Friday, December 18, 2009

New Wilders 7" CLICK HERE NOW!

Hey everybody! Just wanted to let you know that we have a limited edition 7" vinyl 45 rpm single now available on our web site. The vinyl comes in pink/red or gold/yellow swirls and, like our 10" EP, will have a free mp3 download form included with each copy purchased. On the A side is a great original fiddle tune by Betse called, "Bull Shoals". On the B side is another original song, written by Ike called "God Made Me (a Little Crazy)". Free Dirt has only manufactured 300 copies, so get your's soon ok? Just click on the title of this post to go directly to our website.

Happy holidays all y'all...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remembering Mike Seeger...

It has now been a week since I learned of the death of one of my all-time musical heroes, Mike Seeger. Mr. Seeger succumbed to cancer in his home in Lexington, Virginia on August 7th, 2009. I needn't bother with a biography of the man. Others, who knew him well, have done a much better job of eulogizing him than I ever could.

But still, I'm compelled to add a few words in observance of his passing. I first saw Mike play back in 1995, in Winfield, KS at the Walnut Valley Festival. It was my second year at the festival, and being, at the time, a complete lunatic of enthusiasm for all things bluegrass and old time, I took in every workshop I could get my hands on. I attended Mike's "Odd Instrument" workshop accompanied by a young Winfield first-timer named Betse Ellis. I remember thinking, even then, that Mike was something special. Of course, the Seeger name was legendary. But Mike was more than his famous name suggested. He had a quietness, and a regality in his demeanor that spoke volumes about him. I remember how funny he was. While Kansas fiddler/guitarist Kelly Werts demonstrated how to play the spoons, Mike, who sat next to him offered his elbows for Kelly to clack upon. This was the nature of Mike Seeger, I think. He was always willing to do what needed to be done, in order to further the music. I can't remember if Betse and I went over to meet Mike after the workshop or not. At the time, it wouldn't have been out of character whatsoever for Betse to gush all over Mike. But one thing I do know, I walked away from that workshop a huge fan, and I vowed to find out as much as I could about this interesting little man with such a huge presence.

Over the next few years, I listened to a lot of Mike's recordings- both solo, and with his old time band, The New Lost City Ramblers. I learned how to play my own instruments with no little help from Mike's instructional materials for banjo, mandolin and guitar. And I fell in love with Mike's field recordings- made available to me via a two-cd Folkways collection, "Close to Home". The more I learned about Mike Seeger, the more I wanted to meet him.

I finally got my chance in May of 2008 when Mike Seeger AND The Wilders were scheduled to appear on the "Song of the Mountain" television show in Marion, Virginia. We arrived early in the afternoon, and as we were loading in, I saw Mike carrying an armload of instruments from his car parked in a solitary bit of shade outside the theater. Out of respect, (and out of being a little bit star-struck), I avoided talking to him backstage. There were a lot of other bands on the bill, and there was a rigorous schedule in effect. So I bided my time, and hoped a more casual opportunity to talk to him would present itself. Mike appeared first on the program, and I sat transfixed in the balcony while he quietly performed his set with a calm, self confident air. He demonstrated banjo styles, sang unaccompanied, and played a tune on the quills (a type of pan pipes traditional in some areas of the African-American south). Unfortunately, I had to leave the balcony before Mike was finished in order to put on my stupid suit- our own set was now just a few minutes away... Upstairs in the dressing room, as I finished tying my tie, I saw Mike coming up the stairs carrying a gourd banjo, an old parlor guitar and a small suitcase under his arm. I opened the door for him and ask if I might help. "No," he said with a grin, "I've got it...Boy there sure are a LOT of stairs." He lugged his load into the small room that served as his dressing room, and began putting the instruments away in their cases. I thought to myself, "this is your chance", but then chickened out- rationalizing that the man should be left in peace to stow his gear.

Soon after, we were onstage making our usual racket, and I caught Mike in the corner of my eye, watching from the stage left wings. I don't know how long he was there, but I remember being a little freaked out- worried that he might not like what we were doing to "his" music.

