Day 0 -- Thursday, June 17, 2004
Once again, at the Meigs Motel. Maybe it's because I just did this last month but I'm wiped from the ride out. Unpack the essentials, check the tuning on the guitars, play little then, sleep......
Day 1 -- Friday, June 18, 2004
I wake up early, and feeling rested. For the first time there's time for breakfast. I head into Pomeroy and discover civilization in the form of McDonalds. Located right on the Ohio River, I get some nice pictures of a barge on the rain-swollen Ohio. Then, off to the ranch.

A strange arrival. When I get to the ranch no one's there.  Being a Gemini I immediately wonder if my stupid twin is awake today, and confusing Thursday with Friday. However the badges are laid out in the dining room, along with the Jorma bucks, so I assume that it is the right day. I then make sure my watch is working and wonder if I've crossed some weird summer time zone. Eventually I run into Ginger who's trying get things going herself, as Vanessa and John are running late.  I also encounter Charlie, who came in with G.E. late last night. Charlie's a talented 18 year old who was to play some great stuff this weekend.

The usual unpacking and setting up. More to set up this time, because I'm in the electric class and, because the Nomad IIc that I normally record classes with can't handle the sound levels with 18 electric guitars going, I decided to use my multitrack Zoom MRS-1266 to record the classroom sessions, as well as the student performance. I also brought my laptop computer to dump each day's sessions to the computer's hard drive for safe-keeping and to make room available on the multitrack's drive. In my packing frenzy I also brought my photo-printer which came in handy after the student performance.

I love getting there early on Friday, just to sit back with coffee on the porch and watch as the place comes alive with people and music.  Miss Kitty found me, and received her usual attention.  Met G.E. and told him of my passing him by on the sidewalk last fall. He said it always amazes him in a city as big as New York how you're always running into people that you know. This class also had a  number of people from my earlier classes: AK-Ellie, Joe, and Cliff are the ones that spring immediately to mind. I also finally meet Mark, with whom I'd been trading emails for a couple of months. He's there for another round with Jack.

The electric players were in the workshop, Patrick Sweeney's fingerstyle class was in the Concert Hall, Box Set's vocal harmony class was in the library, and Jack's bass class was in the A-frame down the hill.  As I relaxed by the smoking area, the sounds from the workshop as the other electric students began to set up and practice were inspiring.  After a while I got up and wandered in. Patrick Sweany also came in and started checking out the equipment. He also brought what he uses as a stage amplifier. It was an old tube phonograph player that his father salvaged years ago from a school's junk pile.  The player portion no longer worked, but it had and external microphone jack that sounded awesome when a guitar was plugged in.

Even before G.E. came in the jamming had started. I guess that acoustic players tend to be solo players, used to working out songs on their own. The electric crowd is definitely a more communal crowd, always looking for someone to play with. With the collection of guitarists, bassists, acoustic players and vocalists, this weekend was the jamfest to end all jamfests!

There are a large number of teenagers in the classes this year. Vanessa mentioned that several were there on scholarship programs. Jon, aka Little Hawk, was there because his father was originally scheduled for Geoff's class in May, couldn't make it, was re-scheduled for this class, then sent his son instead. Jon lives over in West Virginia and commuted to and from the ranch each day. Other than the teen crowd, there were the usual suspects, middle-aged folk who can't think of anything better to do with their time than to play some serious guitar.

Now, it's several weeks later and I still can't figure out how he did it. G.E. was charged with reigning in 17 electric guitarists (and 17 amps) and teaching us something. How he found the patience I'll never know. Most of our guitars seemed to be afflicted with volume controls that "somehow, on their own," just kept increasing, making it difficult for him to help individuals. He also managed to pick each of us out of the mix of sounds and let us know when we were doing something right or wrong.

We began with some rhythm exercises to get us all on the same page, first using our hands then using the guitars. What he did was to teach us three 3-part harmony 'songs', followed by RoadRunner. The class wasn't so much about learning a specific song as it was about learning to play within a song, with others, and sound good.

