Saturday, January 31, 2015


May be I should have entitled this post: "There is good news and bad news regarding playing at The Owl Cafe in Laurel."  First the good news. John Letcher is handling the band scheduling at the Owl. That frees Kathy up for cooking and managing the cafe. Do not contact the Owl directly for gigs or to ask who is playing. John's phone is 406-633-0099 in Laurel. John is a good man to take on this responsibility as booking agent. He and others of Kathy's friends also volunteer on Saturdays by seating guests, serving coffee and busing tables. Other good news is they are considering possible Wednesday PM music as well. But, there are no details available at this time.

Now the bad news.  I had hoped they would avoid what I considered to be a problem at the Prairie Winds in Molt. About five bands tied up the entire year's schedule there. That made it simple for the manager who was running the cafe and also booking the bands. Fran actually wanted them to do that. The bad aspect is that other or newer bands could not get in to play. Now people like Jim Southworth already has his band, "Southbound" booked in to play every month in Laurel just as they did in Molt. Highway 302 has done the same. Letcher said they would give up a gig date for another group, but I will believe it when I see it. At this time I would suggest that if a band wants to play at the Owl that they contact John Letcher and let him negotiate with Southworth or 302. There is no reason any group  should have to beg another band in order to perform there.  Currently there are only 3 dates left open and all are in May including Memorial Day weekend when most have family events lined up.  The rest of the calendar is booked solidly until June. As of this date Letcher has the following bands scheduled:

February:  7th Highway 302, 14th Southbound, 21st Memory Lane, 28th Back Porch Productions.

March: 7th Highway 302, 14th The Unexpected, 21st Cold Frosty Morn, 28th Southbound

April: 4th Highway 302, 11th Southbound, 18th Spur of the Moment, 25th District 4 Fiddlers

May: 2nd Canyon Creek, 9th OPEN, 16th Southbound, 23rd OPEN, 30th OPEN (Memorial Day)

Today, January 31, 2015, one of the very best bands around, "The Maverick String Stretchers" performed. These fellows were heard being praised by some very savvy country music customers at the Owl. In my opinion it is a shame they are not scheduled again through the next 4 months.  As all of these musicians have day jobs it is not an easy task to book weeks or months in advance. In contrast other groups are made up of retired or self employed folks who can play most anytime. This is also a reason that it may prove difficult to book bands for Wednesday PM gigs. As of this time the Owl closes at 8 PM although it is rumoured that the hours may change - even to being open 24 hours. Pickers with typical day jobs may have difficulty scheduling to play on Wednesdays at any hour. They do have to get up early on Thursday to head to work. Other very good bands with this problem include "Spur of the Moment," "Sound Dog Serenade," "Canyon Creek" and "The Unexpected."

Readers of this blog can decide for themselves what is good or bad about my comments on this post. And as far as "ugly" that may only be me and my criticisms. Oh, what the hell anyway. My posts are always highly opinionated as frequent readers know.

Friday, January 30, 2015


If you missed the Thursday viewing of "11th and Grant" featuring guitar champion Jeff Toxel and fiddle champion Trevor Kriegor it will be aired again on MT PBS out of Bozeman on Saturday, January 31, 2015. at 9:30 PM. It is an excellent show and features the incisive interviews of host Eric Funk. This and other of his shows can also be accessed on the web.

I have previously lauded the 5 AM Monday airings of "Song of the Mountains." Last Monday featured the banjo style of Reno and Smiley by a group called the "Blueridge Cutups." They included a very lonesome and bluesy song by Greg Brown, "The Train Carrying Jimmy Rodgers Home."  It brought back memories of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Alan O'Brant's high lonesome vocals.

