For this trip, I'm going to try not to reiterate things from the last trip, but just hit the hilights of this one, so it should be shorter.
Day 0 -- Thursday, May 6, 2004
Once again, at the Meigs Motel. It's worth the 8 1/2 hour drive for the scenery along the way, but once I hit the motel I can't seem to get motivated to get into Pomeroy for a nice steak and beer. I just don't want to get into a car again, for at least a few hours.
So, I unpack a little, change some strings, practice a little, and relax. The TV is on in the background reminding me to tune into the last episode of 'Friends'. I haven't watched it in years but I figure I can stand one more episode, especially if it's the last. What a shock to hear Embryonic Journey at the end. Here I am, a scant few miles from the composer and player of the song written 42 years ago, going to see him in about 12 hours, and listening to him close out one of the most popular TV shows of all time.  Talk about 'long, strange trips'.
Day 1 -- Friday, May 7, 2004
As I pull in, Steve James is unpacking in the parking lot, and the first person I meet. I'm barely awake (no coffee yet) and try to manage a conversation with him. I know him by reputation only as I hadn't heard any of his performances. He thoroughly rectified that over the course of the weekend.
I don't know how they do it, but both John and Vanessa remembered my name on only my second trip to the ranch. Must be something in the water here! As luck would have it, both Vanessa and Ginger were dressed in pink! Ginger vowed she was going home to change.

I get cabin 2 (Yes! Short walk to the bathroom!) and unpack a little. and grab some coffee, Vanessa, Ginger, and Steve are relaxing at a table in the middle of the 'square'. Vanessa invited me over and we spent some time bs-ing. Somehow the conversation got onto snakes. I think I had asked Vanessa about an email she had sent out with some early info regarding this year's class schedule, where she threatened to 'put a snake in our bed' if we let the word out early. I asked her "what if I like snakes?". This led to some recounting of tales regarding the early days of their ownership of the property and, particularly Ginger's battles with copperheads. Including one "Apocalypse Now-ish" scenario which had a plumber coming to work on the A-Frame and finding Ginger, armed with a pistol, and a row of little copperhead-heads on stakes around the house. This became a recurring theme for the weekend, as Steve jumped in in defense of the snakes, and the eco-system in the area.  I'm still disappointed in that the only animals I managed to come across in my two stays here are a very pregnant Miss Kitty, the neighbor's dogs, and a bunny rabbit. Although I did find some deer tracks down by the river.
They added a roof on the veranda of the kitchen this year making a nice, open yet sheltered porch for the dining room. Combined with new tables inside and stools there was never any shortage of seats. They also added several picnic tables and one table with an umbrella in the center of the square.  I was worried about some statements in earlier newsletters that they were going to enclose the porch to expand the dining area, but the installation of the roof alone has made it an even better place to eat.
I'm in Geoff Achison's class this year. Geoffs class was in the old performance hall/workshop, Steve's was in the library, and Jorma's was up in the FP Station. I brought my guitar over and this year I brought a guitar stand, as did quite a few others. My guitar hit the floor more times than I can remember, last year, and I wanted to avoid repeating that this year. I don't know if it was connected, but the top delaminated under the bridge and the bridge pulled away two weeks after last year's class. I sent it back to Ibanez and they'd sent a free replacement. So, if my guitar had learned anything last year it was gone, and I was starting this year with a 'Rookie' guitar.
Orientation was held in the FP Station. Vanessa, despite lack of notes and battling a migraine, made us all feel welcome. We went around and introduced ourselves, and each instructor played a short piece. Jorma was battling a ferocious cold but heroically rose to the occasion. 
After a leisurely lunch we gathered for our first class. Geoff's last 6 classes were electric blues classes, and he said he considers himself to be an electric guitarist and was suprised to find he was scheduled to teach an acoustic class. But, he said, we'd figure something out. I should add that he's in the middle of an acoustic tour of the northeast, and that, after hearing him play, he's probably forgotten more than I've ever learned. We went over some music theory, enough to understand what makes the blues, and over the course of the class Geoff created some very helpful papers showing chord progressions, alternate chords, etc.  The two songs we'd be focusing on were Geoff's "Don't Play Guitar, Boy" and his acoustic rendition of "Whipping Post".  Geoff's playing is very dynamic. The best description of it the I heard was from a student who was looking at his pictures of Geoff's concert Saturday night and said that, taken without a flash, "his face was clear, his guitar was clear, but his arms ended at his wrists, as his hands were a blur". I said that yes, that's about how it looked to the naked eye!
I'm not going to try and recount each class, as they've all sort of blurred together into on big one in my mind. Except for the electric workshop on Sunday night. More on that, later. During the afternoon class a high wind swept through, bringing down a tree on a power line. The power was out for a couple of hours. Luckily we were acoustic, and weren't bothered.










































