You're enjoying the sweltering heat and humidity and thinking what a great day this would be to just sit in your car with the windows up and lose a few pounds, when your eyes are drawn to the spectre of a person wheeling a piano skeleton in a chopped and channeled baby stroller. Then another. Here's one in a specially designed body bag. What the....?
Is it a macabre funeral? A mass interment of keyless clavinets? Oh, the pianity!
Nope. None of the above. It's a dulcimer festival, one of the grandest in the land in Evart, MI. And, we're not talking simple mountain dulcimers, here. These are hammered dulcimers, and, judging from the cascades of shimmering glissandoes we hear, it's not just the instruments that are hammered.
The instrument originated in Persia (now Iran, widely known for their great ideas) and is actually the predecessor of the piano we know and Liberace today. You will get to hear them played 'til 2 or 3 in the morning, most nights, an experience which can only be described as...relentless. These folks have stamina!
Friday and Saturday evening there's a tradition of asssembling all hammered dulcimer players on stage for a pre-show event. With the heat, no records were set in '06, but there were 175 of them plinking away magically and simultaneously Saturday night.
We arrived Thursday, set up our cabin-like tent in the heat of the day (bad, dripping idea), and were off to our first workshop. The workshops are all done by volunteers and range from the expected dulcimer-related to acoustic instrument playing and accompaniment of all kinds. We teach one called "The Laundry Lesson" on how to use the washtub and washboard as bass & rhythm, various construction tips, and where to find the best components. Whitt also teaches a primer in "Humorous Songwriting." Hilarity ensues, especially when we get to the "Hey-li-dee-li-dee" verses spontaneously voiced by class members.
Friday night we were one of the featured acts on the main stage. One of the best audiences ever--attentive and quick!
Saturday we jammed around the grounds, most notably with The Uke Bros (whom you can find in myspacemusic under "Uke Bro's". Note the apostrophe...hung us up for quite a while. Stoopid compooters!)
You must have a dulcimer in your group to make it on stage Saturday night, so we didn't perform; but it's quite a spectacle! If you haven't seen the (in)famous Bill Robinson play the HD marching-band style, you should; so, here's a picture...
We also shared some time with The Fabulous Heftones. When you find yourself in Lansing on a Saturday evening, catch them at Altu's Ethiopian restaurant. Great food adds to the Heftone experience in an intimate, non-amplified environment.
Except for the food stands, the vendors are all inside for this event, in well-ventilated buildings. We found a good ol' Shubb metal capo for Judy's mandolin, to replace the exploding plastic Dunlop model that recently wounded Whitt. When we find a crappy product you should never ever buy, we like to share the news.
More workshops and grueling heat later, we wound up Sunday morning with the biggest crowd in recent history for the Sunday gospel sing, and shared our particular brand of Gospel music. Here's a picture of part of the crowd (who were just too spread out to get them all in) waving to you-all. (Because of the heat many of them sat outside the grandstands where they could catch a breeze.)
This is a fun festival, well organized, and very reasonable. Three bucks covers admission to the whole thing, and camping is just $15 a night--quite inexpensive if you're an RV-er. (RV-ist?) Maybe we'll see you there next year!