It seems that whenever there wasn't a class going on, or a meal, that we were all jamming. The only way I could really be sure that a class wasn't scheduled was that some of the bass players were sitting in. I think that there was a campfire that night, but I was too much into what was going on in our classroom to tear myself away. I think I finally hit the sack around midnight, and fell asleep about 2 seconds later.

A moment of panic before I went to bed, as I use my pager under my pillow as an alarm clock to insure that I get up on time and avoid disturbing my cabinmate. I look at the empty belt clip that I clipped to my knapsack and wonder where it fell out. Oh, well, nothing much to do in the dark except to set my 'internal' clock.

They say the third time's a charm....
Day 2 -- Saturday, June 19, 2004

Amazingly it works. I'm awake at 5:30 listening to the birds. At 6 I rise and hit the showers. Somewhere before 7 I'm sitting on the porch petting the cat and watching the sun come up. I get up and walk out the driveway to get some sunrise pictures of the sun rising over the ranch, and realize it's the summer solstace, or close enough to it. I try to think of a way to use the Stonehenge-like benches by the concert hall for picture, but fail. Back to the porch and the wait for the coffee. The other early risers are beginning to gather. Red, my roomie, brings his acoustic guitar and noodles around with Candyman. What a way to greet the day, watching the sun rise and listening to a nicely picked acoustic guitar!

Into the usual 'grind'. Food, playing, more food, more playing, still more playing, more food, some playing, concert, then more playing. During the breaks from classes I start to hear groups forming for the student performance.  I came in with an idea to ask G.E., Jack, and one of the BoxSet singers to do a song that I written two weeks earlier. As I hadn't yet actually met Jack, or either of the BoxSet singers ( I was just too busy trying to keep up with the class) I sort of shelved that idea, and didn't really know what I was going to do. I wasn't worried about it as I felt (for the first time) that there were a number of different songs that I could probably do solo without too much embarrasment. I figured that something would hit me, as time went on. I still didn't feel confident enough about my playing to ask any of the other students to play with me. I was pretty much stunned when Red asked me to play with the group that he was putting together.  Fighting sheer terror and the little voice in my head that was saying "flee, run, say your hands are broken" I said 'sure'.

The concert that night was Pete Huttlinger opening for Jack Casady, G.E. Smith, and Box Set. Pete's an amazingly fast guitarist, reminding me of Geoff Achison with a similar technique but different style. Towards the end he went into a story about how someone onced asked him to do the Stevie Wonder song 'Superstition'. He explained to the person how it was impossible to do on guitar since there were three distinct musical things happening at the same time. He then went home and figured out how to do it! When he started playing this Jack, G.E., Jim, and Jeff came out from the Green Room to the side of the stage to watch and listen!

Jack and company then went on and put on a great show. They performed a mix of Box Set and Jack Casady songs and it was fascinating watching G.E. (whose only rehearsal was the sound check) picking out what to play on them. The man is a true musician and guitar player, in every sense of the words.

After the concert there was, suprise, more playing. I finshed up hanging out on the porch, listening to stories, jokes, etc. Hit the sack again at midnight and crashed out immediately.

I had searched during the day for my pager, to no luck. In retracing my path between the car and my cabin there was now a large motor home parked across it, so I thought it might be under it. If so, I wasn't about to go crawling around for it. It did have some pages and messages from 9/11 stored on it, so there was some sentimental value attached, but felt it was probably a gonner. My one last hope for it was to check back at the Meigs when I left and see if someone found it there.

