Author: Lange, David

Band Scramble
As I write this article, I am preparing to head off to the Bluegrassin’ in the Foothills Festival in Plymouth. I can’t wait to get there! By the time you read this article, that festival will be over, we’ll be reflecting on another incredible festival, and once again, suffering from those “festival withdrawals”. Ah, but as soon as one awesome event passes, yet another appears on the horizon! Almost time to pack our bags for the Fall Campout in Colusa! The Fall Campout has always been a mixture of serious business, like the Board announcing the election results, and not so serious… like lots of picking…and then more picking; or just letting your hair down! (For those of you that still have hair…I have to let someone else’s down….).

Speaking of this year’s Fall Campout, there will be a Band Scramble! Yahooo! As you may be aware, Deb Livermore has volunteered to manage it! I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting her, but I can tell she is bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and just loooves bluegrass and having fun! “The stage is set!” (So to say…) Thank you Deb!

So some of you ask, what the heck is a band scramble? Band scrambles have been a tradition in the bluegrass community for many years. Many bluegrass festivals throughout the country have a band scramble on the venue, and most of them follow a process similar to band scrambles sponsored by the CBA. Band scrambles can be a blast for both the participants, and the audience!

Band scrambles allow musicians to play with each other, and give those who may not have "band experience" the chance to participate in a band setting. A chance for some good talent to be on stage that may not otherwise get the opportunity. It is an excellent way to meet other musicians, and once met, friendships and warm acquaintances are renewed at future festivals and jams.

For band members, band scrambles are an opportunity to step out of their normal routine of set lists and practice. Have some fun, meet new faces, play with members of other bands, or maybe just make someone’s day that otherwise might never get the opportunity to play with them, more less share the stage.

So here are the basic fundamentals of a band scramble….

Those who want to participate put their name into one of several "instrument" drawing boxes. (Guitar, Banjo, Fiddle, Mandolin, Bass, Dobro, and maybe…. “Other"). A name is drawn from each box, and those people get together. In most band scramble events, they have just about one hour to get acquainted, choose up to three tunes to play, come up with a crazy name for their band, and also come up with a joke. As you might imagine, some incredibly creative and funny band names have been selected.

There are winners (Usually First, Second, Third place, etc.). Usually the audience applause determines the winners. There have been some band scrambles where from three to five "secret" judges are in the audience, and they are charged with assigning a point value (1 to10) for each band, and then cumulatively determining the rank order of the winners, based on their scores.

Overall, band scrambles are just loads of fun for the participants, and great entertainment for the audience! What can be the most fun and also entertaining, are the tunes that the bands perform. You never know the skill level of the chosen people in any given band, but almost invariably, the performances are fairly well done and well received by the audience. Most audience members understand fully what is happening in a band scramble.

Then there are the “group dynamics” that are worth talking about, particularly if you have not participated in a band scramble before.…

Some of you have either in college, or in your job, been to a class or team building session where you are given a problem to solve, in a small amount of time, and with people you have never worked with before. I have been through many of them, and I can tell you that from my experience, they can be very rewarding, or horrifying! All depending on the attitudes of the people in the group…..Inside of an hour, the group has to spin through the stages of team growth…First, a combination of excitement, pride in being there .. Then confidence building, and a willingness to step up to give an opinion or constructive criticism….. Then an attempt by the group to achieve harmony…which can lead to “storming” (just what it sounds like)…. Finally, coming to an acceptance, that is, reaching a common goal and an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. While with band scrambles there is by no means a grade or promotion on the line, the group dynamics are still going to be there. Bottom line, the faster you can build trust, build a team, and identify what everyone has to contribute, the better……If you have one hour, you can easily spend fifty five minutes storming, with picking and arranging your songs crammed into five minutes…or it can be the other way around. It’s up to the group….

When speaking with participants of band scrambles past, what they remembered as the most fun and most successful band scrambles, were cases where there was no pretense that the group was going to come up with a polished, professional act. Meaning band scrambles can be great fun if people come in with the right attitude, i.e., a chance to meet new friends, maybe learn a new tune, and get some experience picking with people whose musical skills may be quite different from their own.

The "luck of the draw" or “crap shoot” may have very little to do with the caliber of the musicians. You would think that a draw that included two or three very competent musicians would be hitting the jackpot….not necessarily. I heard of one case where the experience for the whole band turned into a nightmare when they all took it way too seriously; like an audition for Carnegie Hall! Lots of ego, and pressure to get a really tight act together (which is impossible with less than an hour of practice). That took all the fun out of it. This one went into the books as “The Band Scramble from He%&!”.

On the other hand, I have heard of band scrambles in which one or more of the band members were very talented and well known musicians, and in spite of being pros, were really funny and down-to-earth, and didn't put unreasonable expectations on the rest of the group.

Then there is the totally unexpected… I heard of one case where a quiet and shy participant, least expected to contribute to the band, ended up stealing the show…… That person has gone on to become a member of a popular California bluegrass band…..

So band scrambles can be a hoot, or they can be miserable, depending on "the luck of the draw" and the attitude of the participants….. Sort of like a blind date. Not only are band scrambles an opportunity to improve one's musicianship, but perhaps, also an opportunity to develop one’s patience and tolerance……..

Everyone I have interviewed in preparation for this article says the same thing…. Just try and make everyone else feel as good about their playing as possible. Remember that there is no money or fame on the line, and don't take yourself too seriously....It's supposed to be fun!

Look forward to seeing you at the Fall Campout, and hope to see you at the Band Scramble at the Campout on Saturday!!!
Posted:  9/18/2007

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