I have neglected to promote "Bluegrass Underground" which airs on Saturday nights at 11:30 PM. They will soon begin taping Season Five and will be including:  Hot Rize, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Robert Earl Keen, Amos Lee, Quebe Sisters, LeAnn Womack, Jerry Douglas presents The Earls of Leicester, Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Chatham County Line & Billy Joe Shaver!!
Lucinda Williams is featured this Saturday,  January 21st.  With the "Austin City Limits" sandwiched in between you get three hours of very good musical entertainment free of charge courtesy of MT PBS this Saturday.  Those in other viewing areas should check the local listings where you live.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I decided that winter must be over when the first bug of 2015 splattered onto my windshield just out of Livingston as I headed back to Billings on Sunday, January 25. (A hatch may have begun on the Yellowstone, but with all the iced up banks it would be hard to cast a fly out there. Need to think nymphs anyway.)  What a perfect weekend it had been for driving to Gardiner, MT, near the Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone National Park. The roads were in excellent condition with only a few gusty crosswinds around Big Timber on Friday.   Robert and Nichelle Grosvenor and their group of eager volunteers had again organized a super jam for Winter Pick. One entire building of the Super 8 motel was reserved for jammers.  Bluegrassers from a wide area showed up. The farthest away was a bass player who had traveled all the way from Yankton, SD. He played doghouse bass, but had another I had never seen. It looked for all the world like a baritone ukelele, but when plugged into a small amp it produced amazing big bass notes from such a small instrument. Besides the expected pickers from Livingston, Bozeman, and Billings, a very sizeable contingent has been attending annually from Helena. Included were the Payne's, Dave and Candy, who host the annual Old Time Fiddlers Picnic during August at Livingston.  An old friend and ex-Laurelite, Bob Strand, with wife Susie, had come all the way down from Ft. Peck. The Miles City boys (Milestown) drove more than 300 miles to attend.  (NOTE TO SELF: I need to practice those old Bob Will's western swing tunes to play with Jim. My "Faded Love" was OK, but I really sucked on "San Antonio Rose.") Well known  guitar flat picker and singer, John Lowell, was there on Friday night as well as Texas Style fiddle teacher and one-time national champion, Lisa Barrett. She had to challenge the grassers with "Huckleberry Hornpipe." Generally speaking my opinion is that contest fiddlers should just stick to  their own thing at the contests.  They can become excellent BG fiddlers though, and Allison Krause is a great example of that. Byron Berline built a couple of BG bands around his version of contest tunes including "Sally Goodin'."  So what do I know? Of course Berline gave us the very popular "Gold Rush" from his days as a "Bluegrass Boy." Old Bill stuck his name on many tunes, but we think this one came 90% from Byron. 

There were two long days with  more jams going on than ever before. Music could be heard coming from all three floors and frequently three or more rooms to choose from on each. A very good aspect of this type arrangement is that only normal size hotel rooms are available. That makes jam sizes very reasonable with no huge room for "monster" jams.  I don't believe those help anyone outside of rank beginners just learning to chord. In smaller jams who ever is up kicks off their tune and everyone there has a turn at it. Lots of fun (and some frustration for me).  Some picking went on until 3 AM or later. Most pickers just looked for a jam without their chosen instrument and filled in the void there. As usual, banjos and fiddles were in slightly short supply with tons of guitars everywhere and reasonable numbers of mandolins. There even seemed to be an excess of bass players this year..  Many good pickers found this a great place to practice a second instrument beyond their skills on a primary one.

A virtual cornucopia of food was available 24 hours each day.  In addition to lots of finger food, large slow cookers full of hot foods appeared like magic. Hams, turkeys, and pizza came out of the suite's oven while big stockpots of soups and stews bubbled on the stove top.
                                 The above is only on of several tables loaded with lots of goodies.

As this is Montana, after all, there was plenty of wild game meats and summer sausages to choose from as well as many types of cheese and fancier hors d'ouerves. (I probably misspelled that, but what the hell, you know what I mean.)  A guitar picker from Joliet had cooked up some old fashioned garlic sausage they had made from two pigs that were butchered and totally stuffed into casings. I ate two big chunks. (I made sure my last [and I do mean LAST] "girl" friend loved garlic and you know why.) My butchering family made tons of fresh garlic sausage at Spear Meat Company, once known as Billings best meat market. It was a big favorite of the Volga-Germans who moved into the Yellowstone valley to farm sugar beets.  I even made some myself in December  when I stuffed and smoked my stash of Koch family "Christmas Sausages" and lots of Cajun Andouille. My contribution for Winter Pick was a triple Crockpot with Cajun foods: Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, plus a Shrimp & Crawfish Etoufee. Most of it disappeared so hungry bluegrassers must eat just about anything. I included some of my Andouille in the Jambalaya, but sneaked some Hot Links into the Red Beans and Rice. No Tabasco sauce needed in that pot!

We all left Gardiner with good memories and plans on returning next year. Thanks a million, Robert and Nichelle. You are terrific people and contribute so very much to the music scene in Montana. We all owe you a lot. See you next year.


