Monday, September 26, 2011
WASHINGTON SQUARE BLUEGRASS AND OLD TIME MUSIC REUNION
It was a great honor to be a part of the festivities at the 8th annual Washington Square Bluegrass and Old Time Music Reunion. Organizer Jeannie Myers has the routine down to a science and takes no guff from other musicians not part of the open jam session between the legends of Greenwich Village Old Time Music.
I had first been spoted by a former Gerde's patron. She noticed my name tag and had nothing but fond memories for my grandfather and Folk City.
As I approached the Square from the Broadway side, I spoted Hal Wylie. I took off my shades hoping he'd recognize me from our meeting at the Folk City at 50 party. We also met last August. I had driven to Connecticut to see Roger Sprung on his 80th birthday and I had presented Hal with a 5x7 of himself back in the summer of '10. To my great pleasure, Ol' Hal's eyes grew wide from under his everpresent Stud hat as we shook hands. I knew within a moment or two, I'd be running into Sprung.
But as has been the case for the last 60 years, Roger Sprung was busy pickin'. I made sure to go say hello to Roger later in the day when his hands were resting. It never quite happened. I had to interrupt him when he was about to start another song. At one point, I had even seen him pluck away at the galvinized tub basin.
I was glad to see Roger pose for a picture with former teenager, Eric Weissberg. The mind reels at the thought of Roger and Eric playing in open jam sessions when Eric was only a boy of 14. But here they were again over 50 years later. Their careers behind them. Still playing for keeps.
And "Deliverance" co-icon Steve Mandel was also there, hanging with Eric most of the time. Steve was the guitar pro who went toe-to-toe with Julliard's banjo playing Weissberg on their landmark soundtrack.
Along another short stroll to rub elbows, I spoke crap with Terri Thal and Barry Kornfeld. Norman Savitt gawked at the crowd with me as did photog extraordinare and Folk aficianado Frank Beacham.
Paul Prestopino was a target of mine. I wanted to at least make person-to-person contact with someone who only knew of me through an unsolicited "friend request" (snicker). The mere concept of how Facebook has connected me to my grandfather's past is still baffling to me. Paul and I had joked that we've all become slaves to communication... Joked how people walk the streets with a 3 inch screen in front of their faces.
Paul is an interesting story in that he replaced, not one, but TWO well known Greenwich Village alumni. First, he was one of two guitarists to replace Roger (Then Jim) McGuinn as acompanists to the Chad Mitchell Trio. He later replaced Erik Weissberg as the new bangoist for the Greenbriar Boys.
Sharp dude. Still plays just as sharp. Of note, only he and I were manly enough to wear bandanas on our heads that day.
When I say there was a LOT of jammin' and pickin' going on, I really mean a fucking LOT!! I had my guitar with me and I joined in near the end but I couldn't keep up. I kept trying to chase the chord changes by watching the pros and in the end I wasn't playing loudly enough for myself to hear...I was just making it appear as if I were playing along.
No, I couldn't keep up with those old folkies. They were running all afternoon as fast as they could. They sung every song they knew and then played them with a different crew hours later.
It was interesting to note how much space a small group really needs to create a band in the round. One small band can play within spitting distance to a like-sized band and not interfere. One particular time was when we were all posing for the Annual's group photo. The shots took only a moment yet no one really moved. So given the opportunity, Sprung and Wylie, a bow fiddle and a couple of banjo players started to play and music filled the air once more. So within moments, the other random super-group on the other side of the photo op took off into an oldie of their own. And they were all off and running again.
And this went on and on. If anyone ever wanted to get a good sense of how it used to be, this was quite the magical facsimile....or so I'm told. I can only imagine an earlier time when music in the park rang like this at all hours of the day. It still does. But the performers in the park today are just nobodies to me. Damn near hoodlums. The liklihood that this many RECORDED artists regularly assemble elsewhere in the city all at once to play music is 0%!!
Well done Jeannie Myers!
Not only is a permit secured a year in advance to avoid conflicts, its chosen venue location and what the Square represents to these Folks cannot be understated. And this year, the weather was ideal. Past reuinions have been held in elements unkind at times but on top of everything else, Ms. Myers secures an indoor backup, as well.
A recurring figure, now known personally as well as via the dreaded Facebook, was Peter Stampfel. What a Gem!! Banjo and fiddle alongside showing his wares with groups, every and all. He gravitated towards the fellow genius Prestopino and they both struck it up when given the chance to. When skies obscurred the warming rays, things heated up music wise. More musicians came out of the woodwork who had had careers of their own in other clubs in other worlds. One thing in common was their love for the power of song and, in addition for many, this was nothing new to them.
More crowds of musician circles formed. More tourists and observers were standing on benches to get a better look. Music fans happening to stumble upon the reunion found themselves asking around to determine the names of the performers. Others just couldn't resist the level of skill they were witnessing. "Lots of fingers flying," said one amazing attendee.
The Seeger group showed up from the Sloop Club in Beacon. The Sprung group showed up from Connecticut. The Manhattan group was represented. The Woodstock ilk showed. Central Jersey. Long Island. Upstate. Pennsylvania and other states for sure. Some by air travel. Impressive clientele for a bluegrass reunion.
By the look on everyone's eyes, this get together was something they all look forwward to attending. I missed it last year. Didn't know about it until it's 5th year. But I'm probably never to miss another Washington Square Folk and Old Time Music Reunion again. Always an incredible array of characters. This is one of the greatest reunion ideas imaginable.