Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Almost Fixed!

Almost Fixed!
Originally uploaded by brotherphilwilder.
Here's Ike's guitar! All patched and glued and fixed up real nice by master fix-it man, Mike Horan at Mass Street Music in Lawrence, KS. I asked Mike to take a picture before he glues the back of the guitar back on. If all goes well, he is hopeful that Ike will have it back in his hands by the end of the week.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Enter The Tick...

It was Saturday afternoon behind Stage One at this year's Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield, KS. My wife, Kim and I were chatting with Dale Frazier, aka The "Tickmeister", and he told me that he wanted to apologize for always downplaying my past efforts to acknowledge his influence in the formation and development of The Wilders. He said that he had been thinking about it, and realized that when somebody gives you a compliment, you should shut up and accept it as graciously as possible.

Up to this time, out of respect for our shy and venerable Tick, I had only scratched the surface.

The Beginnings:

My first Winfield was in 1994. I arrived late on the first night in a Volkswagen van filled with two non-musician friends, a cheap Kay mandolin, a no-name resonator banjo and Fender Catalina flattop guitar set up dobro style. Although I watched a lot of music that weekend, I participated in none of it. I was too intimidated by the level of those playing all around me throughout the entire weekend, and I never opened any of my numerous cases even once. Humbled, I was nonetheless so excited by the experience, I vowed to vigilantly practice at home, and to bring another musician with me to Winfield the next year.

That second year, Betse and I camped out by the softball diamonds, and spent the weekend huddling around "The Fiddler's Fake Book". Betse had bought this wonderful spiral-bound bible from a vendor underneath the grandstand not long after we arrived. Inspired by the fancy fiddling of Tim O'Brien and Nickel Creek (the preteen version), she would flip through the pages, sight reading the strange, yet somehow familiar tunes, while I looked over her shoulder, holding on to the guitar chords for dear life. Although clearly we were out of our element, we knew we had something going for us when people kept stopping in the road next to our camp to listen.

So the next year we brought Ike with us. Now we had a guitarist AND a singer who actually knew all of the lyrics to some Hank Williams songs. We camped in our same spot, (stretching cheap K-Mart tarps over an old soccer goal to keep out the wind and rain that pelted us that year) and, not only attracted the attention of our neighbors in the campground, but several others wanderers who actually came OFF the road and INTO our camp to listen. By a stroke of luck, Betse signed us up for our first Stage V performance that year on Saturday night at 1am. You can see evidence of that important, first Wilders performance. as a special feature on our Live DVD. Nobody is arguing that we were short on talent, but long on potential.

Enter the Tickmeister:
I think it was Friday night of that year, that I heard Ike telling Betse, "Hey, I ran into Patrick Frazier's dad, Dale. He invited us over to his camp. I'd love to go play a couple of songs with him tonight." Ike had met Dale earlier in a the year at a jam session in a friend's basement in Kansas City. Betse and I sort of shrugged our shoulders and agreed, but I have to say, I had a little trepidation stepping so far out of my comfort zone. I had still never jammed with anybody at Winfield- choosing instead to hand-select my own musical partners and drag them down there with me. So, it was a big step for me to grab my dobro case and follow Ike and Betse into this strange territory.

Dale had given Ike pretty good instructions on his location, and I was astonished when I saw his encampment. As I remember, there were at least three diesel bus-to-RV conversions parked at 90 degree angles forming an impenetrable barrier to the surrounding campground. We moved past one of the buses' bumpers into the inner sanctum of the camp- where no blade of grass was visible due to the bus-to-bus blue astroturf carpet stretched out inside the perimeter. I remember thinking, BOY these people know how to CAMP. Anyway, Dale was there with his mandolin. After a few introductions and pleasantries were exchanged, we pulled our instruments out and started to try to jam. Dale was clearly the alpha jammer, and we all deferred- me secretly hoping to hell that he didn't throw me a solo. So far, so good. Then Ike sang a couple of his Hank Williams tunes and I got to see the Tickmeister in full flight. When a solo came his way, he didn't duck it. He grabbed it up with a bluesy gusto that was not only appropriate to the tune, but stylistic to boot. Even though I might have seen Chris Thile playing something onstage beyond my imagination earlier in the day, Dale's gutsy performance literally blew my mind.

And there was something else about him that made my night. He was FUNNY. There was a special comedic chemistry between Ike and Dale that laid me out in stitches for long painful moments. I don't have any recollection of what crap they were going on about now, but I know that, at some point, I begged both of them to stop before I hemorrhaged. In short, the whole evening was perfect. Betse got to play some new fiddle tunes she had learned from her fiddler's fake book, Ike got to sing some Leadbelly and Hank Williams songs, and I got to play a few rudimentary solos on my dobro. Best yet, nobody made fun of me. I had made it. I had successfully jammed. And Dale was the catalyst.

In subsequent years, Dale has been a mainstay to my Winfield experience. He's generally the first person I seek out when I get in the gate, and he's often the last person I say goodbye to before I leave. I've followed him throughout the Pecan Grove campground (where the jams go all day and all night) and said a ridiculous "good night" to him as the sun was coming up. I've learned from him how to find the best "action" in the campground, and when to move on when it's clear the life is dying out of a session. I remember the first year the Freighthoppers appeared at Winfield. Dale and I were both so stricken by Frank Lee clawhammer fever, that it was nearly a race between he and I, to see who could figure out how to do that crazy thing on a banjo. Well, within a year, we both figured it out on our own. But in recent years, Dale has eclipsed me on the banjo, as well as buck dancing, beyond my wildest imagination, and still remains humble about it (and will, I have no doubt, deny this praise to anyone who reads this).

So all hail the Tickmeister! He was there at our beginning. And he continues to inspire us today. He has often told me in private that WE did as much for HIM musically, as he did for us. I don't know about that. I guess you will have to check his blog to know his side of the story. I'll suffice it to say that without Dale Frazier, we would be a very different band- and maybe never a band at all. All hail the Tick!