Sunday, May 25, 2014


The first morning of bluegrass at the Blue Cat in Huntley, MT, is now history.  The crowd could have been larger, but then this was the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Around 9 to 9:45 AM the place was quite full although there was always a place to seat another customer. The menu was wider than that at the now closed Prairie Winds in Molt. While there seemed to be no huge Molt cinnamon rolls, the Cat offers French Toast, steak and eggs, hamburger steak and eggs or breakfast burritos, in addition to the more typical breakfast offerings. The prices are very reasonable as well. My two eggs over easy with toast was just $4.25.  The manager and staff were working hard to please the crowd and the wait time for ordering and receiving breakfast seemed to be faster than at Molt. The patrons I talked to. including many other pickers, liked the set up at the Blue Cat Bar and Grill. The crowd tended to be older with few younger folks there and no families with children at all that I saw. Of course some may have come while I was absent. I took 45 minutes off to head further east down the highway to Worden, MT, where two of my "kids" own the local grocery, the Project Merc.  After talking to them I came back through Huntley where I could see fewer cars in the lot although the food and music was still flowing.  As mentioned in an earlier post Wayne Long's "Spur of the Moment" is one of the most established bands in this area of Montana.  Here are some of the boys getting ready before the gig.

This band usually plays a wide variety of music, but they dipped into their bag and pulled out a lot of old timey standards including the likes of "Rolling In My Sweet Babies Arms" for this gig. Here they are in action:

In the opinion of this blogger in order to really thrive this venue will have to attract more of the older folks who are used to a bar type atmosphere and location. More locals are needed from Shepherd and the Huntley Project communities as well as Billings Heights.  If the crowds increase management may move outside to an adjoining metal structure which might bring in younger people and those with children. That would only be for the warmer months as it is wide open to the elements. At any rate we wish all the best to this new bluegrass and breakfast venue for pickers around the greater Billings area. The next two bands scheduled are the Maverick String Stretchers and Song Dog Serenade on the next two Saturdays.  As the word gets around the crowds should get larger and larger. That is the way it developed at the Prairie Winds. Hopefully it will be the same at the Blue Cat Bar and Grill.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Please read #1 first in this series of posts. In an earlier post I expressed my opinion that this beautiful melody is done a great disservice when pickers try to speed it up for a bluegrass jam or dance tune.  My daughter, whose rosin I can’t even carry as far as skill goes, and my self have tried to preserve the Scottish lament aspects of Ashokan Farewell.  About 20 years ago I took her to the first “Clark Day” event at the Pompeys Pillar National Monument. As a 14 year old she played Ashokan Farewell much as Jay Ungar described. The next year I recall a man saying he had come to Clark Day the previous year and he couldn’t remember much except this slight girl playing Ashokan Farewell. For several years I was the resident fiddler at Pompey’s Pillar (there was a fiddler in the Lewis and Clark expedition) and I always included it in my program.   Memorial Day weekend is a good time to write this post as we also have incorporated it into our memorial services. It seems appropriate to play this as a lament at funeral services for our beloved  family members and we have continued to do so.  I seldom play it any more, but have taken my fiddle to the gravesites where my 13 year old daughter and 59 year old wife lie and did my best to convey my feelings with Ashokan Farewell.  Perhaps you would like to consider similar uses yourself.  

You can probably still get the Fiddle Fever CD as well as a winter music CD entitled, “A Fiddler’s Holiday” by the Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Family Band.  Jay and Molly also wrote a gorgeous dance piece entitled, “Lover’s Waltz.”  I would suggest learning this beautiful waltz to play at dances and forget all about “Ashokan Farewell” for those venues.


  This special edition of Ashokan Farewell was designed to help violinists emulate my playing of the piece as heard in The Civil War series on PBS.  Though I rarely play it exactly the  same way twice, this arrangement captures my typical bowing and ornaments. My playing style, for a tune like this, is most influenced by the great Scottish and Irish players of airs and laments - including flute players and pipers, as well as fiddlers.
  Here are some particulars that you might find helpful. My slides generally begin less than a ½ step below.  My grace notes from below are generally “smeared” a bit into something that sounds almost like a slide.  (Think of this as “squeezing” up to the note.) For grace notes from above, I generally strike the fingerboard with a quick percussive movement.
  The first statement of the melody (bars 1 through 32) is unaccompanied and can be played with more melodic freedom.  The tenutos are held a bit longer than the written note values but not so long as a fermata.  The third time through the violin accompanies the piano with smooth double stops (bars 65 to 80), than plays in unison (bars 81 to 96), delicately following the pianists phrasing so as to sound almost like one instrument.  The fourth and last time through the melody, the violin plays with renewed intensity and feeling.
   My last bit of advice is to learn the notes and then let the feeling and emotion within the tune overcome you and take you beyond all the details into true musical pleasure and enjoyment. (Roger’s Note: Mr. Ungar does NOT say just learn the basic notes and forget about all the nuances of this piece.  I come from a long line of  butcher meat cutters. If all you want to do is pick the basic melody I can probably get you a white butchers apron and cap to wear while you play it.)


