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Playing in the band
July 19, 2008 - Bill Ackerbauer
I've been playing music as a fairly serious hobby for more than a decade now, but I've always been a solo guy. The only exception is when I've played pick-up gigs with friends in what have mostly amounted to jam sessions in front of an audience. That's fun, though the results can be hit-or-miss depending on the skill of the musicians, whether they have a common repertoire to draw from, and how well they're able to "read" each other. Put a country guitar player and a jazz saxophonist together and tell them to jam, and you'll see what I mean. They might or might not speak the same musical language.
Earlier this year, I was invited to join a local bluegrass band called Durey Creek. It's been an educational experience.
One of the things that's great about playing solo is that you can go with the flow -- if you feel like throwing in an ad-lib guitar riff or stretching out a vocal line, you can do it. In a band situation, unless you're in a "jam band" or a freestyle improv group, every detail needs to be rehearsed. The larger the band, the more parts there are to commit to memory -- who plays a solo when and for how long, how to introduce or end a song, etc.
In Durey Creek, I've been doing some singing as well as playing guitar, harmonica and fiddle. Not all at the same time, thank goodness. But as our set list has grown to include twenty-five or thirty songs (more than two hours of music), it has started to become a real challenge to my powers of memory and concentration. When it's time for a fiddle number, the pressure is really on; I've only been playing the instrument for about three years, and the learning curve has been steep.
Even as a solo performer, I've been known to suffer from flatulence of the cerebral organ (I sometimes struggle to recall the lyrics to my own songs, for crying out loud!). Singing and playing with four or five or six other musicians, you don't want to be the one to drop the ball mid-song. But that extra pressure pushes you to work harder at it and improve, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Warning: Shameless plugs ahead ...
You can hear Durey Creek perform Saturday, July 19, at the Caroga Historical Society Museum's craft fair. We'll be pickin' and grinnin' from roughly 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Durey Creek also will play from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 9 at the Gloversville Farmers Market.
If you want to hear me play solo this month, you'll have to head east: On Friday, July 25, I'll be switching out of bluegrass mode and perform acoustic blues/roots music at the Saratoga Acoustic Blues Society's season kickoff celebration at Stockade Imports on Broadway in Saratoga.
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Bluegrass pioneer? Nope. Cyrus Durey was the Johnstown postmaster sometime around 1920. He was born in North Bush, which is between Meco and Caroga. A creek runs through that area, and it's called ... Durey Creek.