Looking back a few posts reminds me how little I’ve blogged these last years and how limited my subject matter is these days; my last post of any importance being about the 2013 edition of this great festival. However if this blog is to come back to the world of the living the Blues Rules festival seems as good a place as any to start; in fact better than most!
And start it did last Friday with Sarah Savoy’s Hell-Raising Hayride. She had already played in last years festival (and so did we – Swamp Train – you can read about it here: Blues Rules Heatwave) so I knew what this band puts out; and didn’t what to miss them! Sarah Savoy grew up in a family wholly devoted to Cajun music and she plays some really beautiful Acadian accordions that are handmade by her father. However, like many of the musicians who tread the Blues Rules stage, the traditional in her music remains open to other influences; plus she has a tremendous stage presence and attitude. I really like this band so can only say that if they comes anywhere near you: check them out, please!
Now.., one thing about festivals is that you meet friends, chat over drinks, burgers and hot dogs – sometimes getting big blobs of mayonnaise on your pants – and don’t always give everyone all the attention they deserve… Plus a last minute change of plans meant I left early on Friday, so I’m sorry but I don’t have pictures of everyone… :-(
…Again, a thousand apologies for those I missed or didn’t manage to get a decent picture of… But in any case here’s the list of the bands that played, with links that give as good a description as I can find:
Those who had enough foresight to have signed up and those – like myself – who were able to squeeze in at the last moment, began Saturday with a giant jambalaya cooked up by Sarah Savoy who also entertained the diners with a few tunes! Yum!! I was then happy to be able to join an impromptu acoustic jam session and do some rhythm bone playing; thank you Thomas, David, Enno and Manolo!
Thank you Katia for the picture!
Cheyenne, a swiss rock band, opened the day’s festivities followed by Eric Deaton whom I unfortunately didn’t see much of; too much conversation and time slipping away… All the more regrettable since Eric Deaton and Wallace Lester were really something; backing Little Joe Ayers, Bill Abel, Kenny Brown and Alvin Youngblood Hart, they must have played for at least six hours!
Luke Hilly & The Cavalry and Scott H. Biram completed the evening’s line up. Great stuff as well!
Still as much as I enjoyed everyone, getting to hear and see Little Joe Ayers and Bill Abel would already have made for an exceptional day! One of those special moments were every one of my inner sympathetic strings vibrate in tune. And the surrealist feeling of being in two places at once while watching them, as well as every one else who came over for the weekend from the Delta and Mississippi Hills!
And that there is but one of the ingredients that make this festival special. I’ve already mentioned in past posts the conviviality of this venue, and with time it is becoming more and more like a big family; mixing European blues aficionados with bluesmen and musicians, some whom have never come overseas before.
The only thing missing is more space to put your lawn chair or blanket down.., and maybe hot dog relish.
Already September, sheesh, where does time go… I’ve been wanting to write about the one night I was able to attend of this years Blues Rules which took place last May, but insomnia and various other things have kept my bloging to a minimum; you may have noticed.
The first three editions of what is IMO one of Switzerland’s best blues festival took place on the grounds of the castle of Crissier, just outside of Lausanne. But it seems that didn’t work out this year so the festival’s two founders, Vincent Delsupexhe & Thomas Lecuyer, had a great idea: they organized 4 tour dates European tour for some of their American bluesmen friends instead!
Left Lane Cruiser duo Brenn Beck and Joe Evans (far left) take in Robert Belfour
Considering the cold and wet weather we had last spring, the fact that it was indoors this year was a bit of luck, and my only real complaint that evening was with the “grande salle de Chisaz” and was the fact that it had levels in the back of the room with tables on them – which were filled – leaving a large empty flat space between them and the crowd of real enthusiast directly in front of the stage. (reminder to self: blog soon about how chair, table versus stage placement can hurt ambiance)
The Arkadelphians opened the evening with an enjoyable – as always – set of American roots music. They played in the reception area of the building, where hot dogs and other BBQ delicacies could be found. They’re working on their first album this fall so stay tuned for that!
