“Fill my cup
And lift me up to hearts overflowing
Drink to me
And here’s to we and love ever-growing
When I need you, I’m out in the rain
When I see you, I light up again”

music and lyrics by Michael Brewer
recorded by the Seldom Scene on After Midnight album.

by Mark Panfil

Ground Hog Day and Valentine’s Day in the same month! Of course, there are many love songs in bluegrass music. The one I quoted above is one of my favorites.

As for groundhog songs, the Dillards (the Darling Family from the Andy Griffith Show) recorded the old traditional song, “Ground Hog,” on the album “Back Porch Bluegrass.” Versions of this song have also been recorded by Doc Watson, Red Allen and Frank Wakefield and the Slocan Ramblers.

The temperature outside has dipped to a season low but the music in our local concert venues and bars is sizzling.

Different Kinds of Jam Sessions

I had a chance in January to attend the Old Timey String band jam at 42 North. This old timey string jam session happens again on Sunday, Feb.19, 4–7 p.m. at 42 North Brewing Company 25 Pine St, East Aurora. This is mostly instrumental and is hosted by the Brothers Blue. The Brothers are seasoned players and historians of the Old Timey tradition.

There are several differences between a bluegrass jam and an old timey jam.

In a bluegrass jam, participants take turns singing the verses and choruses as well as taking turns passing the solos to interested musicians.

In an old timey jam, everyone plays the melody of the tune along with everybody. You may play the same melody 12-16 (or more) times. Many times the tune will be obscure and require the players to learn it as they play it.

There is seldom a vocal, instead mostly instrumental tunes. By the time the tune ends, each player usually has a pretty good idea of how to play each song.

Perhaps the tradition goes back to country square dances where only one fiddler who knew an endless amount of fiddle tunes would play it without a break throughout each song and others would sit in and learn it by ear and observation. Most musicians did not read music back then in this culture but they were usually excellent at copying what they saw and heard.

The standard instruments in an old timey jam were guitar, fiddle, a claw hammer, frailing or drop thumb style of banjo playing (no picks were used and the banjo player played with the backs of their finger nails and the pad of their thumb on the right hand), a mandolin, an upright bass (never electric) and sometimes a piano or an accordion. The titles of the tunes are often colorful like “Big Ball in the High Grass,” “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” “Pear Tree,” “Over the Waterfall” and “Citigo.”

This jam happens every third Sunday of the month and is fun to watch and fun to participate in, too.

A similarity between old timey and bluegrass jams is the players often form a circle and play toward the middle, and those who are just learning the songs or tunes can sit just outside the inner circle and play along. I have heard this called an onion jam. Onions have many layers from the inside to the outside, like the players in these jams.

I have two more jams here for you to check out, too.

  • The Monthly Bluegrass Jam session at Bennington Lanes will be on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2-7 p.m. at Bennington Lanes, 1374 Clinton Street Road, Attica. This happens every second Sunday of the month. Great pickin’, and food and beverages are available too! It’s open to the public. Bring an instrument or just hang out and enjoy the music.
  • And every Thursday there is an open bluegrass and old country song jam at the Concord Mercantile, 17 Franklin St, Springville, 1-3 p.m.

Working Man String Band

Another new Bluegrass band has popped up in Lockport. Last Saturday, Jan 28, I caught the second ever show by the Working Man String Band. We heard some great old Bluegrass classics by this group, which included Mark Monaco on fiddle, Joe McCarthy on banjo, Franklin Rezarch on guitar and Marc Pietrzykowski on bass. I’m looking forward to the next show, TBA

Coming up in February

The Panfil Brothers

On Saturday, Feb. 4, the Panfil Brothers Trio are playing at the East Eden Tavern & Smoke House, 8163 E Eden Rd, Eden,  6-9 p.m.

The Bluegrass All Stars lunch at the Sportsmen’s Tavern will be on Thursdays, Feb. 2 and 16. They are celebrating Goundhog day with the song by the Dillards up above. They play from noon to 2:15 p.m.

Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy

Natalie McMaster & Donnell Leahy will be at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on  Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. To fans of fiddle music, MacMaster and Leahy need no introduction. While both were already stars in their own light, propelling their dazzling careers since childhood, the award-winning fiddle virtuosos have cemented their status as Canada’s reigning couple of Celtic music. Their synergy was brilliantly showcased on the pair’s first recorded collaboration, 2015’s Bob Ezrin-produced album “One,” a crowning achievement compiling combined album sales of over one million, credits listing cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bluegrass star Alison Krauss and banjo ace Béla Fleck as past collaborators (and Shania Twain and the Chieftains as fans), plus a devoted audience stretching from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Sydney, Australia.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., The Rear View Ramblers will be playing a free concert at the Buffalo and Erie County Library Downtown at Lafayette Square, sponsored by the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation. This group is made up of young, seasoned acoustic musicians playing traditional songs and original songs that they have written. The group is Katie (fiddle and mandolin) and Jayson Clark (banjo and dobro), Andrew Reimers (guitar) and Rob Dalimonte (bass). Katie is best described as a Patsy Cline/ Roseann Cash sound and Andrew’s voice will remind you of Johnny Cash.

Coming up March and beyond

Wednesday, March 1, 7-10 p.m., Sportsmen’s Tavern, 326 Amherst St. The Lonesome Ace Stringband is an old-time band with bluegrass credentials playing some righteous Americana music.

Three Canadians lost in the weird and wonderful traditional country music of the American South, band members Chris Coole (banjo), John Showman (fiddle) and Max Malone (bass) are each journeyman musicians and veterans of some of Canada’s top roots music acts (New Country Rehab, the David Francey Band, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, Fiver).

Thursday, March 16, 7 p.m. at the Sportsmen’s. John McEuen and the Circle Band. With his banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin, McEuen brings his unique cast of Americana string wizards to share the music and memories of the landmark “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” platinum album (initiated by John) and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s incredible 50-year career. McEuen is one of the founding members.

With narrative + music of early NGDB, John takes us on a musical journey interwoven with Nitty Gritty favorites, hot bluegrass, rarely heard NGDB early classics, Carter Family music, all in a multi-media presentation that features archival footage tied into the music on stage.

Friday, March 31, Creek Bend with the Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble at 7 p.m. at the West Falls Center for the Arts, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Buffalo’s premier Bluegrass band in a perfect concert setting. Humor and high quality music make these shows a popular choice for a night out.

Danny Paisley and Southern Grass

Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass with the Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble, Saturday, May 20, 7:30 p.m., West Falls Center for the Arts. Paisley and the Southern Grass play powerful, unadorned, and intense traditional bluegrass. There is no hybrid or genre-bending music here. Their combination of instrumentation and vocals convey the energy and emotion of classic bluegrass and country music. Danny’s lead vocals will captivate your senses, so much so that many prominent musicians, including Alison Krauss, have considered Danny as one of their favorite singers. His voice combines powerful range and soulful blues with a sound like no one else in bluegrass today.

As I was putting this together, it occurs to me that since bluegrass was a combination of Irish/Scottish fiddle tunes, old blues standards, old time fiddle tunes and classic country roots, you will see me address many sides of this as I write. I hope you don’t mind my ramblings. I love the roots and future of bluegrass as a dynamic, ever-evolving genre.

Next month is March and Irish music will be addressed again, reflecting the roots of Bluegrass.

Hope you have a great February and catch some great live music. until next time … Keep on Pickin’!

Mark Panfil

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