Winter Bluegrass Weekend

Winter Bluegrass Weekend!

It’s the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association‘s (MBOTMA) Winter Bluegrass Weekend this week, and I am very excited.

The Whistlepigs

The Whistlepigs in 2004 with 10 year old Catie Jo Pidel

I can’t remember how many times I’ve played at this event, but I’ve played there with three bands (so far!): Steve Howard’s Blue Drifters, the Whistlepigs String Band, and now Platte Valley Boys.

My first Winter Weekend was twelve years ago. My great friend Joel Olson (now playing banjo with Middle Spunk Creek Boys), had invited me to play bass with the Blue Drifters that January. All well & good, but even though I had played guitar since I was 16, and had played bluegrass music all over the state of Wisconsin when I was in high school, I hadn’t played bass before, and I hadn’t played in a band for 20 years!

That didn’t matter to Joel or Steve Howard (guitar) or Fred Keller (mandolin). Joel loaned me a Hofner Beatle Bass (not a bluegrass instrument!) to learn on and play in the band, and I dived right in.

True to every joke you’ve ever heard about bass playing and players, I played a gig with the band in early February 2003 after rehearsing with them twice, and having about 3 weeks to learn the instrument. I can’t say that it went all that well. But we played a couple more times during February, and I had my real debut in front of a MBOTMA audience at Winter Weekend 2003. If I remember correctly, we played on the main stage to an audience of a couple hundred. I think I wore sunglasses indoors for this one. It helped me to concentrate—and feel like I was hiding from the crowd.

The set was brief, and I don’t remember much about it, but I think it went well. The Blue Drifters, as the quartet that played that WBW, lasted through the summer, when Joel, Fred and I formed our own band, with Chris Jones on guitar—The Whistlepigs String Band.

Side Note: Another band had their debut at that Winter Weekend: Pert Near Sandstone.

The next Winter Weekend, in 2004, was the coming out party for the Whistlepigs. We had played one or two small gigs, and had worked up a lot of new material, but this was our first exposure to the MBOTMA audiences. This is a recording from that performance…

Time passed, and the Whistlepigs had a good run. Catie Jo Pidel (fiddle) joined the group in 2008. She’d been following us around the state and guest fiddling for four years already by then, and at age 15 we thought it was time. The band broke up in 2010, but CJP, Chris Jones and I played in another band for a few years, Po Boy Local 151, until Chris moved out of state in 2013.

Then at the beginning of 2014, Catie Jo asked me to join the venerable Platte Valley Boys. My first outing with them was January 31, 2014, but my first test in front of a MBOTMA audience was… you guessed it… Winter Bluegrass Weekend, 2014! We played the main stage, opening for Michael Cleveland who was running late because his bus had broken down near Eau Claire, WI. I think we got to play one or two extra tunes.

I’ve played many other venues, but Winter Bluegrass Weekend always holds a special place in my heart. Three debuts with three different bands at the same place. I love it!

Hope to see you there!

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