Parting from our last excursion from the Ikeaverse and the 70's era wolf pack of rockers we move to a separate reality experience when "Hemily", myself and two others pack our gear into the heart of Virginia near Gettysburg where their friends put on an annual camp out complete with fantastic music, camping, jam circles, and not to mention some of the tastiest pulled pork sandwiches I've had in quite some time. Don't get too much pork in Muslim Niger!
Anyhow after a day of watching Henry complete in Maryland at some back water harbour bar about two hundred "remember the glory days" mix of former high school athletes, fraternity jockey boys, and yokels compete in beer pong. Nothing is really worth mentioning this other than saying WTF!!!! is this. Serious, guys competing on who can throw a ping pong ball into a cup of beer for cash and prizes is stupid, but watching the testosterone soar and shit talking fly was only made worth for it the free food pilfered, and the insanely cheap beer we drank.
Anyhow, after the ding dong tournament we arrive at this wonderful spread of a place complete marshlands and a picturesque creek flowing through a beautifully landscaped home. At the house they had erected a full on stage where the night's entertainment included a bluegrass band from Pennsylvania, a local jam band from Gettysburg, as well as some filler material such as a guy with a guitar.
For a little venue of less than a hundred folk they had one hell of a stage erected complete with professional sound engineer along with all his studio equipment.
The patrons of this wayfarers pilgrimage ranged from cities such as DC and Baltimore, and even some of the local color infiltrated the camp. I recall in between our jam session when I got up to stretch my back and grab some fire water from a tent I saw a pair of hairy confederates near the distant campfire away from the jam bullying each other over politics and I don't know who could piss further. Though they could never agree on the exact same point they were both arguing on with fingers pointed and teeth bared, agreement was settled when one made the popular call to solidarity balking Fuck'n A!!' White Power!, White Power!
Where the $%^* am I?
ahem, I'm from a free state. Well kinda, Missouri was kind of split.
Leaving them alone and not alluding to the fact that their arguments were shit, and it did little good to intervene in such nonsense I returned to the Jam knowing two things. Unlike them I have opposable thumbs, and I can certainly piss farther.
But the point of this blog isn't to touch on the subtleties of Beer Pong, or knuckle dragging extremist, its about my first Jam since being back after a year and half of isolation in Niger from playing bluegrass/jam music. Mind you I picked up the mandolin mere months before leaving for Niger and someone telling me to play a G chord was as alien to me to comprehend as these morons were to understanding that America is most likely going to have its first its first black president.
Down with Whitey!!
Its no secret playing mandolin is no longer a hobby or passion it is an extension of who I have become over my walkabout in Niger, and though I do on occasion jam with rasta's, and other varieties of Africans, and all other walks of life. As a mandolin player in Africa my instrument is more of a novelty and though it does fit in, its not the roots of the music I constantly play.
So one could say this was my time to shine and see what I could do after my year and half's journey.
I arrived at the jam a little late after needing to take down some liquid courage, they knew I was coming and were excited to have a mando' player infiltrate the ranks of banjo, fiddle, and two guitarists. Still a little sheepish and suffering from a bit from not feeling entirely welcome at the small venue I awkwardly picked a seat behind the players and softly included my chops, and a few small runs up and down the fretboard when inspired to do so.
After about twenty minutes of this type of playing my very good friend Henry (the music critic) crouched next to me and said "quit being so precocious and show them what you can do".
Precocious? What the....? Precocious? I have had a lot of life experiences wandering the spinning big blue spinning ball, been loved and loathed and called accordingly. But precocious? Never.
How does one even respond to that?
Well here's how.
Understanding my friends point and he was right, I've come along way to far to simply be mouse'ish and not do what I know I can. So at the next break in songs I was going to do something a little out of the ordinary at a jam circles, I was going to play something of my own.
So the break occurred, while everyone was waiting for the next song to play I started off the beginning of one of the songs I wrote called "Tabula Rasa" which is Latin for "a new beginning" Its a simple piece Dm F C, then back to DM and in Nigerien fashion it repeats itself with the melody and bridge never changing but only in intensity.
I don't know exactly why I decided not to sing the lyrics I wrote for the song but instead I chose to improve the song by weaving a story that was a summation of my wayfaring that began with my induction into adulthood by joining the military to pick up a gun to make my way in the world, but became seriously disheartened as an effect from what I experienced. Then the song morphed into the trials and tribulations of living in Niger then wrapped up with an unexpected intensity that left me emotionally charged and a little misty eyed when I ended the song screaming about the pain of losing my spiritual rasta guide Patrick in a fatal accident one day before we were supposed to link together to help operate a music festival for Nigerien artists and musicians.
My friend was a rastaman
we played for love of all god's man
but when we found our way
and 'bout to wander away
he up and died.
When I started the song everyone sort of stared at me wondering what the hell was this, I was breaking jam band circle code, but when they took in the lyrics and got the gist's of the chords the fiddle came in, then the banjo, lastly the guitar added its instrumentation and before I knew it a full band was rocking it out behind my mandolin and lyrics, though my eyes were closed the entire time I could sense the intensity of the attention of everyone present.
After we finished the song there was an eerie silence as everyone stared, I rubbed a tear from my cheek with the back of my long sleeve shirt and the fiddle player turned around and said. "Dude, did you write that?", Ah well kinda, I wrote the song but improved the lyrics. "Damn, that was intense."
Welcome to the wayfarer's world.
Later as we liberals and hippies took over the bonfire after all the supremacists left about 0230 after a solid three or four hours of playing, I felt my previous precociousness left way behind moldering in ashes after ripping up and down the mandolin.
At the fire the guys in the band asked me more about my journey, my music and commented that my isolation and self taught style of playing mandolin was quite unique and that they were thoroughly pleased to have had the chance to play with me. I felt likewise, it was my D day of playing in America, though it was simply a jam at a inconsequential home festival it was my first time ever playing with veteran musicians at an open jam of the sorts.
In many ways this event was very therapeutic for me, to me when something is really burning deep inside of me there is no way to convey my thoughts through work, conversation, or the spoken word, my medium of choice is the mandolin. It has been there on all the nights in Africa where I have experienced such a wide range of emotions both happy and sad. But all memorable.
I have no preconceived notions of ever trying to "make it" playing music its not my goal to rely on this in my life, but to get through life when I need it most. But who knows music has become the form other form in which I can be completly honest and portray the world I see through sharing my experiances and emotions. It has become an unexpected surprise in which I use to often connect with others. So if it challenges people to think critically, open their minds, or just enjoy a little melody and sing along, well then my job is done.
We'll its getting late 0200 and I need to start winding down for the night, I'm also watching America play Holland in Olympic soccer and I'm a little torn, though i am rooting for America, I did live in Holland for a small very influential period of my life and I am also rooting for them.
So in my confusion I'm going to leave this blog the way it is until my Microsoft word works on my computer and I can edit out all the junk.
alright hope you enjoyed this quick waste of your time.