My buddy, George Nixon, drove up from Livingston, TX and spent the night at my home in Plano, last Wednesday. We picked a little and talked a lot about bluegrass music and instruments. George is a luthier and brought a beautiful guitar he had made, modeled after a Martin D-41. It sounded great and played very nicely. He also brought his Martin HD-28, which I wanted to play for the weekend, so we took it, a mandolin, and two banjos with us to Amarillo for the annual Boo-Grass Jam. Three
full days of jam sessions and total saturation in acoustic, bluegrass music.
We packed up and hit the road early Thursday morning, but we had planned a leisurely drive and took our time. When we made a stop in Vernon, I offered George an apple…a Honey Crisp apple. Best apples I’ve ever had. George said he had brought some apples also and would pay me back, but it wouldn’t be a Honey Crisp. He claimed he couldn’t afford them. I could tell what kind of trip this was going to be! He had already stuck it to me with a cheap apple.
We arrived in Amarillo during the early afternoon and the jam sessions were already in progress. It didn’t take long for us to unload (I had prepared a little bit and took a gig cart) and we strolled around visiting with old friends and meeting some new folks. Before we knew it, it was time for the supper break. We weren’t very hungry, so we finished unpacking our stuff and got our instruments tuned up. The change in altitude and humidity makes a big difference on my banjos. I had to loosen the head a little to get it sounding like it should. It took a while for it to “settle in”.
I started out in a small group with Rob (mandolin), Carol (bass), and Bobby (guitar) from Tucumcari, NM. Wow, what a start. We jumped right into some instrumentals and before long George showed up with his mandolin. Soon afterward, my old friend Alvie Ivey, from Lubbock, joined us. Alvie has introduced me to a lot of players and I kid him, often, that everyone he introduces me to is either kin to him or went to high school with him. The jam just got better and better. I think George finally called it a night around 11:00, but I was having way too much fun and hung in there until about 12:30.
As usual, I got to my room and ran through a few new songs I had heard and brush up on some old ones that I hadn’t played in a while. Then there was the obligatory YouTube search and watch a few bluegrass videos before calling it a night around 2 o’clock.
Friday started out pretty early. Went down for breakfast around 8 o’clock and George was already on his second cup of coffee. We spent most of the morning just visiting with the other pickers and talking about instruments. I headed back to the room for a banana and peanut butter crackers before tuning up and going down to the afternoon jam sessions.
By the time I got downstairs, there were already several jams going. I hooked up with the same group from the day before and we were soon laying down some music. Joe,
a banjo picking friend from Tucumcari, joined us in this jam. It was great to visit with him and listen to the great job he did on the banjo. He’s a fine player and super nice guy. We always enjoy swapping licks and talking about banjos.
Later in the afternoon, Lonnie Joe Howell joined our jam. You talk about blowing your socks off…Lonnie Joe can play that harmonica. I haven’t heard a harp much at jams, but when he ripped through Cherokee Shuffle I became a believer. It was solid, it was good, and it was fun. He was also very good at fill licks (I guess you call them licks on harp). Nevertheless, I enjoyed meeting Lonnie Joe and sure did enjoy his playing. As it turns out, Lonnie Joe lived in Nashville for a quite some time and yes, he is related to Alvie.
We took a supper break around 6:00. I nuked a frozen pizza in my room and ate an apple (not one of the cheap knock-offs that George tried to push off on me). Decided to lay back on the bed and watch a little news on TV and just relax. I guess I over did the relaxing part. My wife, Cathryn, called and woke me up around 5:00. It’s a good thing she did or might have missed the whole evening.
We had a good group in the evening jam. Lots of talented players and some good singers. A family from New Mexico joined us that added some youthful talent and great female vocals to the mix. They had fantastic harmonies and I enjoyed listening to them sing. Family harmonies are nice since they are very tight and have great phrasing.
I took a couple of breaks and just walked around listening to the other jam sessions. It was fantastic. There were various skill and experience levels in every group and each
jam had a roving mix of listeners and fans just enjoying the music. The Boo-Grass Jam is sponsored by the Panhandle Bluegrass & Old Time Music Association and they do a wonderful job of hosting the event and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. The best part, though, is the people. These folks are cordial, open and friendly. The culture in this part of the country is almost indescribable. “Friendly” doesn’t quite cover it. These are just very nice people.
George and I both stayed with the jam until around midnight. Some folks played on until the wee hours of the morning. After my typical night wind-down, I got to bed around 1:00. I woke up Saturday morning about 6:45 and had a short discussion with myself, after which, I went back to sleep. I got up at 9:30 and just made it down before they stopped serving breakfast. We visited with a few folks then George, Alvie and I went up to my room and spent some time playing each other’s instruments. I wanted to get some time in on George’s HD-28 and Alvie and George wanted to play each other’s mandolins. It was great. We ripped through several tunes and tried a few new ones and we all got a good feel for the instruments. After we broke up,
I grabbed another banana and some nuts and went down for the afternoon jams.
Around noon, Alyssa Word came to see George and me. I won’t bore you with the genealogy, but George and I are both related to Alyssa yet we’re not related to each other. We showed Alyssa around the hotel then we went to lunch. George offered to buy lunch. One, because he’s a nice guy and wanted to treat Alyssa, and two, he was trying to find some way equitable way to pay me back for that apple. Alyssa joined in on the afternoon jam and we all had a great time.
The afternoon jam was interesting and fun. We had folks coming and going in the jam all afternoon. We had new songs, old ones, same songs done in different styles, etc. I met Carl Josefy in this jam. One heck of a player and really good vocalist, but the thing that caught my attention was Carl’s smile. A big, honest smile that just stayed on his face. If he had never picked up an instrument, I would still have wanted to meet this man. And, I’m very glad I did. Carl started out playing mandolin and playing it very well. Then he pulled out his D-18 and everything went to a whole new level. It was in this jam that I also met Tim and Becky McGaughy. Tim was on mandolin and Becky was playing the fiddle. Very well too, I might add.
It was a fun afternoon with a great bunch of folks and before I knew it, everyone was breaking for supper.
Having had a wonderful salad for lunch (on George’s nickle) I wasn’t very hungry, so I grabbed some peanut butter crackers and another banana. I called home, just to check in, then went downstairs for the evening jams.
Several jam groups were already going, but George and Becky were chatting and I went over to check out Becky’s bass (which is her main instrument). I wanted to see how it was set up, what kind of strings she used, etc. since I’m about to set up the bass I got from my brother, Ted, but I digress. Becky suggested we start a new jam, so she, George, her husband Tim, and I found a spot and kicked it off. We had a good little jam going. After a little while, Carl joined us. He said he heard Becky’s bass in his room and knew it was her
playing. She is very good and sings great harmonies. So, Carl has that D-18 going strong, Tim and George on mandolins, Becky with that solid bass, and me on the 5-string. Wow. This is sounding pretty good. Carl and I had a lot in common in terms of song selection and style and he, Becky and I had some very good harmonies. We were joined by Ethan, a young, super talented mandolin player and by Alvie, also on mandolin. We tried some new songs and did a lot of the old standards and everything just worked. As Carl kept saying “now, that was grassy!”. We, finally, had to call it a night around midnight (after all our fingers had turned to mush). But, it sure was fun.
George and I headed home Sunday morning and had a nice drive. We re-lived a lot of the jam sessions and talked bluegrass all the way home. It was fun, I learned a lot from many of the talented players, enjoyed making new friends, and cherish seeing the old friends. I can’t wait to do it again…