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The Functional Art of Old-Time Back-Up Guitar

One thing I love about playing old-time music is that a good tune or a good session is a collaborative effort. Each individual plays a part in creating the overall sound....

Digging through to the sky: rhythm in oldtime music

Before anything, there was the rhythm.  I was a high-school student in Ithaca, N.Y., classically trained on the violin, when I first saw fiddlers play on the dusty...

Vernon Spencer & the Spencer Family of Big Springs, KS

Vernon Douglas Spencer was born September 22, 1921, on the family farm in Big Springs, Kansas. He was the baby of 11 children born to his parents Harley and Cora and around...

Can Old-Time Community Save the World?

The staff door popped open as I careened in to work two minutes late with bean skins still stuck in my unbrushed teeth from the drive-through burrito I’d gulped down in...

Banjo Billy’s “500 Fiddle Tunes: Old-Time Archive”

When I was nine years old, my fiddle teacher sent me to a workshop from the “Famous Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews.” Having played less than a year and being deathly shy,...

Larks and Ravens

I want to talk about Larks and Ravens. I know that there is lot confusion and controversy about the current push to switch to non-gendered terms. I know that a lot...

Bad Festival Neighbors

When you roll up to an old time festival, you know you aren’t checking into the Presidential Suite at the Ritz. It’s going to be crowded and noisy and dirty, and some of...

Finding My Tribe

Most of my life, I never felt like I had a tribe.   I was always an outlier. I was voted “Most Intellectual” in ninth grade in one of...

The Berlin Old-Time Scene: An Origin Myth

1. Sheriff Greyson in the Sandbox It was a typically overcast Berlin Saturday in late spring. The playground at Arkonaplatz was full of kids churning up the sand...