Final week of our Kickstarter & 2nd installment of Bluegrass Accident
We are in the final stretch of this already-successful campaign, thanks to all of you and your quick and generous involvement! Our recording dates are set and we are beginning to make some concrete decisions about what the album will look like! Very exciting stuff. Still some things to work out, and we will keep you in the loop with what is going on with us!
We still have some work to do to make the most of this final week of the Kickstarter campaign to try and get the word out about what we are doing and get as many people on board as possible while this campaign is still going on. To that end we are shooting for 200 backers at any giving level--currently we are at 118. These people will join you as our record label, our investors, our supporters. If you feel moved to do so, please:
post to your Facebook page that you are a backer of this project and include this link to our kickstarter page: http://kck.st/1z9XRWu
email a friend or family member that you think might be interested in our music and include this link: http://kck.st/1z9XRWu
Wanted to share also with you the second installment of "Bluegrass Accident" that was published in the Japanese bluegrass magazine Moonshiner earlier this year. These experiences happened just prior to Tellico coming together, and were really instrumental in the drive to make this project a reality.
Thank you again for being a backer. Your support of our efforts has really buoyed our spirits and made the idea to make a record much more significant.
Bluegrass Accident, part 2
The day after we landed in Kansai, I was right back into it with Bluegrass Night at Another Dream in Osaka. I met up with Yoko and Masafumi Hisanaga (Daisy Hill) to work out the songs for our set. They love the good old stuff, and so we had a lot in common. When we put it all together with Koji Onoda on banjo and Shin Akimoto on mandolin, it was just so sharp from the first note, I just couldn’t help jumping up and down as we played. I love how each person’s playing perfectly reflects their personality. Shin has a wonderful old Monroe style of mandolin playing with a lot of drive and character that fits his wily but understated nature. While Shin was a man of few words at first, he later invited a freeze-dried version of the Shin Akimoto band back to North Carolina with me in my suitcase, which of course I was happy to accept. Koji is a humble master of his instrument, with clear and impeccable playing and the ability to perfectly execute something he has never heard before. And just a hell of a nice guy. Yoko and Masafumi are such veterans and can play and sing with just the right feel to make a group of pickers sound like a band. They are all so talented that the hardest part was having to speak Japanese between songs!
At Another Dream, I finally met Toshio Watanabe of the famous Bluegrass 45 that I had heard so much about. He explained how he had lived in downtown Floyd, Virginia right around the same time that I was born in the next county over. Many years later, I played at the Floyd Store jam, collected CDs from the County Sales record store, and finally was married at the Floyd courthouse all on the same block where he had been living. We marveled about how such important moments in our lives were shared in such a small and quiet place in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.
I also met Bosco Takaki who invited me to old time night at Irish Pub Field in Kyoto. I had heard of Bosco from friends who know him from the fiddler’s conventions that are held every summer. I rode a bicycle to the jam with the baby on the back and the fiddle over my shoulder. There was a nice group assembled, including Yuriko and Yuiko Inoue, that were really studying the old time music. Many of the tunes would have even been obscure in a jam in Virginia or North Carolina, and clearly Bosco liked to find the old crooked songs. My mind awkwardly struggled to comprehend being in this historic city of Kyoto where women might still shuffle around in kimonos and geta while the joyful sounds of fiddles and banjos wafted out of the second floor windows above. How can these wonderful but wildly different things exist in the same location? I pondered this question as I rode home through the hot and thick “mushiatsui” July evening along Kyoto’s narrow streets. The answer is, simply, thank you.
The highlight of my trip to Kansai was the Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival. Sab and Yuriko Inoue kindly made arrangements for us to stay in the Canadian Lodge, which was delightfully funky, like a hippie commune in a ginger bread house. The roof was a patchwork of shingles and music flowed out of the many dormer windows. Outside was a bright blue swimming pool and, of course, a vending machine, reminding us that we were indeed in Japan! The festival was a comfortable size so it didn’t take long to find our way around, and the mountainside provided a natural amphitheater for the stage as well as a good workout. Sab had kindly invited me to perform on Saturday night and Masafumi, Koji and Shin agreed to join me again on stage.
Before our set, Koji had convinced me to sing the Ola Belle Reed tune “Undone in Sorrow” a capella, which I had not tried before. When we headed to the stage area I took the sleeping baby out of her carrier. She objected loudly to this so I no choice but to strap her back on. The confusion of all of this caused me to completely forget the words to the song before I went on stage even though I had sung that song countless times! Staring out into the darkness at the crowd from behind a line of reassuring miniature conifers that were part of the stage decor, I just willed the words to come to me. And thankfully they did. I was relieved when the guys joined me on stage for some infectious fun playing “Goin’Down,” an old-timey tune I wrote for the Dehlia Low “Ravens and Crows” album. Photos of the performance revealed that we did, in fact, look like a Japanese version of the Beverly Hillbillies what with the baby, Shin’s overalls, Masafumi’s hat, Koji’s banjo and our large grins. It seemed like the music went on all night long, especially judging by the looks on Sab, Toshio and Shin’s exhausted faces the next day after running sound and emceeing the stage all weekend. I promised them I would come back again, a promise I plan to keep.
My final week in Japan I went to Kawamo to stay with Sab and Yuriko Inouye. Of course I knew about the famous Sab from Bluegrass 45, but because he was so busy at the festival, I was excited to get some more time to talk with him and his family. We ate homemade gyoza and drank Korean lager, staying up late to talk about the old days, music, business, mutual friends. I was so happy to finally hear the legendary stories of how Sab and Toshio had gotten involved with bluegrass music as teenagers, how that lead to start Bluegrass 45 and to tour the US, their chance meeting with County and Rebel Records owner Dave Freeman, and the formation of their company Bluegrass and Oldtime Music, Ltd (BOM). I had visited County and Rebel and knew the Freemans from when we recorded our Dehlia Low album on Rebel a few years back, so I was familiar with their history and business model.
The next morning we walked over to BOM. It looked exactly like a smaller version of County Sales in Floyd with many shelves of CDs in a dark room. County’s staff consists of several ladies with strong Virginia mountain accents; their Japanese counterparts were Shin and Toshio, who were sitting behind computers and enormous stacks of papers and CD samples. I told Toshio that we had been talking about Bluegrass 45 and the history of BOM. He peered at me from across the room over his reading glasses and simply said, “it’s all an accident, see.”
His comment made me freeze. Toshio is a quiet and patient person, kind and modest with a slightly reluctant sense of humor that one later discovers is simply exquisite timing. I asked him to explain what he meant and I came to understand that he was talking about serendipity. But the slight difference in meaning took on a deeper and more profound significance to me. Music brings us together and allows us to make connections to each other in a very special way, across language barriers, across political beliefs, across cultural differences, across generations. It is so powerful that these accidental meetings can come to define our lives in meaningful ways. Sometimes these accidents result in the famous BOM and Bluegrass 45 and the bluegrass scene in Japan. Sometimes they result in the creation of a bluegrass festival. Sometimes they result in a band or a recording, Sometimes they result in friendships that last a lifetime. These connections might not seem especially significant at first but can grow to become some of the most important things in our short lives.
And perhaps that is what answers the common question Americans have about bluegrass in Japan: “why would Japanese people want to play bluegrass music?” It is of course the reason that anyone would want to play a form of music that allows us to pick, jam, hang out all night long, laugh, and enjoy one another.
So I left Japan with a renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for making music and sharing music, thank you, all of you, and may we meet again someday! Sayonara!