Author: Martin, George

Old Timey is not a crimey

I found myself in (I believe) the first old-time music jam of my life a few weeks ago at the Golden Old Time campout in Boonville. I didn’t have the courage to bring my Vega open back banjo; I wasn’t sure I could keep up. So I took my guitar and my small repertoire of old-time vocals and wandered about the fairgrounds looking for a jam that I might fit into.

Old time is a different musical world than bluegrass, for sure. For one thing, there were very few RVs in attendance. Old-time musicians seem to be almost exclusively tent campers. The music seemed mostly tunes, with a few vocals mixed in, the exact opposite of bluegrass gatherings where songs predominate and tunes are tossed in for leavening.

Old-time music was mostly for dancing in the old (time) days, so the tunes run considerably longer than most bluegrassers would play them. And everybody plays together -- banjos, fiddles, mandolins -- instead of the swapping of breaks that bluegrassers do.

In retrospect it would have been fine to bring my Tubaphone; in the jam I landed in, musicians of varying abilities played along together, the less skilled plucking or bowing more softly and with less ornamentation, but the tunes rolled along and sounded fine.

Another interesting thing about old-time jams is that there are so many tunings, both for banjo players (which I knew) and fiddlers (which I was unaware of), jammers play every song they know in one key before switching, say, from G to D.

There were about six players sitting in a circle Friday night under an awning in the dim light of a candle and a small lantern. I was studying on whether to sit down when a slim woman with a banjo beckoned me in and I joined them.

I put my foot in it practically very first thing, when I said something about “old timey” music. The woman chided me: “Not old timey -- old time!” adding, “I only correct you because if you go around saying ‘old timey’ people will think less of you!”

Noted, and thank you for the hint.

I noticed right away that this lady was a very talented musician. She switched off among banjo, fiddle and guitar effortlessly, and played everything well, and sang beautifully. She introduced herself as Debby McClatchy, a descendant of the 49er who came to California for gold and ended up founding the Sacramento Bee.

“But my father married a hillbilly woman,” she said, “and predeceased her. The fortune never got down to my part of the family. So don’t kiss up to me,” she smiled, “I don’t have any money.”

It wasn’t until the next day when another person described to me meeting McClatchy for the first time at a folk music club in London, where she (McClatchy) was performing, that I realized I was dealing with an internationally known professional. Back home a trip to The Google revealed that she has a bunch of CDs out and tours widely both here and abroad. And I didn’t even get her autograph.

We all owe a great big “thank you” to Mark Hogan, Colleen Arroyo and Janet Dove and the people from the Sonoma County Folk Society for putting on the campout. I didn’t realize going in that the Folk Society was going to serve dinner Friday and Saturday nights and breakfast Saturday and Sunday mornings or we would have patronized their kitchen. I did get a taste of Sunday breakfast and it was a delicious sort of crustless quiche that had a name I have since forgotten. Plus lots of fruit and a muffin-like bread. Yum.

Topic No. 2

The new new Freight and Salvage Coffee House (as opposed to the old new Freight) opened in Berkeley at the end of August. We had tickets for the Bluegrass Blowout on Sunday, the 30th, but I couldn’t wait to see the place, so I went on Tuesday when they were (I presume) testing the microphones and all with some bands from the Take the Stage program.

(Take the Stage offers musicians a chance to be in a band that is then coached for eight weeks by a professional like Laurie Lewis, and then the various bands in that concurrent series of classes do a night at the Freight. It’s not cheap -- $350 per musician -- but it is a great opportunity to bring one’s music to a higher level.)

They got a pretty good crowd, partly I suppose because a lot of people like me were curious about the venue, and also because each musician in the each band has friends and family who come out in support.

I got a seat in the prized front center section, which is a perfect place from which to watch live music. There is stadium seating, just like your local cinema palace, the comfortable seats even rock back a bit, and the sound is mostly superb. There seemed to be a little bit of “dead” spot right in front of some of the mikes but not others. I hope the sound people figure that out, because when the sound is good, it is great.

The following Sunday we got there just about 7 p.m. when the doors were to open and there was a line maybe 50 yards long outside the door. So we ended up in the rear, right side, near the snack bar. Much less desirable seats but still an excellent view.

The place was packed and you could feel the love. On stage were the best of Bay Area bluegrass: Jim Nunally, Keith Little and Bill Amatneek; High Country, the Bluegrass Intentions, Kathy Kallick Band, and Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Patrick Sauber, Chad Manning and Andrew Conklin.

The show wound up with mass of musicians on stage doing a few tunes to close out the evening. It was a great good time.

Here’s a dinner recommendation for people going to the new (new) Freight: Just a block down Shattuck Avenue to the north is the MacDonald’s at the corner of University Avenue. That’s not the place. Proceed north past the Missing Link bike shop and the next storefront is the Turkish Kitchen. That’s the place. Try the spiced lamb wrapped in a sort of baked crust. Try all the appetizers. Save room for dessert. One word: baklava. Still warm from the oven.


Posted:  9/10/2009

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email