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Exploration in October

October 11, 2010

 

 

Midway Fair hanging out in beautiful Druid Hill Park.

 

Surreal moment of the month: About a dozen people, half of whom had dreadlocks, getting in front of microphones with banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and acoustic guitars to sing Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”

Late September and early October were a time for some experimentation. We played a show for world peace and to keep a German in Baltimore, opened for Mike Huchison from Fools and Horses at an art opening, and plugged in a bunch of electronics to support the largest day of environmental activism ever. And despite playing four shows in two weeks, only one featured any two of the same people.

So how did it go? (pst There’s a surprise at the end!)

The World Peace Party is a now-yearly (they’ve had two!) event at Sweet Peace Farm north of Westminster. The farm is in one of those areas of Maryland that, for someone living on the 95 corridor, is hard to imagine: It’s rural to the point if neighbors being invisible, in politically red (or at least purple), and the forest still looks primal. In one of the songs on my solo album, I assumed that places like this had almost entirely disappeared so close to Baltimore. I’m glad I was only partly wrong.

This was meant to be a full band show, but Jen got horribly sick the night before. It’s a shame and ironic: It was a total Jen-fest. New agey things were all over the place. Tim and his wife Cellina made a weekend of it, camping out the night before, and Cellina provided some massage services in the morning. I was happy to see some unexpected friendly faces in mOsno and sahffi (who are too cool to capitalize the first letters of their names), who played shortly after us after another show of theirs got cancelled, and poet Aileen Sabira Geraghty. Michael Harris was also there, and he was nice enough to give us some soup and tacos after we played.

Tim and I made do without Jen and without a bunch of equipment (a bookbag with my pedals and some other stuff had gotten stolen out of my car sometime earlier that week), and muddled through what I felt was a lackluster and meandering set while we tried to figure out songs that didn’t involve a capo or prominent harmonies. Not to mention a completely failed attempt to play a punk song (The Gaslight Anthem‘s “Great Expectations”) without a pick. But it got a positive crowd reaction, and that’s what counts in the end. We debuted a new song, “Ones and Zeroes,” which I messed up the lyrics for, but which sounded a lot better than I expected once the drums were behind it.

The next weekend we played a pair of bookstores. Andew and I hit up Cyclops for Wes Haines’s Acoustic Harvest, which turned out to be a benefit to keep a German fiddler from having to move out of the country. I ran sound for the evening (which created a bit of a financial emergency during the week leading up as I replaced all my microphones and cables), and a half dozen artists, including Alex Culbreath, The McTell Brothers (14-year-old identical twin guitarists), Boat Water, and The Baltimore String Felons. The String Felons in particular were a great surprise. About 40 people stuck around until 2 in the a.m., illegitimately imbibed inebreating fluids, and then danced idiosyncratic two steps to a bunch of young kids playing apalachian mountain music transplanted to Baltimore. Apparently all the banjos in Baltimore are hiding in the punk scene. My favorite moment came when their drummer found an empty magnum bottle and put it on her drum leg (she played only a floor tom and tamborine) to make a cowbell.

Andrew and I played “Ones and Zeros,” and an extra week of practice meant that I forgot only one line instead of a whole verse. Hooray practice! This show marked the first time I’ve ever played Lost Child on the mandolin, and it breathed some new life into a song that I’ve perhaps gotten into autopilot mode on. I liked it so much that I’ll do it again next time we play an acoustic show.

I got home at 3 a.m., several hours after I normally hit the sack, and the next day, Jen and I played the third duo show in a row to open for Mike Huchison of Fools and Horses at Ukazoo for an art opening. Ukazoo is still one of my favorite places to play. People show up without too much coaxing and sit around and read books instead of staring at us. Mike was fantastic even without the band. (We did have to mop up the drool where Jen was standing.) He was promoting his band’s new album, which is a big step forward artistically for the band, which shows a little maturation. Mike’s voice seems a little raspier these days.

Finally the whole band managed to get together for a lunch time show at the Baltimore Global Work Party (for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and 350.org), which for the second year in a row became the biggest climate action day in history. Last year there were several hundred events around the world. This year, there were 6,000. For the Baltimore event, everyone got together to plant trees in the morning (and experiences a temporary supply shortage, because 150 of them had been planted the day before for Druid Hill Park’s sesquicentennial). We played during lunch. The situation was a little odd; we stood on the outside of the pavillion with a rail dividing us from the audience. I pretended I was at a really dangerous night clyb show, and the railing was there to keep the audience from getting at us on stage.

After the show, we got together for a photo shoot. A couple of my favorites are at the bottom.

Oh, and the day before this show, we finished tracking the new album. I’m so happy with it; I think it’s as advanced musically over the first Midway Fair album as that album was over my 2003 solo album. Most of this is thanks to playing with my two really supportive and communicative musician partners.

Chris Freeland will finish the mixing in the next two weeks, and it’ll get mastered by Mat Leffler-Schulman at Mobtown Studios (recent winner of a Baltimore City Paper best-of) on November 20th. This is where I ask for some help: If you know a magazine or an internet radio station you think would like to hear our music, please let us know. We’re going to take our time releasing this one, to make sure the release party is something you truly don’t want to miss. Recording was the easy part.

Jon Patton
Midway Fair

 

People watching in front of the Columbus monument in Druid Hill Park on Columbus Day weekend, 2010. One of Baltimore's many nicknames is "Monument City." There are several in Druid Hill park.

 

 

Jen showing off her green side in a black shirt. In another universe, she's a t-shirt model.

 

 

In a truly, incredibly surprising moment, Tim reveals that he not only can juggle Midway Fair, but that he's actually an accomplished juggler. Tim somehow managed to hide the single most important piece of information that we could have had about him for a year.

 

Photography by H. Stephen Patton 2010.

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