The other night at Parker Pie…

by Bethany M. Dunbar, June 25, 2010

The other night at Parker Pie…  That phrase is becoming much more common in my daily life.  Why not?  It’s right down the road from where I live.  The food is incredible — made with fresh local ingredients — I get to try a variety of microbrews, and every Thursday there is some kind of interesting live music.

Last night we heard Evan Crandell and the Too Hot to Handle.  This is an amazing group of college-aged jazz musicians.  The place was rocking out.  So much fun.

My sweetheart, Jim Bowes, works with Chris Crandell, Evan’s father.  The first time we saw them at the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier I realized I was looking at some familiar young faces — some of these guys had been coming to the blues jam at the Grange Hall in Greensboro for years each summer.

Sadly the blues jam has come to an end, but the music lives on and we heard it at Parker Pie last night.

About a week earlier we heard Mark Greenberg playing the banjo, and I thought, isn’t that the same musician who created the kitchen tunks CD I reviewed a few years ago?  Sure enough.  I’m posting that story below.

Thanks for the music everybody.  Keep it coming.

Take time out for a little kitchen tunk

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, 12-17-03

“Oh, those golden slippers, oh, those golden slippers.”

It is a familiar tune and has been heard in a million renditions in kitchens and town halls, church basements, school gyms, and fiddlers’ contests in pastures, in the rain, under makeshift wooden stages.

But if you think you’ve heard every version imaginable, think again.  A new compact disc called Vermont Kitchen Tunks and Parlor Songs includes a version of “Golden Slippers” done by Harold Luce who plays the fiddle, harmonica and piano all at the same time.  The listing in the pamphlet includes a parenthetical note explaining the situation:  “(foot operated rig).”  Apparently he plays the piano with the foot-operated rig while playing the fiddle with his hands and the harmonica with his mouth.

As I work on a review of this CD I find myself playing this song over and over again.  It’s not the quality of the music that is so astonishing.  It’s the idea that one guy could play those three instruments all at the same time.

A note in the pamphlet on Mr. Luce, who lives in Chelsea, explains that he started playing the fiddle at age 14 and in the early 1930s played with Ed Larkin’s Old Time Contra Dancers.

“While still in his teens, Harold devised an ‘outfit’ from wooden slats, rubber bands, an old harness, and sewing machine parts that allowed him to use his feet to play banjo accompaniments to his fiddling.”

This has to be quite a guy — not just a musician but an entertainer.  My bet is he was pretty popular with the ladies in those days.  He probably still is.

Of course if Mr. Luce was just getting started as a musician today he could do the same thing electronically by recording each instrument separately and blending them together into one recording.  But what a pale imitation that version would seem compared to the incredible talent involved in playing all three instruments at once.

This CD, compiled for a series called Music of the Earth, is all about pure, unadulterated music.  Raw music, we might say.  There is nothing pale about this stuff.  Its colors are rich and strong and deep.

Notice I did not say polished.  Kitchen music should not be polished, it should be spontaneous.  The only thing that really should be polished in the kitchen is the silverware and then only for Christmas.

The man who compiled this CD, Mark Greenberg, has a lengthy essay in the pamphlet.  He quotes Newton Brown of Hyde Park:

“If only the best birds in the woods did the singing it would be a pretty quiet world.”

This rough, wild music is as familiar to me as a comfortable chair or the woods where I ski.  I grew up in Craftsbury selling buttered ears of corn at banjo contests to raise money for our high school class trips.  The CD is like a reference for me — so many songs I knew so well but never knew their names.

I remember these tunes from kitchen tunks at the home of my high school buddy Poodie Griggs, whose whole family would get involved.  I remember Wilfred Guillette of Newport as a sort of unofficial patriarch of the fiddlers’ contests that eventually got too rowdy for Craftsbury Common and had to move to Hardwick.

Mr. Guillette is featured on this CD as is Ozzie Proof of Newport and Mariella Squire-Hakey of Glover.  Ms. Squire Hakey sings a sweet ballad, “Froggy Would a-Wooing Go,” unaccompanied.

We also find here La Famille Beaudoin doing French-Canadian classics, and the less-famous La Famille Maille who play “St. Anne’s Reel” and “The Road to Batach.”  The latter is one of those I know by ear but never knew the name of until now.

My only complaint about this CD is a silly one.  There are 49 songs (many are quite short) and only 24 musicians.  I am wondering about the absence of Bill Clark, Burt Porter and Friends, Tony Washburn and Dave Rowell and the Radio Rangers, Floyd Brown and his Country Buddies (he is mentioned in the pamphlet) and the regulars at the Wednesday morning tunks at the restaurant in Westfield like 92-year-old Evelyn Warner who still plays a mean harmonica.

Possibly these folks are, with a couple of exceptions, too young or contemporary to qualify as first-generation “Old Timers.”  If so, it’s just proof that the tradition is alive and well — at least in Westfield where the once-a-month coffeehouses still draw a crowd.  This leads me to suggest that Mr. Greenberg ought to get to work on another CD called Vermont Kitchen Tunks and Parlor Songs part two.  For short we could call it Son of Tunks.

Meanwhile I’ll be dancing around my kitchen while I do the dishes and listen to the first one.  Thanks to Mr. Greenberg and Multicultural Media for a fine, fine piece of work.

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