For those of you who have been tuning into my life since the conception of this blog, or before then, then you would know that I picked up the mandolin late in 2006 merely months prior to leaving for Niger and it has never been more than arm reach since.
Be it traversing a mountain, canoeing a river, or trudging through the Nigerien deserts, or continuing on my omnivores odyssey "ah" mandolin has never been more than arm reach away, hopefully, that's how its going to be as long life courses through my veins.
The mandolin influenced portion of my life began when my good friend and music mentor Rich Berry (a delta acoustic blues player) told me to play mandolin instead of guitar.
Bewildered my response was….What the @$&%! is a mandolin?
Prior to leaving for the walkabout in Niger my music genesis began by playing with and learning from friends or folk whom I would meet along the way. Not to mention the countless hours meticulously picking apart the music pulsing from the stereo.
Though I am no professional, if not for the likes of my immediate mentors the mandolin would never have crossed my path and altered my life. Here are a few of my most immediate influences.
Barty Crawford: 82 years young, A bluegrass hall of famer, mandolin player, teacher, fiddler, historian, and former cohort to the greats such as Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and the list goes on and on and on.
Niger: Patrick (last name and age unknown)
AKA-Le Viper,("le vai-pie'aire") graan-PA! and rastaman.
Born Togolese, adopted Nigerien; Patrick was a farmer, musician, humanitarian, mentor to all Nigerien musicians coming up through the ranks as well up to the last day my very good friend.
RIP, bless this soul.
Rob Nold: mid 40's life long musician teacher since age 9, deeply rooted in Appalachian style playing, fiddle, guitar, luthier as well as damn good carpenter and fiery son of a bitch after a few snorts of whiskey.
Lastly, but not beastly there are also my indirect music guides to the likes of David Grisman, Bill Monroe, Sam Bush…the names go on and on, you know the type of Icons whom all aspiring pickers dream of playing like, playing with, or becoming one day.
In this case particular lets focus on Grisman, the one whom I aspired most to play with.
Formerly a member of Old and in the Way, best friend and music partner to the late Jerry Garcia, David "dawg" Grisman is nothing short of a mandolin virtuoso and though he has aged as all things naturally do, the dawg he has never ceased in his abilities to expand the influence of the mandolin into broader diversities of music genres.
The first time I listened to the dawg after picking up the mandolin my first thought was, some day I will find a way to play with him!
Life has a funny way of marking off those life "to do" things along the way, especially when you least expect it.
Last Saturday after a full day of reading and leisurely landscaping the parcel of turf around my humble tent I casually strode up the hill armed to the teeth with my mandolin and with no ambition other than allowing the natural course of events to unfold for a night.
The final performances were mandolin players of all skill levels who shelled out about a thousand clams to learn from some of the masters of the Mandolin world and then later perform with them on stage at the closing gala.
After the individual and group performances they invited all mandolin players to come up stage and perform two numbers in a full mandolin orchestra.
So myself and another fellow farmie from the apprenticeship went up with our mandolins stood in the back unknowingly stealing the earned spots of two paying pickers apparently part of the rhythm section.
Unbeknown to us the whole group had been practicing throughout the week and even had sheet music and assigned soloist etc etc.
Playing practically "air mandolin" we were struggling to even play anything remotely close to the practiced pickers, but having a ball all the same.
At the end the player next to us mumbled "helps if you come to practice before the performance"
My reply was, how could we have done that, we just got here!
Squinty eyes, you could feel the hairy eyeballs glaring.
At this time the conductor of the performance announces a post party at the commons center.
We look at each other…...Why not? Lets go.
Committed to the night, a trio of our group including the stage storming cohort and one of our awesome "2nd year" apprentices stayed behind after the rest of the farmie gang returned to home base to retire.
