Recording a CD

It’s kind of a long story, but I ended up staying another week with Polo and Nadine after the Old-Time Weekend in Bécours.  Their band, Ida Red, invited me to record about 6 tunes with them on their new CD.  Of course, I was honored.  All three of them are grand musicians and it was the perfect chance for me to sit down and really learn some of Polo’s crazy, very-old-sounding fiddle tunes.

(For those of you Asheville, Old-Time Music folks out there, Ida Red also included their dear friends Meredith McIntosh and John Herrmann when they were passing through France.)

So, we packed it up and drove back to Ardèche.  It was good to be back.

We practiced…

And practiced…And busked at the market on Saturday morning…I think we made about 12 Euros each…

Then, we drove to the middle of no where (a beautiful place)…

and we recorded…

Sisteron: The Gateway to Provence

Do you remember the woman, Cathi, who I met at the festival La Motte en Provence?  The one who called American contra and square dances (in French of course)?  She is a dear friend of, not only Polo and Nadine, but of Philippe who I visited in Grenoble.  After she and I hit it off so well at La Motte she called and invited me to visit her at her home near a pre-Roman town called Sisteron.

In the picture above you can see how the rock formations create a sort of gateway.  A 13th-17th citadel is on the hill to the left and a rare rock formation, where people come from far and wide to rock climb, is to the right.   It’s also on the route for Le Tour de France (kind of a pain-in-the-butt for locals).  Cathi says it marks the passage from the Alpes and to Provence, hence being a perfect stop after my visit with Aime.

I was enamored with this walk-through from old town to new town.  The little sign hanging to the right is for a bakery of artisan bread.  They don’t even have a store front, you just peek your head through the front door and they come to sell you bread fresh out of the wood-fired oven.

Below is Valerna, the little village near Sisterone where Cathi and her daughter Julie live.

Cathi is a fiddle player.  She started with Irish and traditional French music and then fell in love with Appalachian Old-Time after meeting Polo and Nadine.  So, of course, we played some tunes together….

Went on some beautiful walks…

And went to the market…Mmm…Strawberries…

Into the Alpes: Grenoble

If you have been following my trip right along, you already know that I have been incredibly lucky in my search for musicians, artists, dancers and creative-livers to visit.  I was lucky, once again, when I met Phillipe and his family at the festival Boulegan l’Ostal.

He joined one of our jam sessions with his 5-string banjo and we ended up talking about how he found old-time music in France (through Irish music and meeting Polo) and the time that he came to the United States to Mount Airy, a fiddler’s convention I go to every year.  His invitation to visit them in Grenoble was perfectly timed.  I honestly wasn’t sure were I was going to go after my visit with Polo and Nadine.

This is his daughter, Eva, and their cat, Plume.

Eva and I made fast friends.  She was not shy to correct my French and she played her flute for me.  I showed her the drawings in my sketchbook and taught her how to thumb wrestle (a very important thing to know in life).

One morning, I suggested that we draw a picture of each other and label each body part, her in English and me in French.  We spent hours trading the names for body parts, correcting each other’s pronunciation, adding color with my mini-watercolor set, and pointing out details (like eye-lashes, for example) that the other had forgotten.  I enjoyed her company immensely.

I stayed for 3 days.  Each morning I had breakfast with Eva and Phillipe’s wife, Danuta (we spoke only in French) and then I would pack a bag for the day.  Basically, I just wandered the streets until dinner-time.  I looked and walked and looked…and sketched some too.

I liked Grenoble alot.  I liked that you could see giant, snow capped mountains from every direction beyond the city’s skyline.  I liked the snazzy, white/lime green/turquoise, above ground trolley cars that were so easy to jump onto.  I liked seeing paintings on the cement walls of walking tunnels.  I liked people watching at the large market in the center of town.  I liked the spaceship-like, public toilets with automatic doors that cost .20 and would pop up right when I needed to pee (it is sooo frustrating to need to pee and not be able to find a place!).

However, I did NOT like that a cup of green tea cost almost $4.00!

My most favorite spot of all was Le Jardin de Ville, the city’s central park.  Spring was in the air and all ages came out to enjoy it.

Bal Folk

Bal Folk is the name for a traditional French dance gathering, often with live music.  The first time I met Joelle and Daniel was at a Bal Folk while I was still in Paris.  My then host, Dale, was brave and came with me though I’m not sure if he realized that we’d be whisked into a dance within the first ten minutes of arriving.

Joelle and Daniel are great teachers and I’ve already learned many traditional dances done in sets, circles and as a couple.  The dances come from all over France and tunes come from all over Europe.

My favorite so far is the Mazurka!  It’s done with a partner to 3/4 time, but rather than dancing the waltz step (1,2,3) the pattern is: 1-2 lift, 1-2-3, 1-2 lift (which is now on the opposite foot from the last time you did a 1-2 lift), 1-2-3.  It’s brain-stretcher that’s for sure.  I’ll try to get you a video of it soon, but for now here is Lou Strings playing a Mazurka.

Typical instruments found playing traditional French music include the fiddle, hurdy gurdy, accordion, recorder and even fife and tabor.  However, Joelle and Daniel’s group, Lou Strings, is made up of guitar, banjo-guitar, hurdy gurdy and a drummer.  Joelle also adds her own flare by wearing Moroccan raddles on her ankles and tapping a tambourine with her foot while she plays.  In the following clip they let me play too!

Traditional music and dance are a big part of Joelle and Daniel’s lives (making us a perfect match!).  They are very disciplined about practicing regularly at home.  They are the president and secretary of their dance association and can often be found playing, dancing or organizing dance gatherings for both adults and children.

To hear more by Lou Strings check out their myspace page.

More on Bal Folk coming soon…

Books and Banjos

Here’s a look at what I do when I’m  not making books.  I’m the one playing the banjo uke.  Pearl Mueller is on the fiddle and Ellie Grace plays mandolin, guitar and dances too! (which you’ll get a taste of at the end of this video).  We also have a myspace page.