How did Get Up in the Cool get started?

I listen to podcasts constantly, and I have for years. I got my first smartphone and then it was all downhill. It started with well-known NPR crossover pods like Radiolab and Fresh Air—high production radio programs that thought, “we might as well release these as podcasts.” I listened to every Radiolab episode (because I love pop science), and I combed through Fresh Air’s catalog and listened to every interview that featured a guest I knew. When I ran out of backlog, I started looking for more shows, which led me to non-radio show podcasts like My Brother My Brother and Me, a comedic, write-in bad advice show, and The Adventure Zone, which is just 4 people playing D&D. I think that’s when I really fell in love with the medium.

Podcasts can be shamelessly candid and underproduced, and still get a million downloads. Every episode can be a different length, the ad reads can be terrible, and the hosts will leave the tape running while they answer the door to sign for a package. Interview shows like You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes and WTF with Marc Maron sometimes run 3 or more hours an episode. Why the hell do millions of people put up with it? I would argue that the podcast medium is powerful because of these tendencies, not despite them. I like my favorite podcasts because I feel like a fly on a wall in a room with interesting people hanging out. And people are most interesting when they’re casual and honest, without pretense or agenda.

Meanwhile, I’m getting into old time music, and I eventually realize that I like both art forms for the same reasons. I love going to old time shows and listening to old time albums, but they usually pale in comparison to old time festival jams. And it’s not just because I love camping, and drinking liquor outside, and being on vacation. People play differently in a jam than they do in a recording studio or on stage. They take risks, make mistakes, go on musical tangents, and talk for 45 minutes in between tunes. Old time musicians are the podcasters of the music world, and they deserve a medium that will present them at their best. Get Up in the Cool’s goal was and is to locate and occupy a liminal space in order to achieve the spontaneity of a jam (the stakes are low because it’s just one of 50 episodes a year, so we can afford to be casual), the hospitality of a performance (we choose the tunes in advance and edit out the tuning), and the accessibility of an album (it’s recorded so you can listen to it). That was the idea and it seems to be working.

Did you have any particular intentions when you began?

I often joke that I started Get Up in the Cool as a pretense to invite myself over to people’s houses and play their music and eat their food and drink their alcohol. All of that is true—the joke part is where I paint myself as shamelessly opportunistic and mooching. I (like most people, I suspect) have a constant low-level suspicion that I am trespassing. Despite my stupid amount of privilege, it’s still difficult for me to ask for attention and accept hospitality*. Which is ironic, because all I want is for people to invite themselves over to my house and eat and drink my stuff. It makes me feel good, and I know I’m not alone in that. So the podcast serves as a confidence booster; instead of just being a guest in someone’s home or campsite or festival itinerary, I get to be a host as well, which has turned into a bit of a trope on the show where my guests thanks me for having them on the show and I thank them for letting me into their house.

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As for the effort required to produce Get Up in the Cool—I like making things! Making a podcast has been the perfect way to get into a rhythm of creativity. I like problem solving for the sake of art and I like the effect of obstacles on art-making, whether they’re musical, technical, or collaborative. And because my show is weekly, I get the endless novelty of constantly overcoming different challenges, which has made me a better musician, producer, and person. The only obstacle I don’t like is money, but a small percentage of Get Up in the Cool listeners have decided to chip in every week through Patreon and make that part less stressful for me. I would not be able to make the show without them—I am so grateful to my supporters for releasing me to make this show.

*I want to acknowledge that this show would be nigh impossible for me to make if I were marginalized in any way. Putting my trust in 50+ guests a year is hard enough as a cis-het-white-male-able-etc., but I only have to put up with non-systemic, interpersonal awkwardness. If I had to dread and cope with microaggressions, sexual harassment, and ignorance on top of all the other responsibilities of making this show, I don’t think I could make it happen every week. It’s a funny thing to feel self-conscious about taking up space in our community as an over-privileged person while understanding that my privilege might be central to the job description. I’m doing what I can with my platform to change that, but any success I find on that front is due to the accountability, encouragement, and ideas from POC, women, and LGBTQIA folks in my life.

What has been the response from people in the oldtime community to GUitC?

Old time musicians like each other a lot—we get sad at the end of festival season because we have to say goodbye to our buds. Lots of listeners have told me that GUitC serves as a salve during the off-season—it’s a way for them to hang out with old time musicians when they’re otherwise unable to.

For people new to the community, Get Up in the Cool has been a valuable resource for tunes and insight into how to participate. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone credit Rachel Eddy’s episode on jam etiquette as foundational to their involvement in old time.

