BEFORE THE POP, CRACKLE AND HISS

ANNUAL FOLKWORKS PARTY

By Larry Wines

[Ed. Note: The FolkWorks Annual Party is presented for members and supporters of FolkWorks. Larry’s appreciation represents a small snippet of the evening’s happenings. It is also representative of the jam sessions that occur all over Southern California year round.]

FW Party Around the CampfireI'm sitting in a music circle around a fire cauldron's gently dancing orange flames. Some will know what that portends before they read on, but for others who have never experienced music this way, allow me to explain.

This is the gods' own stereo. Orpheus would approve. The left channel -- my left ear -- is attuned to the fiddle of Michael Kelly of the band Sligo Rags. His band plays Disneyland. A lot.

My right ear is focused on Melanie Nolley of the string ensemble the Sweet Set, and her fine Irish fiddle.

Now the left channel has added the mandolin playing of Roland Sturm. On the right, another player is Steve O’Loughlin alternating on flute and Irish whistle.

Across the circle, Annette Siegel just took a lead on her vintage mandolin.

Now, right next to me, there's banjo joining-in, in the hands of Steve Shapiro. And on the left a hammered dulcimer , Judy Gamerol, is added to the mix.

Players and instruments change with each tune, and some feature vocals. Michael Kelly has switched ti bodhran. It's a melodious kaleidoscope, from traditional Irish reels and jigs to Old Joe Clark to New England fiddle to minstrel banjo.

The best headphones you've ever worn cannot come close to this. It's absolute stereo. And while the sound is coming now from all over, what the right ear hears and what the left hears are, altogether, parts of something the brain delights in unifying.

To think, music was once enjoyed this way by nearly everyone. And only a few generations ago. Before it came from the single-point source of a Victrola horn with pops and crackles and hisses. Before electric amplification and speakers inside car doors that rattled the windows if they were rolled-down. Before arena shows with threshold-of-pain speaker towers.

Perhaps this is simply elemental, organic music-making, not much different than a workout routine is for athletes in training. Or perhaps this surround-sound immersion in individually-identifiable vibrating strings transcends simple collaborative, cooperative group music-making.

Tonight, in the fire's glow, I'll tell you without hesitation that this is auditory magic. And I don't care if skeptics or the jaded believe this description is too much of a superlative, too hyped. They're not here. And if they don't get it, I pity them for not having had, and being able to understand, the sheer joy of the experience.

You can read Larry's Acoustic Americana Music Guide with its extensive descriptions of upcoming folk-Americana and acoustic renaissance performances, and its companion, the Acoustic Americana Music News; both are updated frequently. He contributes regularly to No Depression. Contact Larry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..