The EWOB festival 2010
Packed with my "ugly duckling banjo" (see my previous blog) and the fiddle I inherited from my father, I went off to Voorthuizen, The Netherlands. That's about 230 km from the place I live (De Pinte, a little village near Gent in Belgium).
After leaving my stuff at a local B&B (except the instruments), I went on to the festival site. You could hear the jamming already : the deep booming voice of the bass, the howling of the fiddle, the girly giggles of the mandolin, the sexy slides of the dobro and of course, the fast paced energy of the banjo, playing hide-and-seek with the other instruments.
As a newcomer I was of course impressed. Being a Belgian (known for their modesty) did not help either. But here's a rule : in the Netherlands, you can make contact almost immediately with almost anyone. Everybody is open to communication. Probably a relict of the sixties. Just be prepared to some "snappy answers to stupid questions" !
And then it started. Three days of almost non-stop bluegrass music. Forty-two bands playing each a half hour set, the best they've got ! I heard the "high lonesome" voice of Bill Monroe, harmony singing in all sorts and sizes, virtuoso solos on every possible bluegrass instrument (including the bass !), soft and sweet songs, very quick hornpipes, standards and new material, sad songs and hilariously funny songs...
And that was just what was happening on the stage. A whole lot more was going on in the bar, the lounge, the trade show venue, the cloakroom, and every corridor that was connecting them : everywhere musicians had gathered and were jamming together. The only place where no instrument was played, was the loo ! (Well, no bluegrass instrument anyway !)
Jamming happened everywhere, spontaneously and abundantly. I witnessed with my own eyes how someone (who didn't have the least intention to play) took his banjo out of the box, just to show someone the instrument. The other person played a few notes on it, and I swear, no more than 10 seconds later, a fiddle-player, a guitarist and a mandolin-player had gathered and jammed with the unlucky banjo-ist !
It was wise of me to leave my instruments in the car and to check out first what was happening. I'm a novice on the banjo, and a complete beginner on the fiddle. I would have made a fool of myself trying to blend in with these guys, even from a distance of 15 m ! (Although, the third day I conquered my fear, and I found myself a quite little corner outside the building where I could tickle the banjo all on my own).
Not that those people are looking down on newbie musicians, "au contraire" ! They are always ready to help you, and give support ! A top-musician of the Belgian band "Rawhide" introduced me to a co-citizen of Gent, who happened also to be a top-musician, and he proposed to come together some day to jam together ! Wow ! I'm still flabbergasted !
Also, there are workshops where you can go to. Unfortunately, there was no fiddle workshop this year, but I attended the one for banjo (of course) and for harmony singing. The last one was particularly refreshing : a simple, yet profound and natural approach of learning to sing in harmony. It just seems so easy ! (In fact, on a personal note, that attracted me to bluegrass music in the first place. It's simple enough to give you satisfaction on every level you start, and yet the more you become proficient, the higher the quality you can achieve. Not so in jazz, where you have to study for years and years and years before you think you're able to perform a single tune).
And then, the people you meet. They vary in musical craftsmanship, height, color of their hair, shapes of their nose, size and gender, but all of them, each and everyone of them, will greet you with a friendly smile and an open supportive mind. Come to think of it, I believe I acted pretty much the same way ! That's because we know we share a common passion that throbs like a living heartbeat in each of us : the love for bluegrass music !
On a end-note, the only negative point I can see is that I had to drink "Heineken" for three days! That's a point for improvement : next year, let "Stella", "Jupiler", or "Duvel" (the best !) be the beer of choice. Belgians are indeed modest, except when it comes to their beers !