As for negative feedback, I’m happy to say that as a creator of internet content, I’ve only had to endure a tiny amount of criticism. And only once has someone straight up trolled me. I don’t know if I could say the same if I were making a similar show about a different genre of music. The old time community aspires to be positive and supportive, and often succeeds.

What role do you think the podcast plays in the oldtime community?

Most of the greatest old time players aren’t professional musicians, which means that some of our best are either unrecorded or under-recorded. While I love having my heroes like Paul Brown and Spencer & Rains guest on the show, I’m especially proud to document players like Bach Bui and Laura Murawski who are some of my favorite fiddlers and have great things to say. I love the idea that someday people might comb through old GUitC episodes and say they learned the Bach Bui version of Off She Goes and talk about the origin of Bach’s name in the same way that people talk about Thomas Jefferson Jarrell’s name.

It might be hard to choose favorites, but are there podcasts that stand out as particularly special?

It’s not hard to choose—Jake Blount’s episodes are my favorite and the most important for the future of old time music. My first interview with him changed my life; he showed me that music and justice are inextricable in a way that no one had before. He set me on a path—before the interview, old time music was a light-hearted escape from a world that I didn’t like. Now, old time music is the opposite of escapism for me—I’m no longer interested in participating unless it’s a place where people who don’t look like me can thrive. That reality is still far away, which kills me, but I’m committed to making it happen through asking for accountability, paying reparations, educating other members of the old time community as convincingly and gracefully as possible, and when that doesn’t work, being loud and angry in solidarity. And on a personal level, because I’m so much more invested and engaged, I love and care about music more than I ever have, and I am forever grateful to Jake for that.

What plans do you have for the podcast? Where would you like to see it in a couple years time?

Here are some scattered dreams for Get Up in the Cool:

  • I want to interview Clyde Davenport, Tatiana Hargreaves, and Bruce Molsky.
  • I’d like to raise my guest budget so that I can offer my guests more money.
  • A more comfortable income would be great. It’s not enough to live on at the moment, and I’m probably going to have another kid soon. So I’ll need more listeners that support the show and ideally some steady sponsors.
  • I want to go on another tour off-continent. I’d love to go to Japan and record the old time musicians there. Also Sweden. And the UK.
  • I’d like to work with Clifftop in an official capacity. I’m not sure how to make that happen, but it would be great to be a part of the schedule.

On a slightly different track, how did you get into playing oldtime?

I picked up the banjo about 10 years ago and used it exclusively for songwriting and playing in folksy bands. Stephen Landis, the fiddler in one of those bands, taught me my first tunes. I slowly got more and more into playing old time—going to the local jams, signing up for banjo camps, etc. But I fell in love with old time music when I went to Clifftop for the first time. Ever since then, all other musical endeavours have taken a back seat.

On your website you talk about “pitchfork-style” banjo. Could you talk about what that is and how you developed it?

Pitchfork banjo is a three-finger clawhammer technique. I use my index for down-picking on the down beat, thumb for the fifth string and drop thumbing on the off beat, and my middle finger for up-picking the off beat. Brian Slattery and I were talking about the technique the other day, and he described the role of the middle finger as “the other thumb,” which seriously grossed me out, but I think it is the best way to describe it. Have you ever wanted to drop thumb past the string you just down-picked, but can’t because it’ll just mute it? Pitchfork is simply replacing a drop thumb with a middle finger up-pick; it uses the same arm motion, maintaining the clawhammer stroke, but allows you to play ascending lines, arpeggios, and syncopated rhythms without alternate string pull-offs, hammer-ons, or pull-offs.

Using pitchfork, I’ve been able to play banjo rolls, ragtime rhythms, eighth note lines up the neck, and venture into other traditions like Métis and Scandinavian tunes. But most importantly, pitchfork has allowed me to make a banjo vocabulary that uses the same pathways for ascending and descending lines, which makes learning tunes on the spot much simpler, because I have a more intuitive way to find the notes.

I invented the technique, but lots of other people have independently invented it or similar techniques. Lincoln Cromwell, a banjo player in Rochester, developed the exact same technique. Richie Stearns uses his playing finger to down-pick the on beat and up-pick the off beat, which is the same basic idea. And I’ve met a dozen or so other people who have incorporated pitchfork or pitchfork-adjacent techniques into their playing, which is I think only lends credence to the idea. With all of the downward motion in clawhammer, there’s just something idiomatic about grabbing a note on your way up.

I’d encourage everyone to try it on your own; you can practice it and apply it in the same way you would drop-thumbing. But I also offer Skype lessons to everyone who’s interested.

http://www.camerondewhitt.com/

http://www.getupinthecool.com/

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