Floyd Beaumont the Arkadelphians with t-shirts in prominent display ;-)
The doors opened for Lightnin’ Malcolm who sang a choice of songs from Rough Out There his latest CD, and more. Playing guitar behind kick and snare drums he turned out an intense and powerful performance. Not all guitarists who simultaneously play drums have that extra punch with their feet that give the rhythm that freight train force. Lightnin Malcolm has it, and with hindsight I’m not surprised that his facebook page reports that he has worked with the best drummers in Mississippi!
Regular readers may have gathered lately that I have been playing with old manual lens on my camera and it was the first time I had given that equipment a try for dark on-stage activities. So unfortunately my pictures of him suffer from my lack of experience as it was only after his set that I noticed a badly set exposure compensation… oh well, live and learn.
Besides being the great music it is, blues is rarely performed by folks out to become superstars. Concerts are on a more personal level than “so-so at the stadium”, and what goes on between songs, what is being said, how it is being said, what is not being said, can be just as important as the music (of course for that it helps to understand the language). When it’s over you feel that you actually met someone; which although not entirely true is a nice feeling nevertheless.
Speaking of that, it seems to me Robert Wolfman Belfour was probably pretty jet-lagged that evening. Which is not a criticism, on the contrary, I hope I’ll have that much energy when I’m 72! However he was a bit slow at first and was having trouble getting his guitar tuned to something that pleased his ear and as he explained to us: “no tuning machine or backstage assistant could get it right because it wasn’t just your ordinary guitar tuning” (sadly, I don’t remember his exact formulation of that thought).
One of the great richnesses of the blues for me is the ear these old Mississippi blues musicians have when it comes to guitar tunning, and the sound their guitars produce. When the last one passes away and all is left is “machine tuned guitarists” it will be a sad day indeed; although not all the guitarists I talked to that evening shared my love for dissonance :P
On one of the songs the note that came from his highest pitched string was so singular that the man himself seemed taken aback when he first strummed it. But did he stop and retune? No, he played it again.., and again.., concentrating each time on its singularity and then proceeded to weave it into the song making it the leitmotif of a moment within that song, that night. Something truly special indeed. In my romanticized remembrance of the evening, it was about that time that the flow of energy came and ignited him; and once launched he wasn’t an easy man to stop!
This years Blues Rules wasn’t a festival in the way it was the years before, with less opportunities to discover artists we don’t see that often in Switzerland. But the evening I went held it’s share of magic which would have been unfortunate to miss. Too bad I couldn’t make it the next day.. Hopefully next year the festival will once again occupy the Crissier Castle’s fields, and if what I have herd through the grapevine is true, that will be the case.
And hopefully the stars will shine and a warm wind will blow that weekend..
This is an unpdate to last June’s Pinholed Nex5n post, so you may want to read that first.
At the beginning of July I found the Pinhole Shop on Ebay which not only sells pinhole cameras but also just the pinholes; and also has a very convenient chart as to what the distance between the film/sensor and pinhole should be. I ordered the smallest: 0.12mm (that they don’t seem to have for sale at the time I’m writing this), which if I remember correctly, should be place 13mm away from the film.
After receiving it and comparing it visually to the pinhole I had made – and the first one I had bought (Rising pinhole, 0.2mm) – I estimated mine as being around 0.15mm. So I replaced mine by the 0.12mm in my homemade lens after sanding of as much of the bodycap as I dared to prevent vignetting from the cap itself. I also made a second bodycap lens for mine, placing it at approximately 17mm from the sensor, as well as made one for the Rising lens, placing it at 30mm.
I am quite pleased with both the 0.12mm and 0.15mm pinholes! But must admit that I still find they often need a touch of sharpening to get the feel I’m happy with. The 0.12mm being the widest, seems the sharpest; an illusion caused by the (mind you, I’m not sure what the correct technical way to explain this would be) fact that the wider angle makes everything smaller so it looks sharper. If you zoom into a picture proportionally to the 0.15mm pinhole, the blur is identical; which is how it should be.
