You would think that with all of the diverse music last week I’d have reached saturation point. Of course, that never happens. My fingers may get tired, but the need to participate never dies. So, when Laura said she wanted to have some “girl time” to go shopping, I took the opportunity to head up to Asheville to play in the Irish session at Jack of the Wood.
I headed up the mountain to Asheville a bit early. The city was just as crowded as the last time I visited, but I managed to find a parking space in a garage. This time I’d brought my Alverez guitar and tin whistle. It would be easier to carry in the backpack gig bag than the Martin and I had a bit of time to kill.
I’m always amazed at the amount of activity around Asheville. This is a big tourist area. I heard a melody I’d hear many times before wafting through the square. A busker was playing “Cutting Bracken” while a photographer took photos.
Around the corner near Pritchard Park another busker was dressed in dramatic clothing and playing Celtic tunes on an amplified acoustic guitar.
Since I was about an hour ahead of time I decided to check out another Irish pub nearby, Claddagh. I’ll write more about the pub when I continue my Irish pub roundup, but it was curious to me that Claddagh and Jack of the Wood were so close to each other. I had a Magner’s Cider while I attempted to chat with the bartenders, without much success.
Knowing that I had plenty of time I’d left the guitar in the car. I headed back around the corner to pick it up, then made my way to Jack of the Wood.
At the end of September I had come up to observe the session, but I hadn’t played. I only stayed for about an hour, long enough to have a Guinness and get a feel for the type of music they played. There were about eight musicians at that session, with a couple of others coming in later.
It seemed like it was a fairly tight-knit group. They were quite good, so I had some concerns as to whether or not I’d fit in. It could be a repeat of some of my experiences in Washington.
I had a right to be concerned, but more on that in a bit…
I arrived just as folks were setting up on the small stage. I asked about joining in and was welcomed. About the time I got there a woman with her two sons showed up and said that they were also new to the group. She also played guitar and tin whistle and her sons, both in their 20s, played fiddle. A fourth person arrived with a concertina and said that he was visiting from Nova Scotia. That made five new players. That stage was going to get crowded. Folks were already finding seats to listen to us.
Somehow we managed to find places on the stage. I was in a chair off to one corner, which was fine by me.
Soon other regulars arrived and were relegated to high stools right below the stage or to standing. In addition to the two guitars there were two tin whistle players and LOTS of fiddle players. There may have been fifteen musicians there at its peak.
We started with lots of Irish standards. Most of these I’ve gotten to know very well, so I didn’t have a problem. The pieces were selected from some printed list that they had on a central table. The fiddler next to me had cheat sheets he had created on 3X5 index cards so that he could recognize the tunes and so that he could create his own sets.
Problems started to arise fairly quickly, though. The two fiddler brothers were very good, but their mother was a bit overbearing. It was obvious that she was pushing them. She played guitar fairly well, probably better than me. However, she didn’t know the repertoire. She would play the wrong chords loudly until she figured out the key and the chords.
I’ve been in that situation, too, but I’ve never try to bulldoze my way through as she did. By the time she did get it figured out, she played even louder, and her strumming rarely fit in with mine. I always felt like I was at odds with her. I would completely stop playing so that the group wouldn’t think that it was me making that noise. At that point she must have thought that I was confused because I stopped, because she would then turn and shout out chord changes to me. She was acting as a mother hen to everyone.
There were several times that the mother hen and her two boys were the only ones playing. I think it would have been fine with the two young men, but I was getting tired of her self-absorbed nonsense.
I wasn’t the only one. One of the long-time whistle players gave up, shook his head, and left. I saw someone arrive with a mandolin case, chat with the whistle player for a minute, then also leave. Others seem to act as if their space had been invaded.
I sympathized, but to them I was part of the problem – one of the new invaders. I’m not sure I would be allowed back, even if the mother hen weren’t there. It’s a long drive to Asheville and I wouldn’t want to make that trip just find myself in the same situation. At least the visitor from Nova Scotia had played with the group before and knew a couple of people.
I don’t think many in the audience knew what was happening. To them it sounded fine, and at times it really did. Here’s a short video clip.
The mother hen got tired and left the stage, leaving me to hold up the guitar end of things. I was happy with that, but I felt like damage had been done. By 4:30 I was ready to go, even though I knew they continued until 6:00. Another singer arrived, so even though the other guitarist was gone, she insisted on singing a capella. It was time for me to go.
With my guitar on my shoulder I headed back to the car. I spotted no less than three other people carrying guitar bags, and none of these had been at Jack of the Wood. The buskers were still in full swing. A cellist had taken the spot of the earlier bagpiper.
As I approached the parking lot near Pack Square I spotted a familiar face. My old friend from Furman, Don Talley, was coming down the street. I caught him by surprise when I called out his name. We decided we had to get a drink somewhere and catch up.
Drink, in this case, was tea. We walked several blocks down to the Dobra Tea House, one of Don’s favorite stops. Their tea menu was a massive book. We selected a pot of Don’s favorite once we finally got a waiter’s attention. Service was horrible, but the tea itself was great. At least it gave us plenty of time to catch up.
I met Don through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Furman. After Furman we would go hiking together and also go to hear traditional music at various venues. Don was a computer science major and worked for Furman after graduation. Laura and I would visit his house and see him at contradances at River Falls.
Don left his job at Furman and moved to Black Mountain. Laura and I saw him last just after we returned from our year in Tucson, over 25 years ago. Don had operated a gift shop at that time, but now he manages one of the music venues in town and does quite a bit of music promotion.
Even though we hadn’t seen each other in ages, we’ve been Facebook friends for many years. Seeing each other in person was a chance to fill in those gaps that Facebook doesn’t cover. Sadly, at our age, that includes health problems and deaths of friends and colleagues.
It was an excellent visit and I spent more time chatting with Don than I had planned. Perhaps it was fate that the Irish session turned out the way it did and that I left early. Otherwise I’d never bumped into Don by chance. We said we had to make sure another 25 years doesn’t just slip by.
As for the Irish session, I’ve got mixed feelings. I know I’d be a bit put out if our Stomping Grounds session got invaded and taken over. However, some of the reactions made me think that any new person might be seen as an interloper. I might come back to play someday, but I’m going to give it some time.
Music aside, I like Asheville more and more, and I think I’d like to spend more time up here. Asheville is to Greenville as Bellingham is to the Mount Vernon-Burlington area in Washington. However, Mount Vernon was never as stodgy as Greenville. It’s a nice escape, in many ways. I probably just won’t bring my guitar next time.