last names), the poet was entertaining and brilliant. Garrison's staff did a bang-up job helping Chris navigate from segment to segment ... and the guy ended exactly on time.

I think Garrison picked well asking Chris to to guest host. I understand Garrison called Thile and left a message on his cell phone about it. Considering Chris' touring schedule, Garrison got lucky.

I'm not a big fan of critics. These are folks who are often incapable of doing what they are criticizing who are given a media forum to tear down. Or build up. And I'm sure somewhere out there a reviewer will have something harsh to say. No one is ever 100% approved by the media, no matter how great or sincere.

But Chris reached well beyond his comfort zone. Garrison entrusted his legacy and years of creative sweat and placed them all on a "rookies" shoulders.

Bottom of the ninth. Based loaded. Mandolin player at bat.
Grand slam.

'nuff said.
mj


Monday, January 26, 2015

MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia


It was a fun, exciting goal ... put on hold for a while. MOUSIE HIWAY: The Adventures of BANJO MOUSE in Appalachia is the first in a series of children's books that involve music, a good story, a fun character and a valid lesson.

Alas, life, schedules and energy are not my friend at the moment so the project is on hold. MOUSIE HIWAY, the first of the series is about a banjo playing mouse that travels Appalachia, meeting other musicians and forming the Mousie HiWay Band. I hope to pick up the project again soon. This feels funny because I never stop anything. Ever.

The story and accompanying CD (I would read the story and have the music going on behind me until the end when the whole bluegrass band plays the song "Mousie HiWay") would introduce the sound of the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and bass to young ears in a fun way.

I'm not aware of another bluegrass-related children's book like this.

Anyway, I like the story. And the rhymes. And it's based somewhat on fact. It's true: I did live in Mousie Kentucky and Blue Moon Mountain separated the little hamlet from Hindman, KY, the county seat and yes, I traveled the hollers with my banjo.

So, here is it, read it with a tempo, find the phrasing. I'm including an early sketch of the Banjo Mouse character. You have my permission to read it to your kids if you want, but not to reprint this in anyway. Actually, it would be great if you created your own pictures to go with the story. Make your own children's book. Heck, why not? How hard can it be?

Send me pics if you do: michael@woodsongs.com

If all goes well, I hope to have a book and hold my twins in my lap someday, reading this to them.

MOUSIE HIWAY

The Adventures of Banjo Mouse in the Appalachian Mountains

words and characters by Michael Johnathon
c2015 Rachel Aubrey Music, INC/BMI

Banjo Mouse
Fiddle Fox
Doggy Dobro
Mando Mouse
Little Bitty Beaver




This is the adventures of Banjo Mouse
He didn’t have a bed and he didn’t have a house
But he had a lot friends where ever he’d go
'cause he knew a bunch of songs on the ol’ banjo

Then one night in the Appalachian hills
He heard a lonesome sound and everything got still
In the silvery moon just sittin’ on a rock
He found a new friend named Fiddle Fox

Well, he and Fiddle Fox played all night long
They played a lot of tunes, sang a lot of songs
But when the sun came up they had no place to go
till they met a new friend named Doggy Dobro

When Doggy played the dobro he could bend those notes
He would bend them up high and bend them down low
with the fiddle and the banjo they would laugh and shout
It was a dream come true for Banjo Mouse

But now, the whole band knew there was something still a-missin’
You could hear it so plain, you could hear it if you listen
So they mumbled and they grumbled till they figured it out
When up from a holler came Mando Mouse

Mando Mouse was Banjo’s cousin
He could play his mandolin, even when he’s runnin’
He could play it so fast he had everyone a-shoutin’
And it echoed through the hollers of Blue Moon Mountain

Now, Banjo Mouse knew they wouldn’t get far
They had a real fine band but they needed one more.
So he wondered and he pondered and he wished upon a star
And from a cabin on a hill came Kitty Guitar

She was a six-string Kitty she could pick and sing
Banjo Mouse could made the banjo ring
No one played the fiddle like Fiddle Fox could
and Dobro Doggie made the song sound good

But Banjo Mouse stopped and said “hey wait a minute...”
we have a real fine band but there’s something not in it
We all want to play a real big show
but the show won’t go unless we play it down low

And then though the bushes came a rumblin’ sound
it shook all the trees and it ratted the ground
and down from the mountain with a smile on his face
came a little bitty beaver with a great big bass

Well, from Blue Moon Mountain to the hollers all around
the people all gathered for that bluegrass sound
and they sang and they cheered again and again
Everybody loves the Mousie HiWay Band!


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Love

I had a friend ... smart, musical, artistic, brutally intelligent, gentle, healthy, married to a man who adored her, young at 41. She went to St Johns for a vacation this past weekend, a place she loved to visit with her husband and friends, and looking over the sands and the ocean the after her birthday on Saturday ... and succumbing to the aching sadness she hid deep inside her heart, she killed herself.

And she's gone.

It occurred to me how precious the commodity of Love is. And Time. It's a priceless currency we often spend unwisely and wasted without even realizing it. I think Love should become important again. We must look at others though a kinder prism accepting imperfection and realizing that, often those who carry themselves with confidence and beauty, are most often hiding a great pain we can not see.

I will miss the scathing banter over songs with my friend and wish her family well.