That said, a small tripod is useful, hand held shots really need a lot of light (the pinhole shop rates a 0.15mm hole at f112) to not add blur; so beware of the wind. Closeups are IMO where these lens can shine, the water glass in my pictures above was 3-4cm away!
Up here in the mountains, Spring usually means two months of rain and mud. It is not yet clear if we are there or not but feeling a bit of warmth in the air these last few days has been nice. Still, it can be dangerous too!
Early in the week these blocks of ice fell from the roof of the four story building I live in, and this on a sidewalk that is just across the street from a school…
And there was still a lot up there and on many other roofs in the city too until a few days of warmer weather and sun (finally!) melted the worst of it.
The buildings owners are responsible for the snow on the roofs so it’s up to them to send someone to clear it off when it gets bad. Some do it, some don’t… Over the years I’ve seen quite a few parked cars get totaled by these “avalanches” as the locals call them, but have yet to hear of a human casualty. It seems like something that is bound to happen one day or another though….
Although around here November is often wet & cold, not really the kind of weather one usually associates with the Blues, there were enough scorching hot guitar solos at the 5th Vully Blues Festival to make a steam bath of the local swimming pool! And I believe it can be said that the festival has found its public since when I was there Friday night all the wine cellars of Praz were well packed and grooving.
Wine cellars? The Vully is a small wine making area in Switzerland along the northwest side of the Lake of Murten/Morat and its local Blues Club had the good idea of taking advantage of the areas topography in organizing its Blues Festival. 2 days, 8 wine cellars & 13 blues bands is how it was presented this year! The wine cellars are situated throughout the village, each with it’s own style, most had setup tables and chairs and all had a bar where the public can sample their production as well as local specialties like the Gateau du Vully but if you want to sit down, better get there during a break.
The bands play 4 sets each (!) and all have different time scheduled making it possible to see at least a whole set (45min) by 5 of the bands each evening, or you can wander at whim, meet up with friends and see how well a particular cépage suits the band on stage. ;-)
As most blues environment here in Switzerland, the festival mostly focuses on Chicago Blues style bands although there was a good deal of funk going on as well as musicians like Richard Koechli who cover an amazing variety of blues styles. Something for everyone! Regular readers, if there are any, probably realize by now that my heart mostly lies in prewar and what can be called alternative blues or “alt-blues” it seems (search “Deep Blues” with quotes on YouTube), so to be honest I am hard pressed to write about most of the music heard.
Still, a few highlights were The Blue Spirit Band who I had meet through Blaise a year or so ago, lots of energy yet a relaxed attitude that just draws you in. On the other hand Miguel M pretty much scalped us alive with intense sound pressure and bass! And my bad back was fortunate to have a table to lean on to enjoy a last set by The Voyageurs, an acoustic guitar and bass trio who were the perfect antidote to the, for me, slightly too many Hendrix style guitar solos encountered during the evening…
A big thank you to everyone who helped us, came to, and enjoyed Swamp Train’s CD Launching Party last Friday! We really had a fantastic time!
Amazing really when you consider the discussions we (the band) had pretty much a year ago: should we make one? Too soon? To expensive? All the doubts you can harbor… and then the decision, choosing songs, looking at different studios, prices on the web…
And then the actual recording sessions last summer that fell right in heat wave weather – 36°c/ 96.8°F – in the studio… Dealing with often divergent opinions, discussions, time going by, where to mix it? All hopes of getting it ready by last October brushed away…
And also for me: looking for ideas for the cover art, running them past my friends, hearing their says and inputs… Deciding on the track order, mixing the CD, learning about EAN and ISRC codes after the CD was mixed, figuring out how to get them on the CD, deciding where to get it all printed, completely redoing the cover art to the printers specification with 14°C / 57°F in my “office” (weeks of a down to -21° / -5.8°F winter outside will do that)
Deciding the launch date, food? Peanuts & chips… Food!
Launch minus 2 weeks: Receiving CD’s!! :-) Discovering glitch… :-(
Cancel? :P NO! Trust!
