Buddy at Benner's Farm
I was shocked to find its been almost four years since I last wrote about seeing Buddy Merriam play. When Tim was more active in Bardic Circle we'd try to squeeze in a "field trip", as we called it, every so often to see some live music both to just have a good time and to try to learn how other bands went about presenting themselves. Buddy (and his supporting cast called Backroads) were consummate showfolk. Not only was he able to strum up a storm, but he could keep you entertained with a story or two, and could usually be found for a chat between sets. Probably the main thing I learned from Buddy was how important it is to keep up a dialogue with the audience during the show - folks like to know about the songs you're playing, why they were written, why you like playing them, the story behind the songs. The fact that Buddy has been doing the bluegrass show Bluegrass Time (click for playlists from previous shows) on WUSB (90.1 FM Stony Brook, NY) for so many years may explain his easy ability in this area - I've always found it more difficult to remember to talk a bit about the songs. I still seem to end up launching into the next one too quick.
Last night's show was at Benner's Farm in Setauket. If you've never been there, its definitely worth a trip, especially if you have kids. The Benners are teachers by trade and the entire site is a bona-fide, real-deal, working farm which they have tailored to instruction as they run a summer day camp there. Watch a Maple Sugaring video done on the farm. In between sets we took a pleasant walk between the gardens and animal pens and everything was labeled with little hand painted signs reminding you to wash your hands if you touch anything (there are hand washing stations provided by the barn), or letting you know who is who behind the chicken wire, or just little facts about the site. Plenty of goats (always fun to watch these little guys jumping around), chickens (including a big warming box of little chicks), a couple pig pens (nicely appointed with a very inviting mud pit in the shade), a couple very warm looking sheep who gave Cathy the eye that they'd like to be sheared soon. A sandbox and play area for little kids, and a tire swing for bigger ones provides some diversion for little ones who grow weary of the music. During our walk-about we ran into a very nice reporter from Newsday who was taking notes for a story on this season's Backporch Concerts (click for program guide). When and if the Newsday story gets published, I'll link to it here.
The show started at 5:30 so we had already missed a lot of the first set (they did two) by the time we arrived. Admission was a very reasonable $7 for adults and $6 for kids (I griped about the kids fee at the time, but really you'd pay more than this to feed everyone at McDonalds - if you, shudder, wanted to do such a thing). We had prepared well for the evening, bringing our camp chairs and a blanket, and a cooler with a lot of cheeses, salads, and other munchies from Uncle Giuseppes. The Benners served up hamburgers and dogs and iced tea (although we had our own food, we saw the hamburgers looked really good for only $4).
The farm ran sound for the event which was done very professionally. Its hard to get a bunch of acoustic instruments to sound good at an outdoor venue, let alone keep them sounding good for the whole show but it sounded great the whole time I was there. It was obvious that at least one of the sound crew was either family or farm hand (more likely, both) as I've rarely seen sound guys who look like they get up early in the morning and work hard in the sun all day as this guy did. The band played on the huge porch of a ranch-style outbuilding apparently built for the purpose, sited at the lowest point of a semi-circular grassy dell lined by large shade trees and other smaller outbuildings. There was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out, I counted at least 100 people in attendance (though there may have been more - it was hard to count as the site is so big), the lot looked like you could fit about 70 cars max and they were shutting it down when we arrived.
The music was great, as always. Buddy can still crank out an amazing Mando solo or two as he did on Mason's Restaurant? I also enjoyed the instrumental he wrote for his daughter called Harmony Rose. Kathy Devine is still providing wonderful lead vocals and harmonies along with her (mostly rythym) guitar parts. She led the crowd in a fun tune about the last Coyote with a chorus of howls in answer from the audience. Carlos Cordero replaces Ernie Sykes on the stand up bass.
When I asked Buddy about Ernie he said, "Ernie's been gone for about a year now". "Oh dear, he passed on?" I asked. "Uh, no - although I see I could have phrased that better - we just don't know what hes doing these days."
Heh. The new Backroads replaces a Banjo player (Jerry Oland, who was great) with an equally good fiddler (have to get his full name, but I just remember Brian) which creates a very different sound for the band. Being a fan of the fiddle I have to admit I like the new lineup a bit better, but both were great. It was clear that they haven't been playing together as long as the previous lineup had, but they're sure to only get better as they go forward as each player learns what to expect from each other. Thanks for a nice evening, folks!
Please forgive the image quality. Forgot my camera, and took these with my old Motorola Razr, circa 2003.
I found this one (showing us in the audience) on the Nigel's Acoustic Bridge facebook page.