About an hour after the performance and closing ceremony many of the players, professors, and family members began trickling into the commons center, Brazilians, Czhech's, Germans, Americans. You name it This is the dAwg's mandolin symposium, its internationally accepted that if you want to learn from the best, this is where you come, but its gonna cost some serious $$$$
Much to my chagrin the festivities were complete with wine, beer, sausages, cheeses, and all the other delectable treats found at an event such as this. So reluctantly we indulge, and thank god my guilty conscious didn't slow me down! It was nearly midnight and I had only a small breakfast way earlier in the day.
The soiree started as all social engagements begin; modest, refrained, then later WHOOSH!
The Brazilians cut loose, outside dozens of folk are dancing, laughing, and commenting on the Brazilians' contagious charm and their amazing skills as musicians.
By this time the cat is out of the bag, nearly all know we have crashed the party, but somehow we are accepted and forgiven. Our rap is that we are farmers who have been supplying all of them with the fresh cut flowers, salad mixes, assorted veggies " and such and that as a result we were too busy to come up earlier or partake in the event formally".
"Though I have been planning on crashing this party since I made the connection between attending CASFS and knowing the symposium was here about two years ago!!"
The gentlemen who growled at us for playing on stage is a computer programmer from Sonoma County, he has a few kids involved in 4-H, they even raise some heritage breeds of turkeys, he sought out our advice in some farming techniques.
We gave him some input, cost him a beer.
Needing a respite from the excitable influence of the Brazilians especially (Danilo Brito) check this man out!!! He was voted pretty much best musician in Brazil, really nice guy, imagine Django Reinheart but with all his fingers, anyhow I was needing a break so I went inside and was swept away by an entirely different party.
Sitting on couches there were kids aged about 8 (much better players than I) and all other aged folks playing blues music to the que of one of the mandolin facilitators whom I befriended named Rich Delgrosso who specializes in blues mandolin, and does it damn well.
Immediately myself and fellow stage storming cohort grab our mando's and sneak into two open chairs front and center of the circle and then quickly started owning the circle for what its worth….
Then it happens,minding my own bidness, focused intently on my own playing I take a lead here and there, play rhythm, add my flavor of chops, before we know it the whole room is up singing having a blast to old school blues "You got me up, down, all around……"
I look up and there he is….the….the….the dawg, Mr. Grisman himself…. JAMMING!
My eyes light up, my picking intensifies what do you do when the music legend and personal music hero sits across from you?
Well you smile back, try not to go into hyper #1 fan ever mode then JAM to the music like jesus himself is leading the sermon.
The song ends he looks at me, gives a nod, a smile, and then gives me his mandolin to play.
Seriously, can I be 13 year old girl here, OMG! OMG!
For what seemed like an eternity but lasted only about an hour or so the songs keep coming; the dawg takes a lead, we take some, the masses of onlookers grow, myself and cohort are on cloud 9, all other life on the planet ceases to matter (except Cat' I wish she could be there) but really could this night be better?
The answer is no, but it certainly didn't get any worse, Mike Marshall approaches, we play a finale "Sitting on Top of the World" he forgets the chords….eh, I guess it even happens to the pro's.
After the jam we continue to shmooze, then I get to talk with Mr. Grisman,
David! Mr. Grisman! Big Fan, since playing…….lived Niger……lost desert w/ mandolin…listen all the time…...returned….travelled OMG! OMG!
Fucking # 1 fan mode, I felt like those pesky Michael Jackson fanatics you see crying uncontrollably.
Well he might think I was a little hyper excited and one of the millions….but you know how often do you get to lose it in front of your idol?
Well I don't know, but I'll let you know after life throws more of them in my path.
Wrapping up, we go back outside the Brazilians are even more charged then before but the party is closing its nearing 0300 in the morning, we say our good byes we are walking away and we hear
"HEY FARMERS!!! Thanks for crashing our party" all laugh.
The next morning I’m up at 0800, immediately I pinch myself, did last night really happen?
Did I really go to bed at 0500 and already up ready to keep picking?
At our encouragement from the evening festivities a few of the mandolin teachers including "Mike Marshall none the less seemed to have heeded our advice and spent some time walking the farm before shoving off"
Welcome to paradise, our farm, we are simply muses here to grow food and offer a little music on the side.