Launch minus 3 days: Received replacement CD’s! :-) Launch minus 2 days: Replacing CD’s in cases. Launch minus 1 days: Rewrapping cases in cellophane…
And The Launch Party!
About 130 people came, the place was packed, it was simply incredible! I took my camcorder and managed a minute or two of footage early in the evening but was then too overwhelmed by the crowd to have time to even think about filming… Fortunately we should be receiving some pictures soon.
In the meantime, here it is:
PS: if you’re interested send a message, the CD sells for CHF: 20.-. Some songs can be heard on Swamp Train’s website
We, Swamp Train, had a fantastic time last night at the Festival Outdoorelch near Balmberg BE, and want to thank the everyone there! A small festival on a hilltop among the many that cover the landscape south of Bern, an area where enough artists have lost their way in the 11 years it has taken place that the organizer just shrugged and laughed when our guitarist, Cutfinger, showed up at pretty much the time we were programed to play. Fortunately Dalia, the band that played before us, had started later than indicated on the program which was, we were told, just an suggestion and not to be worried about the half hour during which they were to clear the stage and we were to set up, line check and begin our set.
I had joined up with Blaze to drive there and we would never have found it either without the directions I had taken off the web. However after the last 45min of the trip following the wandering roads through small villages and countrysides, and finally ending up on what seemed a farmers driveway – which in fact it was – where we burst out of the valleys and trees to a breathtaking 300° view of the whole area with the alps in the background!
A large tent with tables, a choice of food stands, one serving raclette which for those who do not know, is a traditional swiss dish of melted cheese on potatoes with pickles, small picked onions and white wine. Yum! But perhaps not the best thing to eat before performing. In any case we were served an assiette valaisanne entrée which was perfect; all the more since Niky and CF hadn’t arrived yet. With the scenery a beer and the view just the thing to sit around and enjoy.
Each band played for 1h30 which is nice, IMO the 45min many festivals offer you is way to short, I think we began playing at around 9h30 pm. I believe that this band is happening, at one point last night it was like we all went off on our own, a big screw up in fact but one that led to a moment of grace that I can only describe as on the edge free blues (as in free jazz) that ended in a long circular breathed harp wail climax. We should have hit the dust (mud actually) but we sailed…
On a more personal note: yesterday’s gig was an important one for me. For the second time I used a drumstick along with my washboard (in stead of a multi-dowel stick) to be louder in these bigger outdoor – or nearly – settings and I had hype myself up all week to really go out there and bang them. Plus I’ve been working on my presence onstage, less looking at my feet, that sort of thing. And I can feel it all coming together, and that’s cool. There is still a lot to work on of course, my stick technique is pretty embarrassing for instance, but nevertheless it’s a good feeling to actually be getting it all together.
All too soon it seem under the star filled sky, after wildly dancing to Rocket Wheels’ rockabilly while looking over the festival’s campground it was time to drive home…
PS: in the picture check out Blaze’s new olive oil can guitar and Nik’s new Cigar Box Bass! :-)
A few picture from yesterday's boat ride around the east - upper lac - side of the Lac Léman (lake Geneva). We were invited for a birthday lunch on La Suisse, a hundred year old steam boat for this most touristic tour.
After three weeks of sun and heat it was nice that a sudden change of weather brought cooler air and even a few drops of much needed rain.
Almost summer weather today so I walked north west, up and out of town, just over the crest were one can look over to France’s Franch-Compté region. I like it better than the view of the Alps that you see if you go up the opposite way. Less dramatic, and a visual invitation to walk with your mind across the hills.
On the way up I saw a small white butterfly, probably the first Ive seen up here since spring comes nearly a month later than down in the Plain (which is what they call the central area of Switzerland that is not the Alps or the Jura). Nice to get some air after facing the dust that had accumulated in my studio over the winter. Spring cleaning was needed, especially since I had a group of folks Saturday for a studio visit.
Tuesday I practiced with Dave, the two of us will be playing locally in two weeks, fooling ourselves with visions of delirious and grungy electric blues…
Thursday I worked with Bill, getting ready for a homemade instrument workshop that will take place in three weeks at a museum down in Neuchâtel.
