Dem Bones Dem Bones

Bones Fest V

BFV Group Photo

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Saturday night at Bones Fest V was an attempt to open our fest to the general public and give each bones player a chance to showcase their playing. And a showcase it was with contrasting styles, music and stage presence to an audience of approximately 100-150, many of whom had never seen the bones before! Both the old masters and relatively new bones players took their turns, and giving it their all, each and everyone a delight to me, as I saw the night unfold before my eyes almost exactly as I had envisioned it some months before. Fiddler Dave Reiner and his two sons again provided live music. 
The evening was divided into two halves with Spike Bones Muher opening the first half and Norm Conrad's Mini Minstrels opening the second half. Both Spike and Norm were given 15 minutes to do a more in depth presentation, Spike to give the general public an introduction to the bones and Norm to present his version of the minstrel show. Each of the other participants were asked to perform one number and keep their total time within 5 minutes. One performer, Nick Driver, played twice, the least we could do after he came all the way from England! 

Clearly every bones player did an outstanding job, but some remain as highlights to me. I want to retell the evening as I remember it with apologies to anyone I leave out or misrepresent. 

Don Decamp displays one of the most unique styles I have ever seen. He played "The Beaumont Rag" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," the former of which was just great. Later in the evening he and his son Larry played to a prerecorded version of "Alabama Jubilee" in a duet style and looked like they were standing in front of a mirror. The energy was just incredible and they just brought the house down.

Jerry Mescher once again showed an amazing staccato, syncopated style, reminiscent of rudimental drumming. Clean, yet full of emotion and powerful, Jerry's playing continues to amaze and inspire me. He played to a Joanne Castle recording of the Scott Joplin rag time piano classic "Maple Leaf Rag" weaving his magic and accompanying the music perfectly. An additional treat was Jerry's duets with his sister Bernie Worrell. Showing the style which certainly makes her an expert bones player in her own right and certainly the best woman bones player I have seen, Jerry and Bernie demonstrate a style of playing the bones as a duet which as far as I know Jerry and his father began, truly amazing. They played to a recording of the "Dark Town Stutters Ball" in identical western wear shirts and pants and were great!

For many years I have carried and played a set of bones made by Nicholas Driver. During Bones Fest V I not only got to meet Nick and see him play, but got to know him as a person and what a great experience it was. Easily winning the award as the bones player who traveled the longest distance, Nick thrilled us with his stories of his Grandfather, and his playing. During his individual performance he did a rousing version of Rag time Annie, and later thrilled us with a duet with Bonnie Dixon of acappella voice and bones, well done Nick and Bonnie! 

Saturday night included another great duet. Last fall I had the great pleasure of meeting Elwin "Shorty" Boulet of Whitefield, NH. Shorty just captivated me with his enthusiasm and energy and his great love of music. Seeing Shorty playing away with his eyes closed and emerced in the music is a great sight. He and Ernie Duffy of Campton, NH, a great player in his own right, gave us a taste of bones duet "New Hampshire" style on "Bow on the fiddle." At one point Shorty plays the bones of various points of his body including his head! Don't try this at home.

Russ Myers continues to amaze me in his subtle but intricate style changing tone in his inimitable way. Russ seems to play effortlessly and shows great command of the instrument as well as a real connection to the music. His rendition of "Golden Slippers" with Dave and his sons showed a great chemistry between the two and convinced me that emphasizing live music is the way to go at bones fest. 

One of the amazing things about Bones Fest is you never really know who will show up. Largely due to the local publicity by Bill Rose, we had the great pleasure of meeting Dave Gagne. Dave who lives in Princeton, MA, some 20 miles from my house, has been playing the bones for 60 years! Not only had we never met, I never even heard of him! Dressed in a western style shirt and hat, he displayed a great style playing "Down Yonder" and was well received by the audience and fellow bones players alike!

What truly may be the only bones playing opera singer and conga drum duet in history, Adam Kline delighted everyone with his strong vocals and unique bones playing. He and his friend Constance Cook played a rousing version of "Pick a bale of cotton" and had the whole audience singing and dancing in their seats. 

Space simply does not permit me to elaborate on the other great performances but they included: John "Mr.Bones" Cahill showing great style in dress as well as bones playing accompanying a tape of Polka's, Dr. Jerry Barnett's amazing stories and fine accompaniment on "Andy's Waltz" an original tune by Andy Reiner, Tim Riley an incredible young bones player and sailor from Mystic, CT displayed an intricate style on a set of Irish reels, Newsletter Editor Steve Wixson making an incredible transition to a two hand bones player and doing a superb accompaniment to a pre-recorded Doyle Dykes finger picking guitar piece, Joe Birl's entertaining stories and energetic version of Red Wing all done at the age of 85 years, Gerard Arsenault all the way from Quebec charming both in personality and bones playing, played to Dave Reiner and band playing an interesting French Canadian tune and wearing a wooden tie, Executive Director Ev Cowette's energetic "Black Mountain Rag," Donald Lee Clair showed his stuff on "Turkey in the Straw," Sally Carroll doing a fine version of the tune "Chinese Breakdown," Rob Rudin did a great job to Dave's version "Orange Blossom Special," Carleton Johnson demonstrating a unique one handed style with metal bones, 100th Bones Society member Tom Coyle playing energetically to the Swallow Tail Jig, Jim Nelson from Wilton, NH told a great story about local bones player "Happy Day" and doing a nice version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," Walt Watkins all the way from Texas did a great job on "Cripple Creek" and relative new comer Lisa Wilkins joining in on "Old Joe Clark."

Once everyone had been given a chance to play all bones players came up and all played together for several tunes (see photo on Page 4 of the Rhythm Bones Player, Vol 3, No. 4). The inevitable conga line formed and bones were played around the whole hall! At one point I stepped out of the line and watched as each player took their turn moving in front of me. I played with each one and what a great experience to enjoy each persons company! Although 32 bones players played on Saturday night performance several others were in the audience and joined in making the total 44 bones players. I can't thank everyone enough for coming and helping me see Bones Fest V become a reality. A splendid time was had by all!  Steve Brown

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