Author: Karsemeyer, John

Kids Off Bluegrass

“Get that stupid banjo off of my belly!” That’s what my pregnant wife said to me in 1973 after I had carefully placed the ol’ five string with attached resonator on the well covered, heavily protected, organic womb with no view. “This is supposed to work,” I said. “Supposed to work for what? Traumatizing the baby!” she snapped back. “No my dear, we are going to produce the best banjo player the world has ever known. Now go back to sleep,” sez I, as I played “Earl’s Breakdown” for exactly thirty-five minutes (the valium that I had earlier dissolved in her cup of herb tea had rendered its full impact). Then, repeated exposure, three times a week, four weeks a month, for nine months.

Well, you see, way back when, I had heard the theory, more than once, that if you exposed the unborn to certain sounds it could enhance their musical future. Many couples exposed their unborn children to Mozart, Beethoven, and other high-brow culture classical music, etc., but for me I thought that if I exposed my son-to-be to the banjo he would enter the world with his arms and hands in position to play the banjo (with left shoulder drooping way down from the right one when he stood upright). While my wife was in the family way I named my son Fetus Fleck Karsemeyer. Now that was when he was entombed. And when he escaped I changed his name to something more conventional. Being a struggling banjo player myself at the time, it never occurred to me that hearing the sounds of a banjo at those early stages of development could disrupt his whole life, as young as he was; could have ruined his hearing, or given him an anxiety disorder, maybe make him never want to go near a banjo or hear a banjo after he made an appearance outside of his biological dwelling.

But it didn’t matter. I wanted him to be a banjo player from the git-go. I had illusions of him wandering around bluegrass festivals playing his banjo, making his way to the main stage, and people saying, “Just listen to that kid!” I wanted to be like Del McCoury, who has not one, but two kids who not only play bluegrass instruments, but who play in Del’s band, actually making a living at it!

This was going to work. It was going to happen. And I was the one who would be responsible for producing this musical prodigy on the 5-string bluegrass banjo.

Long story short; “Hey dad, I’m going to be a trumpet player!”

It didn’t work. It didn’t happen. But seven years later I got another chance.

“Get that stupid fiddle off of my belly!” That’s what my pregnant wife said to me in 1984 after I had placed the fine old fiddle on top of the aforementioned “room” with no view. Ah yes, my second chance for a child to be a bluegrass musician now presented itself. This time it would happen.

My unborn daughter was going to be the next Alison Kraus; fiddle player extraordinaire, and song bird of the highest caliber. After secretly giving my wife an updated sedative and strategically placing the soft but effective plugs in her ears, I sawed away on those fiddle strings for half an hour. I stayed way clear of playing “Devil’s Dream” (the movie, “Rosemary’s Baby,” came to mind). So as I remember, the tune was, “Angeline the Baker.” When she awoke I heard her exclaim, “I had the strangest dream. I was out in the woods, and I all I could hear was fiddle music.” Then, repeated exposure, seven days a week, four or five weeks a month, nine and a half months (she was late), while my wife was in a somniferous state of being.

Long story short, “Hey Dad, I’m going to be a flute player!”

(Forgot to mention that in addition to the aforementioned musical experiments, both my son and daughter were exposed to years of bluegrass festivals as they progressed along the human continuum; it didn’t help).

So now I must admit that I’m envious of all you parents whose progeny are involved in playing bluegrass music. But that’s just the way it goes with each of our individual journeys down life’s highway. However, I do have a remedy that is the next best thing to nothing.

Each year at the CBA Fathers Day Festival in Grass Valley, California, I strategically place my lawn chair in the best spot possible in front of the main stage, and wait. It’s a good wait, because while I’m waiting I get to see and hear the great bluegrass bands as they perform. Of course I know what I’m waiting for, and I know what day and what time it will happen, because I have previously read about it in the festival schedule.

“Kids On Bluegrass!” That’s what the big wait is all about, every year for the last twenty-five plus years. And as the youngest walk, one by one, onto the stage, armed with guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, and basses, my brain begins its quick flight into guided fantasy. There they are. There are my children (think big, bigger, biggest extended family = the Waltons in overdrive!) who are now singing and playing that wonderful bluegrass music!

Okay, sure, they are my surrogate children, but it is possible to fool part of your brain, at least for awhile. Fool it into thinking that up there on that stage, for almost an hour, are my kids, and nieces, nephews, second-third-fourth cousins, and others way out on the tip of the branches of my family tree. Ah yes, a father’s sublime, pretend musical ecstasy, as the endorphins in my brain are released and flow, and flow, and flow, to make life complete (at least for a little while).

My real children are “Kids Off Bluegrass.” But my pretend ones are “Kids On Bluegrass.” And that’s as close as it’s gonna get….

Posted:  8/12/2013

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