Friday Swamp Train worked out, that’s what we finally called the band with Blaise & Dominik (see this post); the Blues contest is in four weeks…
And I’m finally getting the hang of playing my washboard while using a drum set, well sort of…
…which explains the relative slowness seen here, sorry, but stay tuned: more info on the above activities will be posted once I get them. ;-)
Just as it looked like the Spring was getting closer wouldn’t you know that the temperature would drop again, flirt with the -6° to -12°C (21° to 10°F), encouraging all the show that fell on Saturday to stay put and freeze up the town some more instead of politely melting away like I wish it would. Sunday woke with the sun but not of the let’s melt all that snow kind, more like the: “…sun is shinning, don’t forget your sunglasses it’s really bright out, hey it’s freezing! Where did you put my gloves?” kind. Brrrr! E. said: you go out and freeze if you want too, I have work to do!
The funny thing with photographs, even low quality cellphone shots like these is that they link you with the past, a day somewhere sometime. A successful picture carries enough information with it to tell you its story, however most don’t so the viewer needs to fill in the blanks. No problem when it’s family, friends, landscapes or other subject matters you know well or are interested in. Otherwise the picture can lose some, or all, of its potential to involve you.
Like these two pictures from my Sunday afternoon walk, where’s the icy wind, the sensation of deep freeze, the little sparkles of snow dust in the air…
I’ve been having problems getting good pictures of my latest art works with my aging Olympus C-8080. It just doesn’t have the definition to get all the variations on white these works have to print a large size image. Since funds are low I was curious as to what quality pictures one of those newer “cheep” and portable cameras boasting over 10 mega pixels would have and so it was convenient (at least to me) that E. had to buy one for her work.
She settled for a Sony DSC-W 180 and I tested it during last Sunday afternoon’s walk. Above is a snapshot of the city where I live. Snapshot because at -7°c I wasn’t about to fiddle with the – too small for gloves – buttons and in the bright sunlight the screen was unreadable anyway. Technology can be such a relative thing…
As you can see it’s really not that bad a camera but, not unexpectedly, it obviously can’t solve any of my problems. Like all but the best digital equipment it just doesn’t have the required sharpness. It’s kind of ironic, don’t you think? Jpg’s and Mp3’s too, sooo convenient but compared to analog on a half decent system and film with half decent lens…
The French (or at least the French speaking Swiss) say: Il n’y a pas de photo! (there is no picture), which means: it’s obvious and is probably a metaphor of the idea that you don’t need a photo finish to see who “won”.
Saturday saw Swissland’s first Zombie Walk and it just so happens that it took place here in town. Not a total surprise since one of the kids who initialized the idea here lives downstairs, nor was the participation of a member of this family.
G. since it was him, joined us for supper in his disguise, a healthy bluish green color with cuts made out of silicone and strawberry jelly blood. Not much of a hint to recognize him among the near 150 participant walking dead who invaded the city:
We played last night for the private party of an aerodrome club in nearby France. It was fun even if I still drag along a feeling of not playing well enough for the rest of the band. Uselessly stressful and probably somewhat the cause of my not playing as well as I can in a relaxed setting. Something to work on in any case.
Since I would like to do some street playing with Dave, I have been practicing a lot with just my washboard – no bass drum or hi-hat. It’s nice and in a way more satisfying, however it makes a difference in the way a song is played and last night I found myself confused at times: my brain going for both the newly practiced and the “bass drum, hi-hat” way of playing; often in contradiction with each other. Fortunately towards the end of the evening I loosened up and just played with a small English made washboard of Dave’s, that is completely devoid of bells and whistles. I really like this washboard, it is double sided and has both a heavy duty (2 ribs/inch) and a delicate wash profile (3 ribs/inch) which is a true pleasure to play. I suspect I will be using it a lot in the near future just by itself.
