June 13, 2010

Pickin’ in the Pinelands.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 3:43 pm

Last night, I did something I’ve wanted to for quite some time, which was to check out the Albert Music Hall and see if I could do a bit of pickin’ there.

As you can see from the website, the place has become a cultural institution in New Jersey. I had been to the old location many years ago, before it burned down. Back then, I went into the theater to see the show, which I enjoyed very much. However; what intrigued me most about the place was the musical action that was taking place in the parking lot. People playing all sorts of instruments (mostly stringed) clustered in groups and just played and sang for themselves and anyone who felt like watching – and many did.

The spontaneous parking lot “concerts” became part of the tradition, so when the new building was built, a “Pickin’ Shed” and a porch were included for those who show up with instruments and want to play (there are photos on the website).

So, I decided to give it a shot. I put my guitar (not the Gibson) in the trunk and headed over there to see how the pickin’ thing works. When I arrived, there were already about ten people playing in the Pickin’ Shed. Not knowing the “rules” (e.g.Was some minimal level of competence required? Does it cost anything? Do you need someone’s permission?), I asked one of the peeps, “Can anyone play?”

Answer: “Sure.”

With that, I took the guitar from the gig bag, watched people’s hands to see the key of the song everyone was playing and started right in. There were about a half-dozen guitar players, a couple mandolin players, a guy playing the dobro, a guy way older than I playing harmonica and even a guy keeping time with brushes on a share drum. After playing about ten songs, the guy who seemed to be the main guy looked in my direction and said, “The fella over there in the green shirt strumming that guitar… [i.e. me] … Would you like to sing one?”

Of course, I did not refuse. I sang one and then sang another couple tunes over the next few hours. I learned that players and spectators come in and out all night. Later in the evening, an absolutely amazing fiddle player showed up. He was kind of a goofy, happy guy who had no problem doing a bit of a crazy dance while he played. Truth is, I heard him play some serious stuff outside the shed, and I’m convinced that he must be an accomplished violinist who does the “fiddle” thing for shits and giggles.

I closed out the night by moving to the porch to play. It is my impression that the porch is where more serious players seem to congregate. The guy playing banjo was great. I just stayed on the fringe doing my damndest to keep up with the rapid-fire chord changes in bluegrass tunes I had never heard before.

My fingers are sore today, but it was a great way to spend Saturday night. Hell, I may well become one of the “regulars.”

Note: Be sure to click on the Video link on the website for background on the Albert Music Hall. You can also see the video by clicking here.

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