Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weekend (so far)

Just got back from playing a friend's farewell.

One of my wife's closest friends and dog-training partners (Deb) is in stage four with Pancreatic cancer. She said she didn't want a fuss -- no memorial when she's gone and stuff. So, dog women being the alpha bitches they tend to be, they looked Deb in the eye and said, "Okay. We'll have a memorial while you're still here walking among us. Here's your invitation". And they did. Held it at the elementary school where Deb's taught for the past couple of decades.

Deb asked (upon realizing the inevitability that we were, indeed going to have the shindig) if I'd play guitar. "Just background stuff, okay?"

It went well and I played okay. I worked up a passable fingerstyle of David Mallett's "The Garden Song" (in addition to Deb being a kindergarden teacher, she's been an avid gardner, creating a little Eden in her few acres of Indiana prairie). I played "Secret O' Life". I played a buncha original stuff.

I did a quick run-through this morning -- plugged in (because I'm not used to playing that way). Found the groove -- lightened the touch and it felt comfortable.

The living wake ended up being a really nice affair with hundreds of people and dogs literally filling the gymnasium to say goodbye to friend, mentor, teacher, fellow dog-lover.

But my musical weekend began last night...
Dar dropped me off at Rachel's Bread in Goshen on her way up to dog training in southwestern Michigan. "Rachel's Bread" is Rachel Shenk -- Jim Shenk's wife's restaurant. Rachel was raised in Belgium and I'm not sure exactly why that makes any difference, but she's made a living as a baker for a couple of decades now. Whether due to her European background or not, she's got some really extrodinary bread and pastry recipes. Her restaurant takes up one end of the Goshen Farmer's Market. Every Saturday there's a line around and out the door to get bread from Rachel's.

About two years ago Rachel and Jim decided to combine their loves -- her cooking and his music -- to make a new cultural center for Goshen. So Jim read up and built them a brick oven that takes up one end of their bakery. And on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday they bake pizzas and have live local music.

The musical force of gravity has been strong around Jim's shop -- Wooden Music -- for years now. Most everyone in the surrounding counties of Indiana and Michigan know about Jim as a repair guy and builder. And if you happen to take in the sets of a few local bands, it's not unusual to see entire trios playing nothing but Jim Shenk's instruments (the locally famous "Goldmine Pickers" regularly have three of Jim's instruments on stage).

I got an email from my friend, Lukas, saying that the "Hard Time Traveling Band" was playing Rachel's Bread on Friday night (last night). "Hard Time Traveling Band" is whoever happens to be in town and playing with Lukas. Loosely, it's Lukas and Adam. Or Lukas and Adam and Jim. Or Lukas and Adam and Jim and Joe. Or Lukas and Joe. Or Lukas and Joe and Adam. Sometimes it includes me.

Since I knew Dar was headed north, I hitched a ride. I didn't pack a guitar. I didn't want to presume. Besides, there's always a guitar up there.

I sat at a table enjoying some of Rachel's new sausage soup and one of Jim's brick oven baked pizzas (The "Roma" -- Italian sausage and red peppers cut in a pinwheel garnish) and a couple of local beers as I enjoyed Lukas and Adam. Lukas is a metronome. The kid is SO much fun to play with. He knows his part and he NEVER leaves you cold -- never lets you down. You can play around with rhythm because you know Lukas will be there when you get back. And he's become as good on mandolin as he is on guitar.

Adam is one of the most gifted musicians I've ever played with. He just has music in his hands. And he listens. Really listens. I didn't recognize him last night. He started playing and I knew immediately who he was. But I didn't recognize him. He's the one on the right. But here's a picture of him and me playing in Jim's shop in October...

They were playing for tips. So, though I was invited up early, I didn't take them up on it. They had a full house, and I figured they'd do well. They sounded great. They're big fans of Welch/Rawlings and others of that generation of new old-timey. And they've learned the coolest fiddle tunes. And even some of the old standards (like Billy In The Lowground) they've put their distinctive stamp on. Lukas' rhythm allows Adam's sense for tasteful syncopation to really work well. They did a couple of a capella songs as well.

The patrons started to clear out and Jim got done baking pizzas. So later in the evening Jim and I joined in the fun.

Jim's always been a darn good guitar player. He's had a band since he was a teenager. Same two guys he's gigged with regularly since then. When they want to, they can get pretty solid booked. They play a nice mix of music that has been carefully picked to sound familiar, yet fresh. Only band around I know who plays Notting Hillbillies stuff. Jim told me last night that the mandolin player of the three of them cut off all four fingers of his right hand on a table saw. Said they're all sewn back on, but learning to play with 'em has been pretty depressing.

But Jim's gotten downright wicked good on that dobro. When he was younger he played a little lap steel in a country band. When he started building, he built himself the resonator and has been messing around on it for several years now. With his good ear for music and an overflowing pocketful of nice-sounding figures, he does a great job of filling behind a song.

We closed down the restaurant and then some -- still getting a few bits of applause from the kitchen workers who remained to enjoy the music.

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