Day 2 -- Saturday, May 8, 2004

As my alarm normally goes off at 4:30am, it felt good to sleep to 6:00am. Granted it would have felt even better to sleep 'till 9, but then I feel as if I'm wasting the day. After a shower, I set off on another trip around the property, camera in hand. I found one rabbit on the way down to the river, but I was having problems getting the camera to focus properly and the one photo I got came out blurry. As I was coming up the side of the neighbor's property I noticed that the sun was about to rise over a small hill behind the camp. So, I hung out by the entrance and managed to get a couple of nice shots of sunrise over the ranch. "Sun's gonna shine in my back door, someday" and all that. A few more shots of the new courtyard setup and kitchen porch, then plop down in one of the rockers with the other early risers to await coffee. It just don't get any better. At least for another hour or so. If I had a dime for every time I felt like that at the ranch, I'd be taking yet a third class this year.

After a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a bagel (no Frosted Flakes, this year, rats) and yet more coffee, it was back to class. I can't say enough for the instructors at the ranch. They honestly seem to be there because they want to be, and they enjoy teaching, even the fretically challenged, such as myself. The class schedule lists a couple of workshop sessions as 'optional', at the instructor's discretion. I think that, over the course of the weekend, that all the optional sessions were used, and often extended. At the end of the day on Saturday, Geoff had to be practically dragged from the classroom by John to go over to the FP Station for the soundcheck for his night's concert, opening for Clarence Gatemouth Brown.

After dinner, and the soundcheck was complete, we all dropped by the concert hall and 'reserved' our front-row seats for the night's concert by leaving something of ours on them. The gates opened and the public began to flow in.

What a show! Geoff was incredible. The amount of energy he gets out of that acoustic guitar is just amazing. His fingers are blindingly fast and know just where to stop, for a nano-second, before moving on. Some people learn how to play guitar, and some people just Play Guitar! After one instrumental someone in the audience remarked "that boy's possessed!".

Gatemouth was also incredible. I think he's 80 years old, and plays like he's 30. He uses a capo on almost every song, and he positions his left hand with his thumb and index finger BEHIND the capo, playing mostly with his second, third, and fourth fingers! And nobody could figure out his picking technique. He seemed to barely move his fingers on his right hand, almost tapping the strings with his fingers, yet is sounded as if he were playing with fingerpicks! I'm told he normally plays with a 7 or 8 piece band. Tonight he was playing with a 3-piece, another guitarist ( Dr. John's guitarist, I think) and a bass player. Together they sounded great.

After the show, a few folks headed into town for a beer. I was floating on a cloud of music and exhaustion and hung out on a porch for a while before heading to bed. I was noodling around on the guitar doing Serpent of Dreams and, as some people actually recognized the song, I made the decision to perform this the next day, alth
ough electrically. I had brought my Epiphone Jorma Kaukonen Signature Edition Riviera Delux (what a mouthful) to get Jorma's signature on it and my Marshall VS65 amp. I was a little nervous playing electric during an 'all acoustic' weekend (think of Dylan at Newport, only without the talent) but, as I had never before sung in front of anyone, I felt I needed the noise to drown out my vocals.

Day 3 -- Sunday, May 9, 2004

Up again, at 6. This time just a shower, and hanging out with coffee. The weather this trip was fantastic. A little cool Friday night, but comfortable and sunny and warm during the days.

After the morning's class it was lunch, then get ready for the student performance. I tried not to think too much about it, and busied myself with setting my Zoom MRS-1266 recorder up in the FP Station hall. The sound there was much better than in the old hall, and the buzz in the microphones that had plagued me last year was not present there. Still, next time I've got to find a way of bribing John to let me tap into the sound board.