After the show, both Mike and I were busy with our respective cd tables, and by the time I had finished packing everything up, and had changed back into my street clothes, Mike was gone. Betse called my cell phone, and asked if I wanted to grab something to eat. Since I was starving, I agreed. As we walked up the street, I saw Mike heading into a pizza restaurant with two members of a bluegrass band that had also appeared on the TV show that night. There really wasn't much else open at that hour, and the possibility that I might actually get to pay my respects to Mr. Seeger was too tempting, so we followed him inside, and selected a booth just behind where Mike and the bluegrass guys were sitting. Then Ike and Nate called, wondering where we had gone to. Betse gave them directions. The walls of the booth were quite high, and with Ike and Nate now adding to the volume, I wasn't able to hear what was being said in the booth behind. I imagined the pearls of wisdom that Mike was bestowing to his captive audience in the booth- the history, the music, the stories... Ok, I'll admit it, I was jealous. I wanted to switch booths so badly, but ultimately, I was too cowardly to make a move.

Food was served, and eaten, and we were informed that soon, the restaurant would be closing. I could hear Mike and the bluegrass guys settling their bill with the waitress, and hurried to pay ours as well. This was to be my only chance, and I didn't want to miss it. Betse and I followed Mike outside the restaurant, and I made my decisive move. "Mr. Seeger," I said as he walked down the stairs. He turned and gave me a friendly grin. Then it began, "I just wanted to tell you how much your music has always meant to me, " I blurted out. "I don't think I would be playing this music if it hadn't been for you." The embarrassing gush continued, "I just wanted you to know how much it meant to me for us to share the stage tonight." By the way Mike looked at me, you would have thought that I had just spoken to him in Swahili. His eyes darted away. He turned toward Betse and he said, "I like some of them fiddle tunes you played tonight!" Betse was taken aback. "What was the name of that one...something about a mule jumping?" And just as soon as it started, it was over. Mike was no more interested in my praise than he would have been in a tin of moldering tobacco. It was all about the music to him. And I felt bad about it too- immediately. There was so much more I could have said. I wanted to ask him about "Buck Creek Girls"- an old tune his band had recorded back in the mid 60's. I wanted to ask him about Sara and Mother Maybelle Carter. I wanted to know what it was like to hear Roscoe Holcomb singing in the same room as him. These were things I had wanted to ask him for years. I would not get another chance. As we stood on that sidewalk watching Mike walk back to his hotel, Betse tried to console me, "That was nice what you said." But it was too late. I had blown it and I knew it.

But now that Mike Seeger is gone, I don't feel quite so stupid for gushing. In my own silly way, I was able to tell him that his music was important to me, regardless of whether he really felt like listening at the time. I take consolation that I at least I took the initiative to say what I said, and that I meant it too- with all my heart.

So cheers to the life of Mike Seeger. In a time where words like "Maverick" are hurled about by politicians like so much loose change, I contend that he was a mountain of a man. His impact on me remains, and I will miss him greatly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Wilders SELL OUT!

Wilders UK Summer Tour:

I'm propped up against the wall in the hotel room in Stirling, Scotland. I have just a few minutes to write before I head out for tonight's gig. I realize it has been a very long time since I last posted, but a lot has happened this year, and my blog writing has unfortunately been shelved to the back of the pantry.

Thus far, 2009 has been the year of the overseas tour. We did two weeks in the UK at the end of January, followed by another three-and-a-half-weeker in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Just a few weeks after we returned to the states, Betse came back across the Atlantic for a week-long teaching stint in Belgium, and two more weeks in the UK-touring with multiple artists from the US and Scotland, for her brainchild "Going Across the Sea" project. Now we find ourselves on another month-long overseas odyssey, starting with a week of dates in Ireland (our first time in the Republic), followed by a return to our beloved Scotland (where we now reside). This week, our tour is focused on the middle belt, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. But next week we will be heading north for a festival in Stornaway (a three hour ferry ride to this purportedly breathtaking island). Then we are looking at several punishing days in the van, with 8-9 hour drives each day, taking us south for three dates in England, and our final three dates to Wales. Although this is our 4th tour to the British isles, this time we are covering some very new territory, and thus far, our reception has been very positive.

