Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jammin' with Bill

I served the folk music public today as a volunteer for the 27th Annual Folk Music Festival Today. I took the morning shift, working first at a musical instrument check-in room and later as a runner for the fiddle workshop. I thought the fiddle workshop would be fun, but the instructor mostly talked and the group did very little fiddling. Only two participants played the fiddle with any skill. So the fiddling was Jack Benny-esque at best.

Otherwise, music filled the air.

The Canaries performed at the open mike stage, but we weren't ready. Do performed her bosom song. As she left the stage, we shouted for her to sing a song she plays on the uke, so she got back onstage and sang that. Then we shouted for her to do "Tinfoil Hat," so she did. She was very good.

Billy C and I got to see and hear John McEuen who used the play banjo and fiddle with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in the day. McEuen also taught Steve Martin how to play banjo. McEuen's guest was some 14-year-0ld mandolin prodigy who played like a possessed mofo.

After that performance. It was time for the final workshop of the day. Uke Forever was on schedule to teach a ukulele workshop, but Billy C and I wanted to go t a folk historian's workshop instead. Then, on our way, we saw an elderly man being guided to UF's room. He had to be in his 90's. He appeared quite feeble, in fact. I noticed that he had very thick white hair. That's when I realized that it was none other than ukemaster Bill Tapia. I realized that, indeed, he must be appearing in UF's workshop.

So Billy C and I zoomed over to UF's workshp and, sure enough, there sat Bill Tapia. He looked like he could be any elderly gentleman--frail, maybe a little alone. But when he began playing, he transformed. You could see the eyes light up and the body energize. He dominated the workshop, regaling us with stories from his early days playing in big bands and singing songs. His playing was spot on.

So there we were, about 30 workshop attendees, getting a performance from a uke legend.

UF ocassionally stepped in to show the newbies some chords and teach them some simple songs. UF led us in "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I led the singing because no one else seemed to know the words.

I think Bill Got a little bred because he out of the blue asked me "How do you make a 'C' chord?" I made a "C"chord. Then "How do you make an 'E7?'" I made the "E7." I kind f panicked because he kept throwing chords at me. But I showed him every chord.

Then he turned to Billy C with the same drill. Then he asked "Now, everybody play those chords as I call them." Pretty soon, we were all playing the chords to "Ain't She Sweet" while Bill Tapia took the solo. I soon realized that I was jamming with Bill Tapia.

UF handled everything very well, allowing Tapia the spotlight, while making sure everyone walked away with a few basic chords.

Hey, I got to jam with Bill Tapia. It just doesn't get much better than that.

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