In the words of the composer,  Jay Ungar, this is how this beautiful melody came about:

Ashokan is the name of a camp in New York’s  Catskill Mountains where I, and my wife, Molly Mason, run music and dance programs for adults every summer. The name is said to be a local  American Indian word meaning, “A place to fish.”  In 1982, shortly after the camp had closed for the season, I was feeling melancholy.  I missed the music and dancing and especially the people and the special way of life that had evolved at camp. Picking up my fiddle I began composing a lament. By the time the piece had come together I was in tears. It went unnamed until Molly suggested Ashokan Farewell.
   In 1983 our band , Fiddle Fever, (Russ Barenberg, Matt Glaser, Evan Stover, Molly and I)  recorded  Ashokan Farewell on our album, “Waltz of the Wind.” Ken Burns heard it and got in touch with me about using it as the theme for his documentary, The Civil War. I am grateful to Ken for perceiving the special qualities of Ashokan Farewell  and using it so effectively.  At the time I had no idea that millions of Americans would be so deeply touched by watching The Civil War. It brought us closer to our past and to each other and has forever changed how we view our history. It has also acquainted many Americans with our rich musical heritage. (Roger’s note: The PBS series The Civil War included many tunes of that era from both the North and South including one melody later recorded by Elvis Presley.  However the prevailing theme that came up over and over again was Ashokan Farewell.)


Using the words of the late Ed McMahon on the Johnny Carson show, “Here is all you ever wanted to know about this tune (and a lot more too)! Recently a piece has been performed and later discussed in events of the Yellowstone Bluegrass Association.  Terry Indreland, who is doing a very good job of learning fiddle as an older adult, played it a few weeks ago at a YBA jam.  The Wilson youngsters played it at the Boys and Girls Chapel on May 9th.  For some reason it came up again in a plea for a copy of the “music” (standard music notation, I hope) by a couple at last week’s YBA Lincoln jam. I don’t think it was desired to be performed by a fiddler/violinist, but I said I would bring them a copy this Friday anyway (But, I question whether they can use what I bring). Also at that time a couple of our better mandolin players began picking out the melody at that jam. This Ashokan Farewell all started some 32 years ago when a hauntingly beautiful tune was composed in upstate New York by a fiddler named Jay Ungar.  Years later many fiddle instructors began teaching it to their intermediate students. This piece is definitely NOT  bluegrass music although I have heard it played in bluegrass jams. It is also NOT a dance piece although I have heard it played at Old Time Fiddler’s dances. Playing this at bluegrass or dance speeds just absolutely butchers this beautiful melody in my opinion. Of course anyone is free to disagree with me on that. I have decided to make four posts on my blog regarding this topic. This one should be read first. Thank you.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Which of these is the bigger story, that Ralph Stanley got another doctorate or that the president of Yale plays in a bluegrass band? The following was in my mailbox this AM from Morris Public Relations:
Yale University Awards Ralph Stanley Honorary Doctorate
Yale University president Peter Salovey presents Ralph Stanley his honorary Doctorate of Music degree at ceremonies held on the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut onMonday, May 19
Photo credit: Michael Marsland / Yale University 
NASHVILLE -- May 19, 2014 -- Yale University today (May 19) awarded bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley the Doctor of Music degree at ceremonies in New Haven, Conn. that also saw honorary degrees going to World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, poet Rita Dove and actor Anna Deavere Smith, among others.
Stanley’s award was presented by Yale president Peter Salovey, a bluegrass enthusiast himself who plays bass in a band called Professors of Bluegrass.
Stanley’s citation read “You are the patriarch of traditional mountain and bluegrass music.  From the Clinch Mountains of southwest Virginia to the concert halls of the world, you have taken a distinct American sound and made it your own.  Your music has its roots in the gospel songs of your childhood and in the banjo playing you learned from your mother.  The Stanley style of picking produces a distinctive and characteristic rhythm, and generations of singers have been influenced by your signature voice with its mournful sounds and raw emotional power.  You are a living legend and we sing your praises as we award you this degree.”
The conferral ended with an academic-robed professor “kicking off” on the banjo a version of Stanley’s famed “Man Of Constant Sorrow” as an orchestra picked up the melody and the crowd rose to applaud.
This is Stanley’s second honorary doctorate, the first having been awarded him in 1976 from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
Recognized as the leading exponent of traditional Appalachian music and a founding father of bluegrass, Stanley has spread his sound around the world during his 68 years of touring and recording.  He began his career in 1946 as the younger half of the Stanley Brothers, a group then headed by singer-songwriter Carter Stanley.  The Stanley Brothers performed, recorded and appeared on television together until Carter’s death in 1966. 
In the years following, Stanley built and led a band that at various times featured such rising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks and Charlie Sizemore.  So significant was the Stanley sound in the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? that Ralph rocketed from icon to superstar.  He was profiled by novelist David Gates in The New Yorker and went on to earn a Grammy as top male country music vocalist, edging out Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Lyle Lovett.  To date, he has won three Grammys.
Stanley’s high, forlorn vocals are featured in the seven-million-selling O Brother soundtrack album. In addition, he was the first performer to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in the 21st Century.  He is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.
Stanley’s latest album, Side By Side, pairs him with his son and musical heir, Ralph Stanley II, an acclaimed singer in the Keith Whitley vein.
Among the dozens of world-famous artists who’ve recorded with Stanley are Bob Dylan, George Jones, Bill Monroe, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless,  Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, Dwight Yoakam, Iris DeMent, Maria Muldaur, Rhonda Vincent, Gilliam Welch and Alison Krauss.
Stanley’s spellbinding 2002 album, Ralph Stanley, and the wistful 2005 collection, Distant Land To Roam: Songs of the Carter Family were both produced by T. Bone Burnett, the musical visionary who’s also produced projects for Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett & K. D. Lang, B. B. King, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Greg Allman, Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges and, most recently, Elton John.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