So, I set the internal alarm and went right out.
Day 3 -- Sunday, June 20, 2004
Again, my internal alarm works, although I wish it came with a snooze button, and I'm up and showered by 7. Hanging out on the porch, the coffee arrives, followed by Red with his guitar, and life is good.
It's Father's Day, and also my birthday. I wish my kids could be here to share this with me, and there were a couple of father/son pairs attending this weekend, but they're teenagers and into their own things at this point. Steve is into sports in general and wrestling in particular and doing great with that. Joe is heavily into cars (like me, at his age) and thinks of little else. I gave my daughter a surfboard for her 13th birthday and I'm told she's actually using it. I could never keep my balance on the damn things! 
Food, class, practice, etc. Somewhere during a break that morning I screwed up my courage and asked G.E. if he'd back me in a song for the student performance. He said sure, we'll go over it later! A little later I began to wonder. When I wrote the song I recorded it with a rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, and drums (well, drum machine). When I played it without the drums it didn't really seem to stand on it's own. I had brought a drum machine with me but, with all the work of setting up and recording the performances, taking pictures of everyone, and trying to remember words and music to my own song on top of my normal stage fright I felt that throwing the drum machine into the mix would probably be too much for me. I figured that later, when we practiced, I'd get G.E.'s opinion on it all.
There's no afternoon class on Sunday, as it's everyone's time to get together and rehearse for the show. As I wandered around I was tantalized by the bits and pieces that I was hearing. It sounded as if this would be a great show. I tried not to think of how my part would sound in comparison. While I would really like to sound good, I have to realize that this is still the only place that I ever get to perform in public. This would be my third time, to be exact, so I mentally expect that I'm going to be somewhat less than perfect. But each time it gets a little easier and the stage fright a little more managable, so it's something I have to do if I ever hope to perform regularily.
After a while, I realize that I should really find G.E. and give him a clue as to what he was getting himself into. I finally find him in conversation with Jack, and ask him when would be a good time for him to go over the song with me. He said that now was fine, and we headed to the workshop to get our guitars. The workshop already had some people rehearsing in it, so we unplugged our guitars and went out back. I explained the structure of the song to him (it was easy, only 5 basic chords) and showed him how I played the rhythm part. He strummed it a few times, said 'got it', and we went back in. That was to be the extent of our rehearsal! If I had been thinking clearly I probably would have gotten in my car and fled right then and there. Fortunately there was just so much to do that I shelved my fears for later. I had to get the recording gear up to the concert hall, set it up, get my guitar and amp up there, set them up, get into the class picture, etc. And, it was a hot day, so I could blame my sweating on all the exertion, rather than nervousness.
The concert opened with Patrick's class, then Red stood up and motioned us up. As we were setting up Red mentioned that they had been practicing this all weekend. Gulp! I hadn't. I was sitting noodling around in the background when Red was going over the song with another student when he apparently liked what he heard and asked me to play. I guess he thought I knew what I was doing. Oh well, I thought, this should be interesting. We were doing Van Morrison's "It Stoned Me", one of my favorite songs, although I had never tried to play it. But then, Jon "Little Hawk" Hawkins was, at age 14, playing harmonica for the first time in his life on it, so I couldn't very well chicken out.  We started playing and I began noodling like I usually do. As the amps were all playing 'live' the only things coming out of the PA were the vocals. I wasn't sure how loud I should be playing, but kept it low anyway until I was sure I was playing in the right key. Red called out "Mike" for the first solo, and Mike did a really nice piece. Then a chorus and I expected to hear "Dave". However, this didn't come and I realized that I was supposed to be playing now. I cranked up the volume a little and did a short solo, which seemed well received, so I must have done something right. 
