At Mount Shasta music camp’s opening concert on Sunday July 4th, the fireworks came from violinist Billy Contreras. Those in the know jockeyed for position to see him perform. He stood in front of the informal audience of about eighty - students, teachers, and student teachers – his shirt tail out and his fiddle under his arm.
He described the piece he was about to play, the first song that his wife of five or so years wrote together, called “Blues In A Bottle.” His friends and contemporaries in the crowd chuckled. They knew something of what to expect. A full-on jazz head who plays fiddle with country icon George Jones, he’s also a deceptively good songwriter. Not yet thirty years old, he’s already burned out a time or two, but now seems headed in an unlikely and wonderful direction with his own music.
What followed was impressionistic and multi-tiered. After a bebop fiddle intro, he swerved into an off hand, barely sung delivery of a true life lyric, after which he and a bassist and drummer broke into a hard driving free section, then a solo over a more arranged chord structure, before repeating the lyric at the end. It was disarmingly fresh, and like much of the whole week at Shasta, encouraging. In one stroke he seemed to break apart stereotypes and rebuild his own genre with the rubble. This is the kind of music I need. It inspires creative urges, warms the heart, and gives hope for the future.
Mount Shasta is a dormant volcano in northern California, at the base of which is the little town of the same name. There are three crystal shops, and over one hundred thirty religions denominations in this town of maybe five thousand people. In the city park where the camp takes place, a cold-water spring bursts from the hillside and starts the Sacramento River. I was there this past week teaching, but the line between instructors and students was blurry, and I certainly took in as much information as I gave out. Siblings Tashina and Tristan Claridge are two more cutting edge string players who invented and run the camp, and its brilliant students are there by invitation only. A mid-week concert featuring all involved at a nearby college in Weed, CA has become a must see event for those within a hundred mile radius. Old time, Irish, Jazz, original songs, and more were represented. Here the older generation meets the new in a very laid back environment. My son Joel took classes and taught a few as well, and I just happened to be waiting in the lunch line Thursday when he performed a hambone routine with some fine swing players. At Friday’s lunchtime concert George Meyer, teenaged son of bassist Edgar Meyer and violinist Connie Heard, debuted a new composition, after which a couple of Edgar’s slightly older students, Punch Bother bassist Paul Kowart, and noted Jazz and Celtic fiddler Jeremy Kittle played a recent composition of Edgar’s. I left the camp on Saturday physically tired but musically recharged.
I’ll see several of the shiny Shasta campers this coming weekend at Greyfox. Two of the student teachers, Sarah Jarosz, and Alex Hargreaves, will be sitting in with Bryan Sutton, Mike Bub and myself on my Saturday night set.
My new recording “Chicken & Egg” hits the streets tomorrow, and I’ll be on XM Satellite Radio channel 13 with host Kyle Cantrell at about 12:30pm, playing tracks from the new CD. Later that night at 10pm Central time, I’ll be live on WSM radio with Eddie Stubbs. You can listen to that interview live at www.wsmonline.com.