Here are more photos from jamming groups at Winter Pick:

Click on these for more clarity and detail. Sorry there are not more. Spent too much time jamming myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


If you want to learn more about the background for establishing a good jam site go to "" or find it on Facebook. Ed Kemmick was a reporter for Lee Newspapers for many years covering Anaconda, Butte, and then Billings. He has been the recipient of awards for outstanding journalism so when he covers a story he really delves into it. Ed is also an outstanding singer musician himself and has performed in a number of Billings area groups including the "Longtime Lonesome Dogs" and the "Peach Pickers" with his brother John. A fellow singer-picker once described Ed as a "singing machine" as he was doing one tune after another. The "Last Best News" is his on-line newspaper which includes blogs and links on many subjects. Ed has also partnered with a former editor of the Billings Gazette, David Crisp, who now publishes the weekly "Billings Outpost." They often share stories from one media to the other. I expect to see the article on Laurel's Owl Cafe in the "Outpost" which will come out on Thursday, January 22,2015. Don't miss out on these fine examples of quality journalism. 

Monday, January 19, 2015


The first widely publicized Saturday AM bluegrass with breakfast at the Owl Cafe in Laurel was a great success. The tables were nearly all full in the busy 9:30 to 11:00 AM time slot. Most new customers were still able to find a place to sit except for parties of six or more who may have had a slight delay.  Highway 302 was the featured band and sounded fine singing and playing without sound reinforcement. Local area bands need to thank Larry Larson of 302 for arranging this new place for Saturday gigs. It provides an excellent showcase and many bands pick up paying gigs as a result.

Highway 302 features (L-R) Clayton Olson on mandolin, Jim McGowan banjo, Larry Larson guitar and LaLonnie Larson bass.  Regular bass player Bonnie Zieske was absent for this session. LaLonnie Larson normally plays mandolin and adds her clogging skills to tunes like the old banjo standard "Cripple Creek."
Olson also plays a fine old Martin D-18 guitar and they all lend their voices to the vocals. The crowd at the Owl Cafe certainly enjoyed their performance on Saturday, January 17. 2015.

On next Saturday, 1-24-15 the featured band will be "Spur Of The Moment."  "Song Dog Serenade" was scheduled for the following week, but their mandolin player will not be available and as they are a trio a substitute band will perform. As of this post that information is not available to this blogger.


In a recent post I was mumbling and grumbling about the conditions of the current YBA jams at the Lincoln Building. In part of that rant I said it would not be fun to haul a 4/4 bass through those long halls. That would REALLY be true, but none of us have likely ever seen a 4/4 BASS! The upright basses we regularly see and play are actually 3/4 size. A few of the huge 4/4s apparently have been built, but they are totally impractical to haul around to gigs. This reminds me of a fellow from central MT who came to a YBA jam a couple of years ago in search of a "full size" bass. We told him they were readily available on the internet, but he complained that he had tried that but, "They were all only 3/4." That is probably a common misperception. Actually some of the basses we see at jams are only 1/2 size, but they produce a very reasonable sound and are a lot easier to haul around in the average vehicle. (In the next post you can see LaLonnie Larson playiing a 1/2 size bass.)

 I will try to engage my aging brain more fully in future posts, especially regarding the size of doghouse basses.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


                          OR ANY WEEKLY JAM IS BETTER THAN NONE

YBA president Sharon Karlson has made this announcement: "We will begin jamming at the Lincoln Center this Friday,. Jan. 16th. at 7:15 PM. The evening Adult Ed classes will run until May 22nd, with a few exceptions of holiday closings in the mean time, and I will let you know the school closings before they come up...... Thanks. See ya there!"

That does sound pretty good, however it is far from ideal. Way back when I negotiated the first jams there the SE door, corner of 4th Ave and 29th St,  going straight down into the Band room was left open from about 6:30 until after 9 PM. You could show up whenever.  Parking was close by so carrying a bass or a couple of instruments was not a problem. In recent years, due to security issues, that ease of entry was continually tightened up. Now the only entry is at the opposite or NW corner of the building and even that door is always locked. The Lincoln is large. My parents graduated from Billings High School there and I attended the only Jr. High  in town later.

Now the YBA can only get in on Friday evenings IF an Adult Ed class is occurring and a security guard is there to open the locked door. Fortunately instruction in classical guitar is scheduled this year while all other classes are NOT on Fridays at any time. While that is good it also produces the limitations. The guard goes off duty at 7 PM. For pickers to get into the building they have to be at the door before 7 PM. Did I say the building is large?  Once inside you will still need to walk more than two city blocks down the halls with your instruments. Easy with a mouth harp, but not so comfortable carrying a heavy banjo, two instruments, or a 4/4 bass. After arriving at the band room you now need to wait to get in. You will likely NOT begin jamming at 7:15. The guitar class lasts until 7:15. Unless they stop earlier, YBA pickers have to wait in the hall while the students put their guitars in cases, put on coats, and exit the room.  As a result bluegrassers will be lucky to begin the jam much before 7:30 and must end by 9 PM.  What was originally at least a 2 hour jam is reduced to 90 minutes or less. Of course pickers can then gravitate to Hardee's for more. Or would it just be wiser to go to Hardee's at 8 PM and pick for 2 or more hours there?

