I recently concluded the first season of American folk music concerts in La Jolla. It’s been a thrill hosting so many wonderful musicians over the last twelve months. I’ve put together a clip of some of my favorite moments. I’ll be taking a few months off to think about the next season and brainstorm ways to expand the audience and reach of these shows.
“Streak of Lean, Streak of Fat” is an old time fiddle breakdown that some people call “Hell Broke Loose in Georgia”. The tune’s name, I’m told, is an old expression referring to bacon. If true, I can add this to the very long list of old time songs and tunes I play that reference pork products. I was inspired to arrange it for clawhammer banjo after listening to a 1930 recording by the phenomenal Georgia fiddler Ahaz Augustus Gray. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor. Not only is the fiddling fantastic, but you’ll get to hear backup guitarist John Dilleshaw cracking wise throughout the whole thing.
Most of his comments seem clownish in their use of long-forgotten slang terms (“Tennessee Chicken” apparently referred to any kind of meat except that of the bird). Sometimes though, he speaks not as an entertainer but as if he is a passerby who happens to hear the tune: “Listen! I hear music…. why, that’s that old tune, ‘Streak o’ lean, streak o’ fat.'” The tune seems to evoke nostalgic memories in the mind of the fictitious passerby: “Boy, I danced many a night to that.” “Reminds me of when I used to carry that Johnson gal around and go dancing.” I love this tiny narrative because it seems like some recursive echo of my own listening experience. It’s kind of beautiful and slightly funny that a 21st century guy like myself (or any fan of old time music) using music to imagine the past would do so only to find this fellow in 1930 doing that very thing himself.
It was an honor to have Louisiana creole accordionist Joe Fontenot perform in my American music class at UCSD last night. Joe was born in the town of Mamou, Louisiana and grew up in a French-speaking home before moving to Los Angeles for work. I met him in 2015 at San Diego’s Cajun/Creole music festival Gator By The Bay. My own jug band had inexplicably been invited to perform and after we finished, as I was packing up I noticed an elder gentlemen with a heavy accent, old-school button accordion, and a particularly handsome Stetson hat setting up for the next act. I knew immediately that I needed to stay for his set and was not disappointed.
Last night, almost a year after Gator, Joe came down to UCSD’s La Jolla campus joined by guitarist Carolyn Russel share his music and stories of growing up in rural Louisiana, his occasional travels to the bayou regions, his Savoy accordions, and even treated us to a spontaneous and unexpected performance on the harmonica. A wonderful time!