At last nights jam at the Lincoln, LaLonnie Larson began picking out Whiskey Before Breakfast on her mandolin so hubby Larry could add his lyrics to this old fiddle tune. As Highway 302 has been scheduled to play at the Blue Cat Bar and Grill in June I couldn't resist cajoling Larry that he could have a whiskey before breakfast while setting up in Huntley or at least after 8 AM. ( The fun of it all was that I am pretty sure that old Larry is far too smart to drink.) It still got a laugh from some of the other jammers though.

On another topic you know, I can consume good healthy food with the best of them, chia, sunflower, flax and many other seeds plus nuts, tofu, humuus, kimchi, etc., you name it. I eat all that good stuff and I really do.  But, I have also often gotten on my soapbox before about being a culture freak. If you want to enjoy the maximum of any form of music then add the other cultural aspects, too including foods. So after listening, looking, and blogging about Junior Sisk and the other BIG BOYS in his band I have been cooking up some collard greens with sausage and cheese grits. It just doesn't get more "south in your mouth" than that. BTW, please send condolences to my family and cardiologist when my name come up in the obits section of the newspaper. Tell them that I died full and happy.


An article in the Enjoy section of the Billings Gazette on Friday, May 16 announced that a new series of Saturday AM bluegrass music will begin at the Blue Cat Bar and Grill in Huntley, MT, on next Saturday, May 23, 2014.  According to the story Wayne Long of “Spur of the Moment Band” had been pursuing a new Saturday venue from the closing day of the Prairie Winds last June. According to the story he said  “We went up and down the Yellowstone River to find a place,” but to no avail. Then the management of the Blue Cat expressed interest.
That was most interesting news indeed. But it also poses some questions. Will former patrons of the cozy, campy, museum-like atmosphere of the Prairie Winds still drive to a bar in Huntley for bluegrass with their pancakes & eggs?  Will they care for the stark layout of this establishment as opposed to the Molt Café?  Will they want to take their underage children there? Or will there even be a problem with the bar for allowing kids in? I believe the Blue Cat has had evening bands performing so hopefully they have dealt with the ASCAP/BMI fees. Some of our musicians have strong fundamental religious based beliefs which prevent them from performing in any establishment which serves alcohol. Will that prevent their bands from playing the Blue Cat?  Only time will tell. For those of us bluegrass enthusiasts we certainly hope this will all work out, but some of us still have our doubts.  I plan to get out there and support it for the coming “trial” period and you should consider it too.

