Framingham, MA, February 18, 2012 – Another year, another Joe Val Festival took place at the Sheraton in Framingham, MA. I was able to go on Saturday, but The Splinters had a gig on Sunday, so I couldn’t go both days. I got there around noon and quickly found my way to the Josh Williams Band, playing on the main stage, aka, the ballroom. Josh gained a bit of youtube fame because of this video, where a bird landed on him during a gig – over 1.1M hits!! Most for any bluegrass musician, for sure. Too bad he didn’t get any money for that!!
At 1 pm I headed for the workshops. These are my favorite part because the rooms are small and you get an informal lesson from these great performers. I went to the Geoff Bartley/Howie Tarnower guitar/mandolin blues workshop first. They basically were winging it, calling tunes they both knew and played before together. Geoff did a good job of providing some background on them before they played their version. Some of the tunes they played were:
- My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
- Wine Boy Blues
- Careless Love
- Sittin on Top of the World
- Laurie Lewis song re: Prohibition
- Rolling Spencer? in Bb…
It was fun to hear them play. J and I had been to Geoff’s open mike at the Cantab, and he is very nice and welcoming there, too.
Charlie Lawson workshop
Next I went to see Charlie Lawson, who plays rhythm guitar for Michael Cleveland. It also appears that they are good friends because Michael was there with him, but on mandolin instead of fiddle! The workshop was on rhythm guitar, of course, and Charlie said he’d never really done one of these before, but he was really good at explaining his thought process. Key to playing these fast tunes is certainly to stretch beforehand and to try to relax. If you’ve ever heard Michael Cleveland you know he plays fast! Charlie was influenced by Jimmy Martin and Jimmy Rodgers. I always notice that these performers always have a strong sense of the history of their instrument and can reach back for the most obscure records to listen to. They demo’d some things on Big Country, Sweet Dixie, and Waitin’ for a Train. Another interesting guitar-playing tidbit was that he uses a fairly flexible pick (maybe .8?), so he really only plays rhythm (and has a great voice, so he’s the lead singer in the band, too). Also, that’s Michael Cleveland’s 1944 Martin D-28 he’s playing and that sucker was loud.
Around 3 is when J, my fellow Splinter, showed up and we got our instruments to play in the hallway a bit. I was a bit shy about it, so we went in one of those business centers on the bottom floor, where people could see us playing and hear us if they walked past. Just like outdoor bluegrass festivals, there is a tradition at Joe Val to jam, only you have to play in the hallways and rooms of the hotel. More on that later…
Ashby Frank, Mandolin
4 pm we went to the mandolin workshop led by Ashby Frank, again from M. Cleveland band. I think he said he was in his late 20′s, but boy could he play. Both Charlie and Ashby talked about various ailments they were suffering from – life on the road ain’t all roses, people. Ashby was more of a feel player and he said, ‘don’t do it like I do it, cuz it’s probably wrong’. The lesson is to find out what works for you by playing and listening. He demo’d a few techniques on Steel Guitar Rag (in E), Dailey’s Reel (Bb), and Roanoke. I think J came away with some to-do’s to work on.
At 5 pm was the man himself, Michael Cleveland with a fiddle workshop. Again, Charlie Lawson accompanied him. He basically just took questions from the audience. First up was about his fiddle, which has 5 strings. It’s made by John Silakowski who’s out of Indiana, where Cleveland is from. The story goes that he somehow played this particular instrument and wanted it, but it was promised to someone else. That other person “didn’t like it” so it came back and end up in Michael’s hands. He’s another one with a strong knowledge of the fiddle tradition. Someone asked him about what to listen to and he reeled off a string of obscure old records you probably couldn’t find anywhere. Tunes they played: Lost Indian, Orange Blossom Special!, Hear that Lonesome Whistle Bow, and Black Mountain Rag.
Now we were inspired to play some more, so we went out in the hallway to jam. It was 6 pm, so a lot of people were going to get some food. A big group showed up near us to jam also, so we went over to join them. They let J call the first tune, which was Temperance Reel. They weren’t really a fiddle tune crowd, but one of the fiddlers got on board with it. After that, it was a lot of Hank Williams and other standard bluegrass tunes. People came and went. J had to leave about 7:30 but I stayed and played until about 9, when my arm was going to fall off. At one point 4 fiddlers joined in and called some fast ones. Phew! Here’s a link to some stealth video of the jam that someone took and posted. It was fun.
By that time it was 9 pm and food options were limited. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I roamed the hallways and checked out the various jam sessions that were going on. I got myself some doritos in the hotel lobby to hold me over. I checked out the Claire Lynch band a bit, but I didn’t like them, so I wandered the halls again. There were some good players out there, for sure. Here are some photos I took.
- Hallway Jam
At 10:30 the Michael Cleveland and Flamekeepers was set to start. What a band! I think the Flame Keepers reference is about how much they light the place on fire! (or to say it properly, “faar”). The repertoire is straight ahead bluegrass and country, in the tradition. And they don’t mess around with silly slow tunes, except for maybe the waltzes. I didn’t write down the set list this time, but they pulled from their albums, so go check them out if you haven’t already. They played until about 12:15 or so. Of course, the fiddle tunes they are known for, Orange Blossom Special and Jerusalem Ridge, came out and were administered to. I did manage to turn on my iPhone sound recorder for Jerusalem Ridge and it came out enough to enjoy. This is typically just a duet with Ashby and Michael on mandolin and fiddle.
After that concert, I wondered the halls again and the jams were still going strong. I stopped by one near the lobby where Josh Williams was playing with the folks from Flatt Lonesome, a.k.a. kids with braces! It was good pickin’ and singin’ however.
Josh Williams at Joe Val Festival
I got home about 1:30 that night, tired and hungry, but had a great day of bluegrass at the festival.
Other handy links:
Second Cousin Curly posts a lot of bluegrass video and was at Joe Val. Some good stuff here.