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.
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)…
Smack dab in the middle of my “travel break” with Clara, landed an amazing thing; an Old-Time music weekend. For those of you who don’t know, Old-Time music is the name for the traditional music coming from in and around the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. of A.
It being a surprising and wonderful thing to find such a weekend way over here in France I really, really wanted to go. Once Clara assured me that she wouldn’t feel deserted, I bought a train ticket and embarked on yet another mini-journey within my grand journey.
However, it wasn’t as easy as that. Clara and I didn’t have a car and the cottage where we were staying was a 45 minute walk from the nearest town. The town had, not a train station, but a train stop. So, I woke at 6 a.m. and walked with a day bag, a water bottle and my banjo, down the road (I wish someone had been there to take a picture).
I caught the little train that ran through Champtocé to Angers where I caught another train to Orléans. Nadine had arranged for me to catch a ride there with people I had never met; Yves and Réjane. I recognized Yves immediately because he was the only one waiting for the train with a banjo on his back.
We drove for hours, talking all the way. We arrived to meet a whole gang of folks with instruments, sleeping bags for the dorm beds and lots of food and wine to share.
Everyone was curious about the American girl who really, truly came from North Carolina. Then, amazingly enough, another American girl and great fiddler, named Anne, arrived. I taught some clogging steps and she called a few square dances.
(Anne and I also discovered that, not only are we teaching during the same week at Augusta Heritage Center in August, but she is also the musician for my clogging workshop at Pinewoods in Massachusetts. How crazy is that!)
Everyone put their food in a large utility kitchen and shared the duties of cooking and cleaning. Polo got the big idea to make 40 wood-fired pizzas from scratch. It was alot of work, but they tasted soooo good.
Bécours is also the location for a boyscout/girl scout camp. A few of us went down and played them some tunes. I’m sure none of them had heard Appalachian Old-Time before.
Here is a short video of a brother and sister duo playing and singing the Lonesome Pine Special from the Carter Family. They are accompanying themselves with a piano accordion.
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….
The “fun” that “began,” referred to in the last post was not a hot Frenchman (or whatever else might have passed through your mind…and I’m sure that was one of the strongest possibilities…but hey, it is still very likely to happen!), but two weekends with festivals back to back. The first was called Boulegan l’Ostal and was in the town St. Jean du Gare in the southeastern region of France.
Polo and Nadine are very used to packing, unpacking and repacking for festivals. (Their level of efficiency is impressive.) We picked up their friend Valerie (an American who has live in France for over 20 years and has a wonderful puppet/performance company called La Cie du Beau Sauvage in which Polo performs as well) and her son’s girlfriend, who was as sweet as pie, and went on our way.
After braving the up-high, narrow, on-the-very-edge-of-the-edge-curvy roads typical to Ardeche we stopped to take a break (faire une pause) and have lunch: bread made by Nadine, avocado, soy-cheese spread, various regular cheeses and green tea.
We arrived in St. Jean du Gare, squeezed into a parking spot and with instruments in hand started to wander the streets which had been taken over by musicians and dancers alike.
Polo and Nadine had put me on the list as a performing musician which meant that I had a tag that hung around my neck that allowed me food and drink for the weekend (a wonderful surprise for a budget traveler like myself). They had been hired to create jam sessions in the cafes and restaurants wherever and whenever they wanted. We played for hours and hours. (This is also when I really started to get the hang of Polo’s crazy tunes.)
Though there is obviously lots of music and dance at Boulegan l’Ostal it is especially known for being a gathering of luthiers (instrument makers). There was a big room packed with booths of instruments as well as people trying instruments. And I tell you what, when those instruments happen to be hurdy gurdies, accordions and the French version of bag-pipes being played all at once, you kind of wish you had earplugs.
Here is a short video of some young guys playing pipes together:
That night, everyone migrated to a big, beautiful building that used to be a school. It is now the perfect head quarters for the night time jamming and dancing for the festival. As you can see in the picture below, it was just a little bit crowded.
This is an Irish jam…
It’s a little hard to tell, but everyone in this picture is dancing. They are linked elbow to elbow in long caterpillar lines doing a simple (and therefore meditative) dance that comes from Brittany. It’s beautiful to watch all the kabillions of caterpillars slowly working their way around each other.
Needless to say, after such a long day we crashed around 2am. Here is breakfast time (bread, confiture, tea and chocolate!):
I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.
“How did you take a bath?” you ask. Though they have an outdoor shower house with a nice view of the mountains it was still a little too cold to be wet and outside at the same time. So, a large kettle of water heated on the stove, a water basin, soap and a wash cloth were the answer. One night, I got to take a bath downstairs right next to the stove. It was wonderful!