This post is a contribution from David Morris, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. Photos for this post are from Roy Swann.
Some stray notes and riffs from the World of Bluegrass conference this week in Nashville:
WHAT IS THAT? Hang around any group of bluegrassers long enough and a debate will break out about drums, electric basses or other “fringe” instruments. But even those who make allowances for non-mainstream instruments – the ones who are the first to say, “Hey, Bill Monroe used drums” – were doing double takes at the “thing” that Jubal’s Kin brought to the stage for their after-hours showcase sets Wednesday night.
So what role does an oversized megaphone on a tripod play? “We’re trying to recreate the sound (from effects) we got on our album,” explained Roger Amundsen, one half of the young brother-sister duo. On one tune, Roger picked his mandolin through the contraption. On the next, he cranked it up a foot or so and sang through it.
Purists no doubt cringed, but, hey, one time Bill Monroe talked about using … a trombone!
HAT TRICK. Mark Schatz is a man of many hats, literally and figuratively. From the literal side of the ledger, let’s just put it this way: if you ever see the bassist without a hat on his head, take a picture because you’ll have a collector’s item. From the figurative column, calling Schatz a bassist is like calling Luciano Pavarotti a singer. Sure, he’s one of the best thumpers in the business, but on stage with the Claire Lynch Band, he also picks a banjo tune or two, often gets to sing or play one of the many songs he has written, clogs up a storm and – if the set is long enough, offers up a how-does-he-do-that hambone routine. The hambone routine is unscripted, with just one guiding principle: “What kind of weird stuff can I do and keep singing,” he said.
So how many hats hath Schatz? “Oh, man, lots,” said Jason Thomas, who fiddles while Schatz clogs. “Probably 20,” guessed the band’s guitarist, Matt Wingate. Even Schatz doesn’t appear to know, ticking off a list but never arriving at an answer – “Three that I generally travel with. Sometimes when I drive I bring a derby, but on a plane it’s too much trouble. Several vintage hats, a tam.” When we left, he still appeared to be counting.
GOOD LUCK, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Alabama songwriter Cliff Abbott had three goals in mind when he drove up for the day Wednesday – check in with his publisher, Herman Cook, who has a booth in the exhibit hall; scout for pitching possibilities and meet his songwriting hero, Tom T. Hall. Abbott wasn’t in the convention center for more than five minutes when Hall ambled by.
“You taught me more about songwriting than I learned at any seminar,” Abbott said about listening to Hall’s creations over the years.” The affable Hall was quick with his comeback: “Well, don’t go learnin’ too much. I’m not done yet.”