Perhaps we all need to revisit this idea of Love especially as the music business collapses around us.  Years ago, folks gathered on the their front porches and livings rooms to sing and play together. It helped them love each other, know each other, enjoy time with each other. People played for free because they loved it ... folks listened for free because the loved it. After air conditioning and TV was invented, we retreated into a community-endorsed silence, waiting for the commercial before we dare interrupt.

About that time, business-y people figured out how to sell vibrating air on plastic discs with holes in it, and the Star system was invented as a way to sell as many of these discs as possible. The idea was to separate you from your front porch ... your own music ... as far as possible so that you can be sold on the insane idea that only the "star" was truly qualified to make good music.

What a bunch of ding-danged baloney.

WoodSongs was created as a test of this Love. It is the currency we spend with passion. The crew works for free. I work for free. The artists are not paid. Local hotels put them up for free and local restaurants donate meals. The show goes from to radio, free to public television and free to American Forces Radio.

More can be accomplished in life when fueled by passion than by payment. Love is the most powerful currency in history. It's time for artists to re-embrace this idea, to love their music and their audiences and not be so concerned with money. Bean counters ruined the music industry. Passionate visionaries with bring life back into it.

But only if we notice. Love makes us listen more than speak. I wish I had noticed the pain my friend was in. I wish I knew that she needed more people to listen to her. I can't imagine how hard this is for her husband and family, they must feel the same but amplified a thousand times more than me.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Pete

Been having a lot of thoughts about Pete's passing. Expected but never expected, you know? It's taken me a few days to let it all settle in, but here it goes:

Pete was my musical template and career exemplar, as he was to many. He was our our wood chopping, maple syrup making, protest singing, banjo playing, ship building, song writing, book authoring, album making, concert performing, boat sailing and community involvement friend. 

He was America's connection to its own musical legacy. He traveled with Woody Guthrie, archived America's music with John Lomax, helped introduce Dylan and Joan Baez to the world and introduced Martin Luther King to a reworded old song called "We Shall Overcome." He sang in Madison Square Garden, concert halls around the world and grammar schools. He would think of nothing, even at 94 years old, to grab his banjo and stand on a cold street corner with protesters for any cause he agreed with.


Pete was banned from American television because of his stand on free speech and affiliations. So in the 1960s he and his wife Toshi took their meager savings ... even famous folkies don't make much ... and convinced a New Jersey PBS stations to let him try out a TV series called Rainbow Quest. Pete would sit around a picnic table, play a song with one of his friends like Doc Watson or Ralph Stanley, then chat a while. Then play another song. I added a live audience to his idea and it became WoodSongs.

He had some defined habits ... he preferred to respond to folks letters on small, reused pieces of paper or a post card. He would draw a little banjo next to his name, a tribute to his wife's Japanese heritage. He would also glue a small oak or maple leaf to his letters and cards, "my connection to the earth" he would claim. 


Then of course there was that statement he scrolled on his famous banjo. 

Pete had this habit of lifting his head upward when he sang. It's an iconic photo of him, chin raised high and urging the audience to sing. That habit put so much pressure on his vocal chords that, as he aged, his voice began to leave him and made it hard for him to sing at all.

I first encountered Pete at the old Grand Union grocery store in Beacon NY. I knew of this neighbor, we all though he was nuts. Anytime there was a thunderstorm this old guy who claimed to be a musician but played the banjo would show up at our school with an ax ... an AX .. and chop up the fallen limbs. After high school a friend invited me to travel to Laredo Texas and try being a DJ on KLAR AM. They gave me the 12-6am time slot, that's where they stick you when you really suck. One night it was time to play an oldies song so I by chance pulled "Turn, Turn, Turn" by The Byrds off the shelf. As it played I looked at the song information and noticed it was written by my crazy neighbor. 

"Ohhhhh," says I. "That's who Pete Seeger is."

Right now there are many misguided efforts to "honor" him. Some want to change the name of the Hudson River to the Seeger River. Pete would rise from the grave and whack those folks over the head with his banjo on that one. Others want to rename a bridge in NYC after him. Same reaction, no doubt. Other are already laying claim to who will carry his torch or who his so called heir-apparent might be. He deserved to own his legacy without others handing it off or even suggesting someone comes close to his passion, music and work. No one does. So let's stop. He deserves better than those with no stage creating a stage by clamoring to rename the Hudson River or a NYC bridge in his "honor." It may be well intentioned but god-awful disgraceful at best. 
 

I'm sure everyone misses Pete and express these ideas with good intentions. If you really want to honor Pete, go sing a free concert in a school. Pick up trash along your neighbors yard. Gather your friends for a front porch sing along. Organize a music festival in a pumpkin patch for a good cause. Volunteer at a homeless shelter and bring your banjo for an after supper sing.

My thought: I think his eyes would twinkle to have have a sloop with his name on it, the Pete sailing alongside the Woody on the Hudson River he loved. Or to rename the park in Beacon where the Beacon Sloop Club stands the Pete & Toshi Memorial Gardens. 

One of his greatest regrets as he grew older was not spending enough time during his younger years with his wife. She gave up many of her own dreams and wants to support his. "I was just being a good wife," she would tell me. Not many of those around, I would respond. All of Pete's envelopes were return addressed to "Pete & Toshi Seeger" and he was always thrilled to tell her that some reviewer or artist was including her by name in something.

Gonna miss that fellow. A lot. I just got a note from him two days before he passed ... can you believe that? Pete was so proud he made it to 94, he missed his wife Toshi.

Folk on and on,
mj