With the easing of the pandemic, the summer bloomed with music. Learning to play the tenor guitar was my defacto pandemic project. Three years later I was ready to venture forth with my new skills along with my friend, and neighbor, Kelsey in our newly formed duo “The Ribbon Ridge Girls” the name pertinent to the rural area we live in.
We kicked off with the Tenor Guitar Gathering in Astoria, Oregon in early June, a gathering of 4 string guitar aficionados. Kelsey plays a standard guitar but she was more than welcomed. The tenor guitar came about in the late 1920s when banjo was going out of style. Those out-of-work banjo players had guitars made with tenor banjo necks with the same tuning CGDA so they could still be employed. It’s tuned in 5ths rather than 4ths of a regular 6-string guitar. The sound of a tenor guitar is brighter and a good complement to a regular guitar. It faded away in the late 1950s and currently is experiencing a resurgence. Tenor Guitar Gathering is special as it is the only event in the world that celebrates this instrument.
This was an intimate affair of around 100 friendly participants plus local participation at the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday morning we packed the historical Astoria trolley strumming and singing tunes along the waterfront. There were various workshops offered and in between, we sampled the beer, baked goods, and coffee that the town has to offer. Astoria also has an array of vintage stores we visited. At night we jammed in the local motel we stayed in along with the featured musicians. A high point for me was meeting Tyler Jackson in person, my virtual guitar teacher from San Antonio, Texas, who was performing and teaching at the event. We won big in the raffle, Kelsey won a guitar (which she later donated) and I won a year’s worth of virtual lessons from an award-winning musician back east (woohoo!)
In late June we traveled up to “Voce Works” sponsored by the Centrum Arts Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington. This vocal camp took place at Fort Worden State Park, a former military outpost that operated in WWll. Lodging is in the dorms of servicemen that lived there in wartime. It offered workshops in different styles of singing such as Balkan, shape note, Latin, and harmony.
We had an amazing experience taking a gospel music class in the black tradition from Dr. Kathleen Bullock a well-known musician in her own right and a scholar of black music which had its roots in Africa. I was grateful to learn about its fascinating history. No matter what spiritual leaning you might have, singing this type of music will reach down in your soul and make you fly. My 94-year-old mother passed away the second night of this event. Per my request, I asked Kathy to sing my mother up to heaven the next day with the class. Dang- we did just that with the song “And When I Rise.” By the end of the song, the entire class had tears streaming down their faces including myself. Sorry, I don’t have a recording to share. I was too big of a mess to make one. Such a memory…
After taking a class in performance techniques we got up the nerve to perform 2 songs at the student showcase where the classes and individuals sang. That was our public debut as “The Ribbon Ridge Girls. We broke the ice there and we got a good reception to boot! Wrapping up Voice Works was the “Polka Dot Dance” with a live country music dance band open to event participants and the local community including children, who probably had the most fun of all. Polka dot attire was encouraged
We had our second chance to perform at the first annual “Make Music McMinnville” part of the worldwide “International Make Music Day” on the solstice, June 21. The town had eight venues with amateur musicians of all genres playing all day all for free. We were squeezed in the middle of the set with the Rendezvous String Band that Kelsey sings vocals in and performed Rueben and To Ohio, the same songs we did at Voice Works. One more event!
Wrapping up the summer we just returned from a weekend at the Tygh Valley Bluegrass Festival. This event was tucked in the pretty little Tygh Valley in Central Oregon. We camped amongst our musical friends in the RV I co-opted from my husband. I wrote the words “The Ribbon Ridge Girls” in black marker on the side- a band bus you know. At the very last minute, Kesey and I entered the open mic. contest and came away with a prize for the best gospel music song for the song I wrote “Hole in the Wall.” It’s more of a social justice song with a gospel style but there was nowhere else to put it. If nothing else it further built our confidence. Besides the featured bands, music could be heard playing all over the campground including our area on into the night.
Music has this magical way of smoothing out all the rough spots in the background of one’s life. It’s been a great diversion from the matters at hand. When I was in high school back in the early 1970’s I had a secret dream of being a folk singer like Joan Baez or Judie Collins. That dream died as some dreams do early in life. Now in my late 60’s I decided to try again even with my aging memory. All those lessons, practicing, pushing through the awkwardness of learning a new instrument, and committing to learning music with another person- it’s all paying off in fun (fun, not fame is the payoff here). For those of you considering taking up a musical instrument later in life, – go for it. Better late than never. Enjoy the journey.
Photos, videos and artwork by the author
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