Was this post nitpicking?  Absolutely. Having any type of weekly jam is better than none for sure. But,  I haven't even mentioned the problem of inviting new people to attend via the media when they don't know the vagaries of getting into the place.  Nor the possibility of no one signing up for classical guitar on one of the other two ADULT ED sessions for Spring 2015.

As I have said many times before virtually NO ONE comes every week.  Some may love this situation, but the best pickers and most board members will not be there. The other activities of the YBA are very good including the showcases, the two Saturday jams on Central, the barbecues and picnics. As for me I may go to the Lincoln once in awhile, however I'll more likely settle into my easy chair on Friday nights and chuckle at Grimm, enjoy Hawaii 5-0, and then fall asleep before the Blue Bloods catch all the bad guys on my big screen TV.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


A tradition of listening to live bluegrass music while enjoying an old fashioned Montana breakfast has resumed in Yellowstone County.  The Owl Cafe in Laurel, MT, hosted the first session on Saturday, January 10, 2015.  Longtime area band "Highway 302" kicked off this new series. "302" features Larry Larson on guitar with his wife LaLonnie on mandolin or bass, Jim McGowan banjo, Clayton Olson on flat pick guitar and mandolin, and Bonnie Zieske on bass and fiddle.  Bluegrass breakfast was started by the Larson's plus Steve and Peggy Stephenson at the Prairie Winds Cafe in Molt, MT,  where they all lived. After several very successful years the owners retired and the Prairie Winds closed. An attempt was made last Spring to revive the tradition at the Blue Cat Bar and Grill in Huntley, MT. After just a few Saturdays that event simply fizzled out like a faulty firecracker. The Owl Cafe has new ownership and that lady is very enthused about Saturday morning bluegrass music. The Owl is located on the main street of Laurel and easily accessed from Interstate 90. It is a well lit and spacious modern cafe with at least twice the seating capacity of either the Molt or Huntley sites. The menu is wide ranging with choices to satisfy the most discerning diner. Breakfast is available beginning at 7 AM and this is a bustling restaurant on through lunch and dinner. Local area enthusiasts should support this new effort to keep bluegrass alive in the several county area  that has sometimes been called "Yellowstone Country." Our friends from surrounding areas might consider taking the Laurel off ramp when traveling through on Interstate 90. Why look for food in Billings when good tummy satisfying grub is readily available in Laurel, MT?  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


The featured musicians appearing on the "11th & Grant" show on January 29th will be Jeff Troxel and Trevor Krieger. They will be performing and be interviewed by host Eric Funk who does an excellent job of presenting local Montana talent to public television viewers. The following is from the Bozeman based PBS publication:

"Billings based fiddle player Trevor Krieger joins Cody based singer-songwriter Jeff Troxel as they showcase their distinctive blend of Americana folk and fiddle tunes and innovative original work. The duo has been exploring diverse musical roles together for more than 20 years. Troxel is a jazz and flatpicking guitarist, songwriter, singer, composer, educator, and recording engineer who easily crosses musical boundaries. Krieger, an accomplished classical violinist and traditional fiddle player, shares his musical talents with his duties as a Billing firefighter."  This airs Thursday, 1/29 at 7 pm, Saturday 1/31 at 9:30 pm.

Check local listings for "Song of the Mountains,"  featuring established and new bluegrass bands on Mondays at 5 am. Excellent bluegrass music, especially for those of us without cable or satellite service in Montana. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Did you have a heap of "Hoppin' John" for New Year's Day?  Black eyed peas and rice, poor man's food from down South. Eat poor on January 1 and you will prosper through the rest of the year - or so the old saying goes. And if you add some ham or smoked sausage it is actually pretty tasty fare. I decided to make mine with a Cajun twist. I cut up some of my andouille sausage and added a large amount of the "Cajun Trinity," onion, bell pepper and celery along with a dash of red pepper flakes.  It was pretty darn good if I do say so myself. Anyway keep on picking, singing, and fiddling. 2015 should be a good year for bluegrass music where ever you are.