Monday, February 15, 2021

A Camping Story

 I have many of them, you know. Some would raise the hair on the back of your neck like when we got ourselves caught in an Arizona Flash Flood. Others are associate with music festivals and group gatherings of one kind or another. Still others are family reunion and hunting trips. ( Those are kind of the same thing in my family circle. )

There is a state I call ‘pure time’. It’s really a state of consciousness more than anything. It defies definition except by example, I suppose. Here is one of my ‘pure time’ experiences that happened a few years back while camping at Pickin’ in the Pines ( my favorite bluegrass festival ). 

There I was, standing by myself  at camp, after having just strapped on my D-28 ( that’s a guitar ). At bluegrass festivals normally, one would have been out jamming with a bunch of other folks by then but I think we had just returned from the contra dance. ( That’s another thing I like to do. ;-) I am sure it was after 11:00 PM or so. As often happens at festival camps, up walks a couple of my pickin’ friends. It was two of the better musicians I know, Reno McCormick and John Kennedy. Now Reno is probably the best guitar player that I have actually played with but on this night he was armed with a mandolin as was John even though he is probably most often seen with a fiddle. John has been known to judge fiddle contest occasionally so that qualifies him as an rather accomplished  fiddler too. They both know I like to flat pick fiddle tunes and I am guessing they just wanted to practice up on their respective mandolin chops and knew I would make a fitting host for such efforts. 

Now mind you, I am not a great guitar player, in fact, no where near the caliber of their musicianship. Still I have figured out that even simple versions of these songs sound wonderful when played clean and up to speed with other musicians. Also, if you can play good rhythm guitar you tend to be highly appreciated in pickin’ circles. Therefore, that’s what I try to do. We played Bill Cheatum, Rag Time Annie, Billy in the Low Ground, Golden Slippers and a number of other very traditional and quite common, even ubiquitous, tunes.  

In the basic bluegrass style, typically, one musician will pick the melody of the song while everybody else strums chords for the rhythm. You take turns at pickin’ it, so to speak. And after everybody plays the given melody a time or two through a couple instruments might pick it together. Or maybe one guy will play the first half of the song and the another guy plays the second. Essentially you end up playing quite a number of different variations  of the same melody. It all gets mixed together like a Cajun stew sort of ‘on the fly’ in real time so to speak.

As you might imagine, it is very important to focus and pay attention to what the other musicians are doing. These bluegrass type sessions are played at light speed, especially with Reno, thus require a good deal of concentration from a marginally adequate musician like me. 

A song or two into this particular session and there I was basking in ‘pure time’. I wasn’t thinking about what I did wrong that day, whether I was hunger, how I was going to pay the rent that month, who I was going to vote for etc.. Consciously I  was in something of a mental auto pilot mode just playing and ‘taking it all in’. Honestly, if you had just shot me then and there I would have died a very happy man.

I supplied the chords while those guys passed the lead back and forth or one would pick the melody while the other played a harmony on top of it. And they would throw the lead to me and chunk out the chords as I picked it.  It was equally gratifying picking the melody or listening to them as I provided the rhythm. Saying, ‘it was fun’ is an gross understatement. Don’t think I have every picked that well before or since. Somehow you tend to ‘play up’ when picking with good musicians like those guys. 

Music to me is a little like magic and let me tell you those two were definitely playing magician that night. I got to be the ‘lovely assistant’ and even contribute a trick or two into the mix.

That’s ‘pure time’, all you are thinking about is what you’re doing and you’re doing something you really like, and it goes on for a while suspending you in a state of timeless bliss. When it’s done you feel cleansed and relaxed like having a body massage followed by a sauna and a shower in a mental sense, so to speak. Your mind has been momentarily purged of all those mundane, pesky thoughts that can so riddle everyday consciousness. 

I have noticed you can’t just conjure up ‘pure time’ at will. Well, at least I can’t. Instead you setup conditions conducive to producing it. Watching the sun come up has probably been the most frequent occurrence for me. But I have experience it while chasing quail around for an afternoon with my youngest son, telling stories around a camp fire, running a roller coaster rapid on the Colorado, laughing at jokes with great friends under a camping canopy, watching night fall at 11:00 in the morning at a solar eclipse ...... 


If you put yourself in the right situations ‘pure time’ will come. Go Camping!


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