This bluegrass travelogue comes courtesy of Tom Feller, one half of Feller & Hill, whose spur-of-the-moment trip to our nation’s capitol is described below. There is much to what Tom says that could be of benefit to other bands and entertainers.
While doing some day to day business promoting our new album Here Come Feller and Hill…Again!, I sent a few email inquiries out regarding some guest spots on popular bluegrass radio shows. Later that morning, I received a call from WAMU’s Katy Daley. We had met Katy, in person, last year at the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, in Pilesgrove, NJ. She seemed very personable, but tired, that day. Any bluegrass festival in 90+ degree weather can wear a person out, and Katy was the festivals main emcee that day, so we totally understood the fatigue that I’m sure she was feeling. Katy is also someone I’ve admired for some time, even before getting the chance to meet. She has been very helpful and influential in the bluegrass community.
Back to our story: Katy agreed to open a spot for Feller and Hill to appear live on her Katy Daley Show on Tuesday, April 8th. This meant a trip to Washington for us. I hadn’t been to D.C., aside from traveling through, since my days with the Larry Stephenson Band. We looked forward to the upcoming trip, which was only a week away.
In my excitement, I thought it would be neat to arrange a “jingle-type” promotion for our upcoming spot on the Katy Daley Show. Any bluegrasser will likely recognize the built-in marketability-factor in the name Katy Daley. In addition to Katy’s name, it was a bluegrass song originally recorded in the ’60′s by Paul “Moon” Mullins and his Bluegrass Playboys, popularized by Dr. Ralph Stanley, and has gone on to become one of today’s bluegrass standards.
Chris and I wrote a quick 18-second jingle, filled with facts about our appearance on the show (who, what, when, where, why, etc…), and performed to the tune of Katy Daley. I didn’t really expect much to come of it, if anything. We mainly did it to have fun and just go the extra-mile. I had sensed a slight bit of disappointment in Katy’s voice, while on the phone going over details of our appearance, when I informed her we wouldn’t be bringing the whole band, but just the two of us. I guess I felt compelled to work a little harder to win her over. The logistics vs. economics of a trip like this determined wether or not we could afford to take the whole band. Neither were in our favor, so we decided to make a two-man appearance and bring our A-game.
Evidently, our A-game won over several folks at WAMU, including Gary Henderson, who just couldn’t get enough of our custom-promo. Katy and the staff made us feel at home, right away. We felt very comfortable in the atmosphere they provided. Our one-hour portion of the show went by before we knew it. Katy took us a tour of the station and informed us of some exciting things they had in the works. I think the bluegrass community owes much to the folks at WAMU, such as Ray Davis and Gary Henderson, who have spent entire careers promoting bluegrass and bringing it to the world on a large scale.
After we finished our visit with Katy, we traveled down towards the capitol. It had been so long since I visited the area, I had nearly forgotten how beautiful the scenery was. We traveled roads through many wooded areas with very tall and elaborate high-bridges. Many folks were out walking and enjoying the trails and the beautiful dogwood and cherry blossoms. It has been a very long winter in the Cincinnati area, and even a longer one in DC. So, I’m sure folks are really enjoying themselves this week.
We drove towards the Washington Monument with the windows down enjoying a warm breeze, when I received a call from an old friend. I don’t really think of Dudley Connell as old, but we have known each other for many years. When I worked with Larry Stephenson many years ago, we did many shows together with Dudley. Dudley was in and out of the music scene (no pun intended), in those days. Dudley and Larry had worked on many recording projects together and I got to know him, through Larry and all the times they would meet to rehearse, or just hang out.
Dudley invited us to stop in and visit with him, at his office. He has, in my opinion, one of the coolest jobs in the world, at the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Silver Spring, MD. He spends much of his time archiving historical recordings (tapes and old records) to the digital format. If you loved music, as we do, this would be a wonderful job to have. Dudley seemed very gracious about his good fortune to work at such a great job.
We also took the opportunity to just catch up. Often, we see each other at shows, but don’t have much time to visit. It’s difficult to visit when schedules are tight and the ability to rest comes few and far between. We enjoyed our visit with Dudley, who is and has always been a class-act.
When we booked our visit with Katy Daley, a friend of mine found out about the show and contacted another friend, who we haven’t seen in a long time, Jay Armsworthy. Jay hosts a weekly show, called Bluegrass on the Bay, broadcast every Wednesday on worldwidebluegrass.com, from his home in California, MD, and let him know that we were in the area. Jay called and asked if we would be willing to stop in and record a show with him. It was a couple hours farther for us. But, since we don’t get out to the area very often, we decided to splurge and make the most of our trip.
We had a very relaxing drive (unlike the morning rush-hour we experienced that took one-hour and forty minutes to drive twelve miles from our room to the WAMU station) down to California. The trip was a very scenic-drive filled with old historic buildings and more beautiful trees. For whatever reason, there seemed to be an abundance of very well-maintained classic-cars, too. I think there may have been a car show in the area, but regardless, we enjoyed seeing them.
We visited Jay and his wife Michelle. Jay is also a fine musician and asked if he could join in with us on a couple of numbers for the show. He surprised us by knowing our song Big Blue Roses and he never missed a beat. We recorded about an hour segment for Jay’s show on the following night. We finally made our way back to the room and kicked back for the first good night of rest we had, since leaving home.
We returned on Wednesday with a sense of accomplishment and pride. We were a bit nervous about performing the Government Blues, our latest single, over the airwaves–in the nation’s capitol. Katy asked about it and we joked that either people would love it, or there will be some black cars pulling up, outside the building, when we get done.
It can be difficult for musicians/bands to make spur-of-the-moment trips, such as this. It can be especially difficult, when money is tight and when the schedule of bookings leaves much to be desired. We weighed the benefits vs. the loss and decided that we had more to gain by making a trip and spending our time and money by bringing our music to some key people, who have the power to bring it to the masses. A small investment (less than $500), may very well be returned ten-fold, in many different forms, including bookings, CD sales, merchandise sales, and the potential stimulation of our music on the bluegrass charts.
Those are all things that would be much more difficult to do, as we sat at the house and saved our money. Would we do it again? Most definitely!