"INTERNATIONAL BLUE GRASS INCIDENT"
While it is still fresh in my mind, I want to tell some of my music-loving friends back home in the US about our bluegrass group that
played last night at Kibbutz Tzora's Folk Club, about 20 miles outside of Jerusalem.
As you may know, I am leading a pilgrimage to Israel that includes several good friends from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our guide
Mike Rogoff and I talked about folk music many times during our free
moments riding on the bus between religious and archaeological sites. Before
I knew what was happen- ing, Mike invited me to the Tsora Folk Club, where folk music from all over the world --including American folk, gospel and bluegrass music - is performed in a coffee house, small stage environ- ment that I remembered from the 1960's in New York. The bluegrass group (always one of the favorites), had lost its
banjo player for the evening, and I was asked to fill in. The evening began with singles and duos singing sets of Celtic music, Weavers, ballads and some original compositions. A sad lullaby of Kosovo, a freeway song about life that reminded me of "Mountain Railroad," "Seven Daffodils" from the Limelighters, and "Nine Pound Hammer" were among the titles I remember.
When it was our group's turn on stage, it reminded
me of the "bluegrass band
scrambles" that are a part of our own Santa Fe Bluegrass Festival - little time to rehearse while scrambling to discover lyrics, leads and keys that everyone could play.
Our lead guitar player was Lynn Lewis, who runs the club each month with his wife Judi. He lives on the kibbutz, programs computers, and had sung semi pro in England for a while. He wears a neatly tucked ponytail and full beard, and he was a very friendly man that I liked
immediately. On mandolin was Paul Graham, originally from England, on an old
Gibson "A" model. An audio technician who works independently for groups who film in Israel, he has lots of enthusiasm and skill on the instrument. He said
he imports bluegrass music
and supplies from Elderly in the US. On bass, which was a beautiful homemade
guitarron like those used in Mariachi bands, was Marc Gittelson, a broad-shouldered man with a beard. The
instrument had a 5th string added in the bottom register, and he was a quick
study for everything we played. He lives on a
kibbutz near Eilat but works
during the week in Jerusalem.
Another guitar player,
Philip Griffin, joined us
later -- his home is Sydney, Australia. He is a very good flat picker with a hand built Australian guitar. He is a full-time musician; his wife is a reporter for ABC television in Australia. Lynn loaned me a nice banjo with good tone and action (I
believe the brand was "Leo" by Fender).
We did a set including "Whiskey", "Lonesome Road", "Old Folks" and "Nine Pound Hammer" again, and had hummers and clappers in the
audience with us from the
very beginning. Lots of warm applause and thanks
afterwards, hugs and
embraces that were almost uncomfortable, and clear
evidence that music is an
international language that provides a meeting place
for people of diverse back-
grounds and origins. Hearing the familiar American tunes in the accents of people from places that are literally as far away from each other as you
can get on the planet in terms of distance and culture was an experience of connection. To have the instinctual musical sense of how tunes are
constructed, where the turn arounds and the tags fit, and how to build to the
strong ending - was just what we expected musically,
and what we expected of
As we left, we all wondered when we might be able to do it again. How had we blended together so magically, and how fun it
would be to play long into
the night and lift together the toast of friendship.
I will remember our band always as "The International Bluegrass Incident" and the name says it all.
Editor's note: The above article is taken from a letter written by Dr. John H. Cushman, Pastor of the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The church often hosts bluegrass groups, including Blue Highway, Ralph Stanley and Doyle Lawson. It also hosts a monthly afternoon jam which features local talent. The church's "Stained Glass Bluegrass Festival" has generated funds to build three homes in the community with Habitat for Humanity. John is
part of the "Southwest
Pickers" that produces the Santa Fe Bluegrass and
Old Tyme Music Festival in
Santa Fe, New Mexico. He won the bluegrass banjo
competition in 1997 and was awarded the bronze belt buckle. "There wasn't much competition that year," John says, "but I don't plan to return the belt buckle to the judges."