Saturday, July 27th, 2019
Saturday, July 27th, 2019
In my days of playing in acoustic bands, people would come up and ask me if the instrument I was playing was a ukulele (it was a mandolin). To me, that was kind of like mistaking War and Peace for a coloring book (lol rude srry). But I understood. Not everybody knows the name of every slightly unusual acoustic instrument out there.
Another common mistake is to call every acoustic band you hear a “Bluegrass” band.
When I got more and more into acoustic music, I found that I was drawn to a particular style known as Old Time music. I like that name, but it is rather misleading. If you told someone completely unacquainted with acoustic music “I like Old Time music” they might assume any number of things. Perhaps anything from big-band jazz to Frank Sinatra to Renaissance harpsichord music. More likely, they’ll think of Bluegrass. They might even tell you about how there is this bluegrass festival near the town they grew up in, but they never went.
Old Time is none of these things, although it shares closest kinship to Bluegrass. To understand the difference, it is probably easiest to first understand what Bluegrass is. The story goes that Bill Monroe invented the style of music in the 1940s. His band was called The Bluegrass Boys, after the slogan of Kentucky. It wasn’t until maybe 20 years later that people started copying the style of Bill Monroe’s sound en masse. There were festivals popping up all over at the time, and a descriptive term was needed, a name for the genre. Hence, “Bluegrass”. You’ll hear this story over and over even today at Bluegrass Festivals.
What was Bill Monroe’s sound? Well, Bill Monroe was a mandolin player, and one of the distinctive roles that the mandolin played in this style was a “chucking”, or a quick chord strike on the off-beat of the music. Bill went through many different musicians, but one genre-defining name was Earl Scruggs. Earl played the five-string banjo with fingerpicks and a three-finger style where all the strings were plucked in sequence. This has become known as Scruggs style banjo playing and is still dominant today among bluegrass banjo players. Bill was also known for his “High Lonesome Sound”, which is a good way to describe the vocals in his music and bluegrass today. Vocals tend to be in a fairly high register, especially for males, with many songs in the high key of B (“B” is for bluegrass!). Perhaps one of the most important traits of bluegrass is harmony singing.
So that’s Bluegrass. How does that differ from Old Time? Old Time is the kind of music that was going on before bluegrass, in the Appalachian hills. This music was often played on porches and at square dances. The songs were based on well-known melodies but could go on for really long periods. “Solos” just aren’t necessary. Entire songs are almost like solos, in that the musicians are constantly throwing their own variations and flair into the melodies. The songs ebb and flow as a whole, rather than follow standardize compositions. Singing is often in short phrases broken up by long instrumental periods. Harmony happens with the instruments in the melodies, but less so with vocals. Melody is very strong, with fiddles leading the party. Mandolins are rare, but if present, also are predominantly melody. Guitar and bass are very consistent and do very little melody. Even things like walking a chord transition is enough flair to go a long way. The banjo is perhaps the most distinctly different. Instead of plucking the strings as in three-finger style, the hand is held in a claw shape and the fingernail strikes down on the strings while the thumb pulls the drone string. There are many variations, but this style of banjo is known as clawhammer or frailing style and maybe the easiest way to distinguish Bluegrass from Old Time.
These things are unique to Bluegrass music:
SHITKICKIN’ – Del McCoury – Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
SLOW – Seldom Scene – Heaven
These things are unique to Old Time music:
SHITKICKIN’ – Freight Hoppers – Four Cent Cotton
SLOW – Reeltime Travelers – Little Bird of Heaven
Thursday, July 25th, 2019
At least once a year I find myself needing some kind of knot that I don’t know how to die but assume exists. Recently it was a knot where you tie it first, then can tighten it by pulling after you’ve tied it.
Looks like that’s probably this one.
Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
Nice save. Original on reel-to-reel. Dubbed to 3/4″ cassette. Dubbed again to digital. Sounds pretty good for all the churn.
Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
I can’t quite explain why, but I think of this Calvin & Hobbes strip a lot.
I thought of it the other day when we had a totally broken page on production on CodePen, and I was going to push a test fix that I wasn’t entirely sure would fix it (the bug wasn’t reproducible on local dev). I was like, shrug, it can’t get any more broken than it already is.
Monday, July 22nd, 2019
Did NOT see this coming from Sturgill Simpson, but I’m excited for it.
Sunday, July 21st, 2019
Like most people, I don’t believe taste has objective value, and like most people, that doesn’t stop me from behaving as if it does. I guess it’s got to do with status seeking and tribalism. Spending some time in the Phishbowl was a good opportunity to interrogate that, to ask whether the things that keep me from joining the ranks of the Phishheads really matter, to ask if we’re even all that different in the first place. As Carl Wilson puts it in the aforementioned Let’s Talk About Love
, “A few people have asked me, isn’t life too short to waste time on art you dislike? But lately I feel like life is too short not to.” Besides, it’s worth remembering that my scorn is best reserved for art and culture that actively perpetuates harmful, regressive attitudes. Some of my own favorite musicians have some pretty shitty things to answer for. As far as I can tell, Phish doesn’t.
My own relationship with Phish is complicated. It was late high school for me, and most of the way through college that I was deeply obsessed. I have maybe a few dozen shows under my belt and many, many binders of burned CD’s of live shows (I really need to get rid of those). I genuinely liked the music. It’s sweeping and nerdy and intricate (at times). It’s friendly but in an adult sort of way. That scene helped me build some really strong friendships and set me on a life path of caring about the right sort of stuff for me.
But then I just kinda go over it. Well, more like overdosed. My brain kinda rejected it for a long time after that. Not in a total role-reversal way where I thought all Phishheads were idiots and the music sucked and what-was-I-thinking kinda way, but more that I just actively pushed it aside and changed. It’s the same reason I can’t watch Seinfeld or The Big Lebowski anymore. They are amazing, I just OD’d and gotta move on.
My music passion since then, and for a much longer stretch of life, has been folk whatnot. First bluegrass, then a widening into really any sort of traditional acoustic folk, then a narrowing into largely old time.
These days, Phish is just light nostalgia. I can absolutely tolerate their music. I might even get a little into it if I hear an old favorite and I’m two beers deep. But it fades as quickly as it arrives, and I don’t seek out any new releases.
It’s left me in a weird spot. When I meet someone super into Phish, I kinda squint a little in a really? kinda way, but more likely than not try to reminisce with them as best I can. (I do have the official PHISH book signed by all of them I bought at a show in Minneapolis which also got me backstage access, which is fun to share. But that’s a story for another time.) Likewise, when I meet someone who really hates Phish, I also kinda squint in a really? kinda way. Like, why bother? It’s weird fun music and a lot of people like it. I guess it’s just an awkward spot to be kinda skeptical of both people that like and dislike a band.
Sunday, July 21st, 2019
I don’t think it’s actually arrived yet (sometime in 2019?) but I’m all about having a banjo emoji.
I’m not exactly marginalized by not yet having an emoji for one of the main instruments I play, so clearly the bigger story here is multi-person skin tone emojis. Hats off to all of them, really.