And, on with the show. It turned out that it was also Mark's birthday that day. His wife had called and spilled the beans. Vanessa sang her "Happy Birthday" song, ala Marilyn Monroe, which started scores of people shouting that it was their birthday, too! I listened, took pictures, and watched the recorder, as with such a variety of acoustic and electric sounds I was constantly having to adjust the recording levels. As usual, I'm amazed at the talent that's shown on stage. Even people who weren't stand-outs in class put on incredible performances when they 'played what they know'. I clung to this thought, as it implied that I might not do too bad. Some time after 5, I realized that time was running out, as there seemed to be no end to volunteers to perform. After the "Dave's" (Dave and David Palmer) did a beautiful ballad that Dave wrote for his wife, I stood up and asked G.E. "ready?". He say "Let's do it" (or some words to that effect) and we went up. I immediately came back down as I left my lyric sheet on my seat! Back up with the lyrics and start to plug in. Now, somewhere along the line I think my brain went into some alternate universe and left me coasting on some backup cells tucked away somewhere other than my head. I remember mumbling to Jack that I really had no idea how loud to make the amp. I can swear that I had the knobs set to where I usually play this song. I can only surmise that it was Jack that cranked ALL the knobs up to 10! Luckily the volume was down on the guitar so there was no explosion when I plugged it in. This song requires a wah-wah pedal to be interesting, so when I stepped on that to activate it there was a loud sort of noise that I hadn't heard before. I thought, must be because the volume is up a little. Turning the pedal off gave me a sound similar to the clear channel on the amp, which should have confused me but what part of my brain was left associated it with using the Marshall footswitch (which I wasn't using) to switch channels and, so, I thought everything was normal.
I did a little introduction and mentioned that G.E. had learned this in about 2 minutes.  I then stood there and waited for G.E. to start. Nada. I looked up at him and asked "You do remember it?". He said yes, but to start the rhythm going. I should have realized at that point that he couldn't read my mind, but I learn slow. I start the rhythm and he joins in, immediately giving the song a different, funkier blues feel. As I hit the wah-wah pedal to begin the lead part, I realize that this is going to be a different song then the one I wrote and that I'd have to alter how I play the lead or it'll really suck. Luckily the first time through serves to set things up, so I normally use it to relax and get into the groove anyway. So I try to relax and I start picking out a bit that seems to fit. As I'm playing it I realize that it sounds a bit like Garcia on Fire On The Mountain. I was never fond of the wah-wah sound that he used. It sounds different when your the one playing it! When I shift into the chorus I kick the wah-wah off and play it straight. I sometimes kick it off too soon if I lose track of where I am, so I'm used to 'stalling' for a measure before going into the chorus riffs. So, I'm there stalling. And stalling. I look up at G.E. and finally realize that, no, he can't read my mind and he's waiting for a signal from me for the change. He asks "Go to the A?", I nod, and he smoothly transitions right into it. Amazingly I follow right along and go into the chorus. The sound I'me hearing from the amp is absolutely amazing. He hits the F# for the turnaround right on time and we're back for the first verse. I start singing and realize that the mic I'm using isn't patched into the monitors in front of me. Which means I'm singing blind. Nothing much to do, except to continue on. I had structured the song so that each verse would have two measures of instrumental, followed by four measures of singing, followed by two more measures of instrumental before going into the chorus. As I'm starting the second instrumental I realize that G.E. has gone into the chorus. I keep calm and bring my solo into the chorus part, realizing halfway through that I'm supposed to be singing, now. Oh well, I figure I'll just skip this chorus and resume at the next verse. This would have worked nicely, however when I start singing the second verse I realize that my eyes have gone right to where I left off and I'm singing the chorus! I frantically try to re-phrase it to fit into the verse melody and rhythm, and figure I'll just start my solo in the middle at the start of the chorus instead.  The solo is now totally different from anything I've ever played. I have no idea how it's sounding. Finally we reach the third verse, and I start singing the second verse. I'm ready now for the transition into the chorus, and hit it pretty well. I wonder if people have noticed that I sang it for the second verse as well! Out of the chorus for the last time, and I realize that it was over. I actually look up and signal to G.E. that we're to wrap up, he brings the rhythm end down. and we end on the E.