Another factor that made it an exciting evening was my having spent some time gluing elastic bands to my thimbles so they wouldn’t slip off anymore. I found this tip on the web and have explained it how to do it on my washboard lens. Last night was the first time using them and it’s amazing how much it helps playing!
Yesterday I went for a nice long walk to get over my fatigue from Friday night’s fun. Much of it was spent chasing bumble bees and butterflies with my camera, a somewhat Zen activity which I find to be relaxing. Zen because with digital technology, you can focus and follow the insect with the little screen which means that you have both your viewpoint and the camera’s. This gives a feeling of being very much in touch with it, which is one of those odd things.
The bumblebees are relatively easy subjects, meaning that getting pictures of them is not hard. Getting a good one is mostly a matter of luck as far as I’m concerned. The delay between taking the picture and the actual moment the camera takes the picture is big enough that if the bug flies away, it’s gone.
The butterflies are difficult, all the more if there is a good wind like there was yesterday. Unlike the bumblebees who don’t seem to pay much attention to what is going on around them, they remain on their guards and easily take off when you get too close. Then the wind catches them and blows them far away. Remaining calm and moving slowly seems the best/only way to get a decent shot unless it is trapped in the grass like this one.
What I'd give to be able to go to the Washboard Music Festival in Logan Ohio next weekend! Now that looks like a place to go to meet washboard musicians and have a good time.
Speaking of that, I believe yesterdays little concert for my folks was well appreciated. And I really am beginning to feel more confident and relaxed, although there is still a lot to get better at. And we really lucked out with the only sunny day all week.
Picture added June 16th: Bill, me and Dave at The Refuge
As the St Patrick day parade ended at the Civic Center, a few guys from the waste department showed their strength. A half hour later, most street traces from the parade where gone.
Can’t keep the cars off the street more than needed!
Still, I was told that many of the real Irish folk living here, and elsewhere, prefer to go unnoticed as wasted drinkers sing their way around town noisily enjoying the celebration in their name. Who knows…
Right on time for me considering that I am missing a weekend of pseudo carnival activity back at home, pseudo because the city where I live is traditionally Protestant, and the carnival a recent “cultural” add on. General merry making goes on from Friday to Sunday afternoon, at which point the winter snowman is burnt hoping to bring on the Spring.
A quick look at my local webcam (link removed, no longer exists) shows a dreary wet day in which it’s hard to believe anything is happening, but just go into that tent (which is only up for the weekend so this sentence will not make sense any other day) and enjoy a sausage!
There hasn’t been much snow this winter but last month, on the day following one small snowfall, I noticed a few “positive” footprints on the sidewalk. Positive seems to me as good a way as any to describe footprint shaped patches of snow on an otherwise clear sidewalk. I unfortunately didn’t have my camera but have seen the likes of this before, although not very often.
I think what happens is that the temperature is just cold enough for snow, in this case around two inches. Someone walks on it and compresses it which lowers its temperature and freezes it. So the snow that has the footprint shape is now ice surrounded by wet sluggish snow which slowly melts because it’s just warm enough. The ice prints melt too, but not as fast.
Last Sunday while I was walking out in the country side, at a higher altitude so there were still patches of snow here and there, I found this small snow circle that was similarly made by the pole of a cross country skier. And I did have my camera!
Last night I joined my good friend and fantastic blues player Dave for a short concert at an outdoor picnic organized by a local institution for the handicapped. For me it was only the third time that I have face a public with my washboard so I was considerably stressed. And although I wish I could say otherwise, I don’t think I did a very good job of it. After clapping for the first few songs, the crowd seemed more interested in their own discussions and food.
I have been playing for a year now and am far from good, to say the least, but it is so much fun to be playing music with other people – instead of the usual solitary confinement of my studio – that I am willing brave all embarrassments.
When I first started it seemed easier, for me that is since I don’t know how anyone else put up with my racket. But now, that I’ve done my best to learn about basic rhythms and stuff it is a lot of work since I can hear how I mess them up, turn ‘em around or simply get lost.
I mention this because I wanted to post a picture of my washboard today, instead of the usual t-shirt design.