After the class pictures (held outside the hall) it was time to start. Vanessa announced that Steve would be giving an 'intimate concert' for everyone that night, after the optional workshops. That would be cool. Although I'd rather go on early and get it over with I figured that since I was playing electric I'd wait 'til near the end. I did remember to get pictures of everyone this time. Man, there are some good people out there. I enjoyed everyone's performance and listen to the recording often at work. When the responses to Jorma's "Ok, who's next?" died out, I stood up and got up on stage. As I had to drag the amp over and plug in, Jorma
filled the time with a few jokes. I expected him to mic the amp and feed it through the sound system but instead he left it up to me to crank it up. Given my current living arraingments I had never played it over 2 on the scale. I wasn't sure how loud to make it but I cranked it up to about 4 and hit a chord. Man, did that sound good! In my nervousness I neglected to check all the other settings, which, either people had been playing with or they got changed in transit, and wound up playing with some bizarre settings, such as reverb and treble on 10. Oh well, it still sounded better than my voice. In addition to being Mother's Day it was also my daughter Judy's 13th birthday, so I dedicated the song to her. I then blamed Jorma for what was about to transpire, as the song was coming via Breakdown Way. He cheefully accepted the 'blame'. After doing Water Song last year I came to the conclusion that a long song was the way to go. Because you're going on with little or no warm-up and only playing one song, it usually takes me two or three minutes to relax and play like I normally play. The first two minutes my fingers felt like wooden posts and I was gripping the neck and fretting so hard that the bass notes were being pulled up out of tune. That I heard, but I muffed the last line of the first verse and didn't even notice that until the playback. By the second verse, it became apparent the people weren't fleeing in panic, clutching their ears, so I figured I was doing ok and began to relax. Other than the first verse I remembered all the words and, while singing in a key from another planet, it was neat to hear everything coming back through the monitors and hearing the amp next to me growling out the music. This was starting to feel like fun!
After me, John and Steve did a Dylan number, with John on guitar and vocals, and Steve on mandolin. Following that as there were no more takers, John asked if he could do another number with Jorma. Jorma accepted and they did a song I believe was called 'Outward Bound'. After his performance last year with G.E. Smith, I found out that John plays with a local band and is an excellant guitarist. It was neat hearing Jorma in a role like that, with John playing a strong rythm and Jorma just playing lead hilights and not carrying the whole song himself. After it was all over, I got Jorma's signature on my guitar.

While bringing gear down from the hall, I crossed paths with Jorma and asked him if the stone benches by the brick walk were leftover props from Spinal Tap. He laughed and said "No, but that's what they reminded him of, as well"
. We started talking and he offered me some tips on some of the parts of Serpent that I had trouble with. I told him that I was originally planning on asking him to accompany me on Good Shepherd, as I had worked out a pretty good (I thought) electric part to it, but that when I tried playing it over a version that he had done I found my timing was all off. He said next time I was at the ranch to grab him sometime before the performance and that we'd work something out.

After dinner Geoff asked if anyone was up for an electric mini-workshop. We were, and several people also sat in with acoustics. I lent my acoustic amp to Don, and Geoff remarked at one point that of all six or so electric guitars playing, the loudest thing he was hearing was Don's acoustic! Don also had a custom built 12 string, which had a small body but incredible sound. For the electric part, we basically fooled around until we found a groove, and chord progression, and then took turns with a lead part. We did about 4 or 5 songs, stretching them out to 20 minutes or so each. Geoff sounded absolutely amazing on electric, and we soon had an audience sitting in and listening. At one point between songs we were trying to come up with a groove. Geoff kept saying "no more 12 bar blues, we've done that. Something different!" Something he was noodling with started me playing a song I had written a couple of weeks earlier after hearing of the death of a friend. It's basic chords were Em and Dm, played in a finger picking/brushing style. There are more in what I'd written, but Geoff began building on those two into an intense solo. 20 minutes later I was on cloud 9. My original version is over on my music page, called 'For Janet'. I wish I had recorded this session!

After John chased us out to set up for Steve's concert, we gathered back in for a real treat from Steve. While his style of playing is very different from mine, it is fantastic. I have a hard time just singing and playing guitar at the same time, but sings, plays, and tells stories over it all! If you get a chance, make the effort to see him. You won't be disappointed. And if you get to talk to him, mention how concerned you are about the snakes in Southeastern Ohio.

After all that, time for bed. But wait!!! There's still more!!! John fired up the campfire and there was still more music! I was mentally toasted by this time and couldn't think of anything to play, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to everyone perform. The playlist was fantastic. Dylan, The Band, even a Cream number. Sitting back, listening, and watching the flames, with the sparks soaring up until they got lost in the myriad ofstars shining in the sky. Again I thought, it just don't get any better than this!

Day 4 -- Monday, May 10, 2004

Oh crap. It's Monday, already. I'm just not ready for this to end. This feeling was tempered by the knowledge that I'd be returning in June, for G.E. Smith's Electric Blues class. Still, it was hard to leave. We had one last workshop with Geoff, then packing and a round of goodbyes. Miss Kitty managed to have kittens sometime that night, or early morning, and she was lying on the porch, exhausted. Vanessa was now faced with the task of following her around to find out where the kittens were!

With all the gear I brought (5 guitars, two amps, a multi-track recorder, mics, stands, clothes, etc.) packing was a chore. I suggested to Vanessa that they offer a roadie workshop, packing and unpacking our gear for practice. From her look I'm not going to hold my breath.
Day 4 plus 3 -- Thursday, May 13, 2004
Geoff is playing at Terra Blues in Manhattan. I grab a friend from work and head on down. A full two, one-hour sets. Again, fantastic. Even though I have a pretty good idea of what he's playing and how, it's still amazing. There, I meet Dick from class with his wife and we all sit with Geoff and his manager Nancy during the break and it's just like being back at the ranch. Although I'm going back in June, I still can't wait 'till next year!


The Fur Peace Experience
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