Day 4 -- Monday, June 21, 2004


This was the weirdest morning yet. As I'm relaxing on the porch, I'm feeling absolutely full. We have no class today, as it's an optional one and G.E. had to leave early that morning. Normally I'd feel disappointed but today, I feel so full of all that I'd experienced that I think another class would have caused my head to explode. I have the opportunity of sitting in on Patrick's class, but I feel like I've just finished a big Thanksgiving dinner and there just ain't no more room for any more music! I've got to digest some of what I've learned, first.

So, after breakfast, I begin packing. This, at least, is easier, because I'm usually doing it in a rush after the last class. Now, I take my time and savour it, and the good-byes to the other campers.  Before leaving I hit the FPR store and leave behind a chunk of some birthday money that I'd gotten prior to leaving home. I ask Ginger if there's still openings for the Jamstock weekend. There are, so I sign up. It'll be tight, but I just can't pass it up after experiencing this.

Finally, it's time to leave. I head out, stopping at the Meigs (no pager) and head on home. The trip is a blur.

I find the pager, the next day, far under the driver's seat. I have no idea how it got there. I realize that I did leave a guitar stand there, but I'll be back in October to pick it up.
June 18-21 2004, Fur Peace
Ranch Trip
My third trip to the Fur Peace Ranch
in June, 2004 with G.E. Smith, Jack
Casady, Patrick Sweany, and Box Set.
Still under construction!!
116 photos, 7 chapters
View Album
This is Patrick Sweany's stage amp!
Red's Band
Thanks to Rick for the photo

I'm nowhere to be seen. I'm in a complete state of shock, and overwhelmed by the applause from the audience. I'm thinking, it must be for G.E., as I could hear that his playing was fantastic. What he did with the rhythm part is going to keep me up trying to figure it out. I manage to announce that it's my birthday, today, and to thank everyone for the best birthday party ever! This causes a round of "Happy Birthday" to break out.

I had given my camera to Red while I was performing (thanks again, for the incredible pictures, next time you've got to show me how to use my camera!) and he corraled G.E., Jack, and myself for a picture. I was so dazed I forgot to take off my reading glasses, damn. Vanessa ran down from the sound booth to give me a birthday hug.

The rest of the show goes by in a blur, including my own performance as part of G.E.'s class. If it wasn't for the recording, I wonder if I'd remember any of it.  As I'm packing things up I'm overwhelmed by the number of people that are coming up to me and complimenting my on my performance. All I can think about are the mistakes, and I really have no idea how I sounded.

After dinner, Patrick gave a concert. He started solo, and wound up with Jack, Box Set, and G.E. joining in. I remember feeling blown away from all the great music that I'd been hearing for the past few days.

I remember sitting around that night, listening to jokes (unfortunately not repeatable here, for the most part) in a state of pure euphoria. I wanted to stay up later but, faced with the long drive back the next day, I crashed a little after midnight.

After unpacking, I hook up all the sound equipment and begin going through the recording of the student performance. I'm utterly amazed at the performances. Ellie leading off with the 'Irish Ballad', followed by Mark (singing and playing guitar for the first time live) doing "High Flyin' Bird". Jamie and company doing an incredible Cream/Clapton medley. Mark again with company performing (on bass this time) "The Other Side Of This Life", with Cordy and Ricky on vocals. Dave Palmer's "Here Come The Angels".  The list goes on. My performance with Red is ok, the performance of Red and the others is great! I get to my song with G.E. As I listen, I realize that I am starting to learn how to play this thing, and despite all the mistakes and miscues, it really does sound good.  I didn't panic, at least that you can hear, and if I kept my mouth shut about it and didn't write about it here most people would probably think it was supposed to sound like that. I think it's given me the confidence needed to be able to sit in with other musicians and not feel completely out of place.

A week and a half later and I'm on a Blues Cruise around Manahattan, with the Jefferson Starship on board. Man, after all these years Marty can still sing! Still, there's a feeling missing, one that's only there in Hot Tuna concerts. The concerts were far from sold out (which is a shame, they are a great group) and they announce that those who were at the early cruise could stay on board for the later one. I'm torn, but G.E. is playing at The LivingRoom in downtown Manhattan at 10pm and I really want to catch his show. So, across Manhattan I go, then into the subway down to Delancey street. I'm not quite sure where the place is, as it's website is down and all the addresses that I find point to a location that people tell me closed down last year. I finally found one address that looked good, on Ludlow street, so I head on over and sure enough, there it is. On the chalkboard outside they mention not only G.E., but Southside Johnny as well! I go in, grab a beer, and pick out a table. The prior act finishes up and G.E. comes in and begins to set up. I go over and say high, then resume my seat. He's playing tonight with a drummen, bass player, keyboard player, and Southside Johnny on harmonica and vocals. They play a set of old blues standards, seeming to learn them on the fly, yet playing tighter than most bands could even dream about. Of the two shows I saw tonight, G.E.'s was definitely the best!