Our first week in the Republic of Ireland was dizzying. On the 26th of June, at 6:55 in the morning, our faithful Scottish driver, Gerald, met us at the Dublin airport and escorted our poor, jet-lagged arses to his motel room to get a few hours of rest before loading us back up for a promotional appearance on RTE Radio One that afternoon. Our gig at the Seamus Ennis Cultural Center that evening was our first in the Republic of Ireland, and our first sellout show of the tour. It was a great way to start. The next day we piled into the van, driving to the south coast for a gig at the Cork Midsummer Festival. The venue was inside a vintage Spiegeltent, similar to the one we've played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the past three summers. The familiar surroundings made us quite comfortable, and we gave a spirited performance to another near sellout crowd of festival revelers.

Then it was out of the van, and into a small uncovered motor boat (which barely contained us and our belongings) for a cross-water trip from the mainland town of Baltimore, to Sherkin Island. The quick boat ride was somewhat sullied by the fact that it had started to rain, and so by the time we arrived at the landing, we were all soaked to the skin. But our Sherkin hosts made us welcome and soon enough we were dried out and rocking the small but enthusiastic crowd at the Sherkin Shindig. The next morning, I took the time to explore the ruins of an old friary near the boat landing, before we had to load our gear back into the boat for the trip back to the van. Luckily, the weather was much better, and Betse was even given the wheel for much of our return voyage.

The next two days, we got a real taste of the Irish pub scene, playing a showcase in Milltown Malby, County Clare, followed by a show at the well-known traditional pub in Galway, The Crane Bar. Both of these shows were followed by sessions of traditional Irish music that stretched late into the night. It was an eye opening experience to be sure- and the Guinness on tap in the pubs made it all the tastier.

We left Galway the next morning, and headed north for two days of concerts in Wexford, and Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. Both these shows were sellouts. The small twisty roads on the west coast of Ireland left their mark on me particularly, as I encountered my first car sickness in years. But the roads straightened as we got closer to Belfast in Northern Ireland. We played to a near-sellout crowd at a rock club in Belfast, and then headed back down to Letterkenny, County Donegal for our final performance in Ireland (on the 4th of July!), at the Earagail Arts Festival. A trend was now clearly established, as this show, in a very nice performing arts center, was also sold out. Apparently, the combination of us playing our butts off in the past, as well as some pretty deft promotional work by our agent, Loudon Temple, has begun to pay off.

On July 5th, we hopped back into the van to bid goodbye to the emerald isle and catch the ferry to Scotland. Gerald estimated that it would take about 2 hours to get to the departure terminal. But unfortunately our satellite navigation unit had other ideas. The route it chose for us was a scenic drive through some of the most beautiful rolling hills I've ever seen. The only problem was that the tiny winding roads were very slow and, by the time Gerald realized that we had been put on the wrong road, it was too late to turn back. So, for the next three hours, our van literally flew up and down the tiny roller coaster roads while I grew greener and greener in the back. Several times, I had to close my eyes and hold on to my seat to put down the urge to hurl my breakfast all over Ike's backpack (which was sitting at my feet). Not soon enough, we finally flattened out and joined the line at the ferry terminal with a few minutes to spare. Gerald breathed a sigh of relief once we were safely parked onboard. I think we were all quite happy to step away from the van for the relaxing three-hour ride across the Irish Sea. As I looked at the green shores of Scotland growing closer through the window of the ship, I felt that I was coming home.

So as to not belabor this post, I will condense our continuing tour dates in Scotland as thus:

Sunday July 5th- Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine SOLD OUT!
Tuesday July 7th- Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline SOLD OUT!
Wednesday July 8th- The Byre Theater, St. Andrews SOLD OUT!
Thursday July 9th- Eastgate Theatre, Peebles SOLD OUT!
Friday July 10th- Howden Park Centre, Livingston SOLD OUT!

That's pretty much the start of the tour in a nutshell. I will make an effort to give another report soon. But please stay tuned as there is a possibility that we may have a guest blog coming soon. Right now I've got to get to our sound check for tonight's gig at The Tollbooth Gallery in Stirling. I wasn't surprised to hear from Gerald that tonight's show is sold out too.