Wayne Long was a long time banjo picker who came out to my house about 23 years ago when Bob Massey and myself were trying to start a bluegrass club in Billings. I knew him from jams with the fiddlers and others and knew he had played in bars and clubs for years. I recall taking my wife out one News Year Eve to hear his electric lounge lizard group, “Buzzard Bait” play at a Billings Heights dive. Well all that aside,  Wayne came down to the Friday (5-16-14) jam last night at the Lincoln building. In addition to the above he said that two of them had approached the Blue Cat owner about a Friday or Saturday evening gig at the bar. While they talked she said she had been interested in Saturday morning bluegrass when she heard of the Molt Café closing, but did not know who to contact. She said she cooks breakfast for some regulars every morning and she would like to try expanding that business.  So that is how this all began. The basic schedule is “Spur of the Moment” on May 24,  “Longtime Lonesome Dogs” on May 31, “Highway 302” on June 7, and the “Maverick String Stretchers” on June 14. We can’t afford to give you 9 lives, but good luck with at least this one BLUE CAT!


Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice will perform in Missoula on Monday, May 19th as part of the Ruby Jewell Jamboree series and the good news is EVEN IF YOU CANNOT ATTEND IN PERSON YOU CAN STILL ENJOY THIS GREAT SHOW. This event will be live web streamed on the MRBA website beginning at 7 P.M. You can access the MRBA website at ( The Junior Sisk band is one of the most highly rated bluegrass bands in America today. These big old boys from the Blueridge country can really play and belt out real bluegrass.  And it is very traditional bluegrass. You can sample them on U-Tube and to hear their attitude toward more progressive stuff just tune into their rendition of  "A Long Way From Lester and Earl."  Coming shows include exceptional bluegrass bands including Bradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys on July 7th with local area group Two Bit Franks.  The Traveling McCourys will be at the Top Hat July 14 and Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen will be at Ruby's on August 5th. All of this plus the Hard Times Festival on July 25-27 are good reasons for any of us to include the Missoula area in our summer travel plans. That is if you are not already heading there this month for the Conroy's Memorial Day Campout or Pasture Picking up the road also this month. BTW, who the heck is this Paul McCartney anyway?

Friday, May 16, 2014


Terry Jessee the perennial emcee of the YBA showcases readily admits that he is no bluegrasser, but the crowds love his banter and his long lists of corny jokes. However he is an old fogey, oops, I meant to say old folkie.  Well actually he is both an old fogey AND an old folkie (takes one old fogey to spot another you know). At any rate he usually manages to get his guitar and perform some amusing tune or sketch of one kind or another at each show. At the May 9th Showcase he reached back into his bag of folktunes for one that was once very popular and funny, too. "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" manages to include nearly every unusual creature found down under and the crowd loved it. You can probably see it performed on You Tube if you kids are not familiar with it. We can expect to see Mr. Jessee at the fall showcase with something else up his sleeve. There is no telling what the next one will be.


It has taken me a full week to get this post on line. It seems bluegrass music can wait, but bluegrass growing in my lawn can't. In all truth most of my bluegrass is long gone and has been taken over by rougher grasses, but everything had really grown with all the recent moisture including many shrubs and trees that badly needed pruning.
Any way the May 9th YBA Showcase went off quite well at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch chapel building. A good crowd showed up for the free event and although the bands had dropped from an original nine to seven, but they all sounded good and those in attendance appeared to enjoy the show. Here are a few photos of the bands as they performed:

There was quite a bit of "country" in the first two groups. Almeda Bradshaw specializes in western style tunes and her set was mainly done as a trio until the final number in which she brought up a mandolin, banjo and fiddle as shown above. The "Anything Goes" band of YBA President Sharon Karlson also featured mainly country vocals. The real bluegrass really kicked in when the "Maverick String Stretchers" stepped on stage. Those boys don't hold anything back and they can play along side any bluegrass band in Montana. The other groups did quite well, too. Janney Kirk of Kirk Violins managed to squeeze a Shetland Isles fiddle tune in as she has specialized in Scottish fiddle music for many years. On the subject of fiddlers this may have been our final opportunity to hear fiddle champion Hannah King as she performed with "Song Dog Serenade." She is heading for the West Coast to pursue her fame and fortune. We wish her well in her future endeavors. Trent Indreland was able to patch his gear into the Chapel sound system and their large ceiling mounted speakers reproduced the music nicely.  The acoustics of the Chapel work well for bluegrass music. Trent also has a big baritone voice and plays a darn good mandolin as well.  The YBA owes a huge debt of gratitude to Trent for the free use of his sound equipment and technical expertise. Hiring a professional group would make these showcases virtually impossible to produce. Thanks from all of us, Trent.