Cheers from the UK y'all!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Smoke break at the Wall...

Berlin, Germany- February 2009.

It had been a hectic day already, and Ike and I needed a break- a smoke break that is. We're not proud of it, but we both seem to have a weakness for cigarettes whenever we are in Germany. The band was in town to play a showcase at the Berlin Country Music Messe and both of us needed a break from the completely weird scene. The Messe (Festival), is unlike anything you can imagine. Don't get me wrong, Germans LOVE their country music! And, for the most part, they've got their image right too- with gigantic Stetson hats, expensive (previously) cold-blooded reptile boots, and huge rodeo belt buckles in spades.

But something gets a little warped in the translation. Its like Americana in overdrive and tipped just slightly off center. Along with the sea of cowboys, there are mothers and teenage girls wearing matching Little House on the Prairie dresses. There are the omnipresent rock-a-billy cats in full leathers.

Then there are the mountain men in buckskins, and, strangest of all, the indians. Maybe I'm just oversensitive, but seeing white people dressed up in loin clothes and war paint speaking German totally freaks me out. Anyway, we'd both had enough of it, and pushed outside into the chilly Berlin air to roll up a couple of fine tobacco cigarettes.

There were still a lot of people milling around outside, so I said, "Hey, let's go over and have a smoke by the Wall." I pointed to a stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing as a monument to the cold war 100 yards from the entrance to the Messe. Ike said, "Why the hell not? Yeah let's go." We strolled out the gate over to the remains of the wall.

Looking at it up close, we were both surprised to see how thin it was...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Craaaack! - The Sequel...

January 26th, 2009
Maverick Night at The Zebra Bar- Maidstone, Kent England...

I had just finished singing a solo tune on the banjo, and was waiting for Ike and Nate to come back to the stage. Betse came up the stairs and sheepishly said, "Uh, I guess I'm going to do a solo now..."

I looked over at Ike, who was now peering at me from the backstage door behind the bar . "Hey dude, we need you back here- and bring that roll of gaff tape". Then he whispered loudly, "I broke my guitar...again." I quickly fished into my banjo case for the tape and hurried backstage to find Ike, Nate and Gerald (our UK driver/roadie extraordinaire) hovering over Ike's guitar like field medics hovering over a soldier who has fallen on the battlefield. Turns out that Ike had inadvertently run into the corner of the bar while he rushed offstage to change a broken string. Unfortunately, his guitar had been between him and the bar at the moment of impact. Now, I know what everybody will immediatly think, "what was he drinking and how much?", but I swear to you folks, this particular bar charged us for water, so alcohol absolutely did not play a part in the breakage. And we weren't screwing around this time either (see "Hark the Herald Angels Craaaack! September, 2006) Link

This time, the guitar was broke and you had to chalk it up to simple dumb luck.

I looked over the situation. The bottom side of his guitar was split from just below where the neck joins the body, almost all they way around to the strap button. At the point of impact, there were shards of wood missing- which Ike had pulled from the guitar, and was now carefully placing inside a small Ziploc bag. I grabbed the gaff tape (the very-expensive theatrical equivalent of duct tape, but with a much less-damaging adhesive side), and started pulling off strips. It was slow and calculating work, as I tried to tape the guitar so that the seams met as cleanly as possible. Gerald, who had our, now-stalled show, and Betse's soon-to-be-finished solo foremost on his mind, grabbed the tape out of my hand, and went to work at 3 times my speed. We heard the applause for Betse, and knew it was time to get back. Gerald finished. It wasn't pretty, but we all agreed that it was officially "fixed", and Ike gave it a strum...the old boy was still perfectly in tune- although it was a little quieter, due mostly to the dampening effect of the tape. We moved back on stage and made it through the rest of the show without a hitch. In fact, we toured almost another three weeks before I heard anything about his guitar again.

Fast forward to The Haus Der Kultur in Waldkraiburg, Germany. I was changing my mandolin strings in one of the empty audience chairs before our sound check. I heard Ike call to me from the stage, "Hey dude, do you have any more of that gaff tape? I broke my guitar...again." This time he explained that he had caught the toe of his boot on a stair while climbing to the stage. As he fell, the guitar, which he had been carrying by the neck, caught his full body weight right on the strap button as he stumbled up the stairs. The previous UK crack now continued around the rest of the waist of his guitar. I believe that if it weren't for the tape and the neck joint, we could have actually lifted the top of the guitar off to have a look inside. The only problem was that the remainder of my gaff was now in short supply. We only had about a yard or so left to fix the whole top side of the guitar. We were in serious trouble. Ike held the seams together, while I carefully ran a single strip along the crack to complete a temporary suture. We finished off the roll of tape by applying some additional structural reinforcements, and then Ike picked it up and gave it a strum... It was about half again as quiet, but still almost perfectly in tune.

A lot of people ask why we care so much about this damned old fragile guitar from Sears and Roebuck. I guess its just that our whole sound was founded on this particular "snare drum with strings". But we are starting to think that maybe, (once the old boy is glued back together that is), it might be time to have a little retirement party. Anybody out there have an archtop with no low-end tone? Does it have absolutely no sustain whatsoever? Want to sell it? We're interested! We can't guarantee that we will always give it much in the way of tender loving care, but it WILL get played... Fast and Loud and Hard, man. And we'd gladly pay as much as $80.00 if its the right one...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tarmac Photos are the Best.

Nothing is cooler to me than seeing a photo taken from the tarmac of an airport. I remember watching newsreel footage of The Beatles touching back down in London after their triumphant first US tour. There were throngs of fans waving at John, Paul, George and Ringo. They all look a little freaked out by the commotion, but wave to the crowd before they are whisked away in their waiting limosine.

Here Ike is stepping off the plane into the cold German night. There's precious little in the way of a single fan, much less a throng. I guess the guy standing next to the plane counts for something...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Random Photo from Germany

Ike in Illerberg, Germany.

Style is difficult to achieve on the road. Most of the time, you look like warmed-over dog shit. If you want to look good, you need accessories. The moth-eaten orange and black scarf was later seriously fouled at Nate's birthday party in Switzerland, then it went missing for about a week, and then returned via German Post at the end of our tour in a tidy ziplock bag. Sadly, the stylish white glasses broke a few minutes after this photo was taken. But at least Ike will always have this photo to remind himself how cool they were.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fleeting Friends of the Road: A Tribute to Walker Wilder

Sometimes the miles we travel bore us into silliness of epic proportions. We were somewhere in the Scottish highlands, sleepy but restless, when I looked at the pile of blankets, kindly loaned to us by our booking agent, Loudon's wife. To make space in the overloaded van, Ike had hung the blankets from a headrest facing us. In our haze, the pile sort of looked like a friendly frog staring back at us. I took Ike's hat and set it atop the blankets. Ike took off his sunglasses and then the stage was set. We worked for a few more minutes, Ike adding a stray guitar string for a mouth, me wrapping Ike's jacket around his backpack for the body, then Ike's gloves became his hands. Then, as a final detail, a pack of Walkers potato crisps gave our new friend his namesake, "Walker", good old Walker Wilder.

Oh Walker, how we miss you. You were our quiet friend for a few days. We grew to love you, then you were gone. Your crisps were eaten right from your hand, your body was removed due to pressing need for the warmth and clean clothes they contained. God speed you dear Walker, in your celestial travels...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back in the USA!

So...we are back (finally!) from our long tour overseas. We flew to Glasgow, Scotland on January 15th, and flew back from Stuttgart, Germany on February 22nd. Over that time, we played something like 31 shows in 33 days. The trip was quite successful. We sold a lot of cd's and made a lot of new fans. And a lot of stuff happened. There are a lot of stories. But right now, I'm just too damn tired to write about any of it. I know you are hungry for more after such a long break. Thankfully, I took some pictures and shot a little video too. In the meantime, here is my footage of the last song of the night, performed with the crowd's help at The Tin Hut, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It seems as if everyone in the UK knows this song...

There's much more to show and tell. Look for many new posts in the next few weeks. Thanks, as always for your continuing interest in our endeavors...

ps: Hope you like the new look. I was sick of the old one. I VOTED FOR CHANGE!