Adam's Blog

MerleFest 2018 

My favorite forms of exercise these days are swimming and taking my dog on long walks (no this isn't a personal ad!). I never belonged to a swim team or anything like that but I joined the local pool about five years ago and eventually started swimming twice a week with some really great athletes who were college and olympic competitors that put up with my slow but burgeoning strokes.

After a particularly hard workout in the pool I had a message to call my mom as soon as possible. No one ever wants to hear a voicemail like that! It turned out my dad had laryngitis and couldn't make MerleFest for the first time in 30 years. Homespun, my family's business has a workshop stage that Happy emcees every year and we had decided that I would skip this year a few months ago. I was able to sub out my gigs and cancel my lessons and within a day had booked a flight from San Francisco to Charlotte, NC. I slogged out of bed at 2:30 on Thursday morning and left for the airport and made it to Wilkesboro, NC, by the Thursday night.

I was lucky enough to catch the last half of Kris Kristofferson's set and heard him play one the finest songs ever written, "Sunday Morning Comin' Down." After that Robert Earl Keen came out and killed it. What a start to the festival. I had an early workshop on Friday to get to and was pretty spent by the time REK finished with a rousing version of "The Road Goes On Forever." 

I got to the Homespun Stage and saw the stage manager, Karen, the sound man, Greg and Jim who was doing tech on the stage. They were totally professional as I knew they were from years past and the weekend started with a very nice workshop on thumb picking with Mike Palmer and Larry Nixon. It was a great start to the weekend's music and we were joined by a few terrific young pickers, Josh Gilforth and Jonah Horton. All these guys can flat out play!

As I settled in to my role as emcee, holding down the fort the day rolled on. A few standouts included Rosie and the Riveters, Roy Book Binder's "Greatest Blues Show on Earth," which I was proud to play a song on. He also turned me on to two new names to me who were incredible, Jody Carroll and Richard Ray Farrell. Roy is always entertaining and never ceases to amaze me watching his unique right hand style. 

Friday concluded with stories about traveling with Doc Watson with Jack Lawrence, T. Michael Coleman, Joe Smothers, Bob Hill and David Holt. It made me miss seeing Doc at MerleFest but his memory was properly celebrated and made me proud to have seen him play as many times as I did. 

Friday night was a late night watching Mandolin Orange, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, topped off by Southern rocker and country star Jamey Johnson who has pipes to kill for. As I wound down and crawled into my Holiday Inn Express bed, which made me feel no smarter, but was appreciative of all the same, I drifted off to sleep hearing echoes of the bluegrass root-fives.

Jet lagged and tired, Saturday was a hard wake. I downed some coffee had some rubbery eggs and made my way to the Homespun Stage to do a one-hour workshop that I thought would be empty but to my surprise there were actually people there who asked questions and were engaged. Who knew the festival crowd could be so hearty? I'm not surprised, really.

Still feeling a little like I was standing in the shadow of my dad I did my best to keep things running. It felt a little like I was missing a tooth without him there since my longest memories are of my folks being there.

My workshop was followed by Richard Ray Farrell's who channels old blues players and is deep in that tradition. Seeing him sitting in the corner as I was teaching a blues song I felt a little bit like a poser but I suppose I've spent enough time digging into old records that it's just my own insecurities and neurosis of which I have many! Richard, who I felt a real kinship to played like the devil and I was transported to the days of staying up late with my buddy Javier in Savannah, where I lived from 1995-2000. We used to stay up all night drinking whiskey and trying to figure out Blind Blake licks. 

I was spelled for a while for a lunch break but felt compelled to introduce my long-time friends Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink. These two women are known for doing kids shows but don't be fooled. They can play as well as anyone out there which they quickly demonstrated that opening their set with the Django tune "Dark Eyes" on uke.

I was taken aback by the depth and power of songwriters Si Kahn and Joe Jencks. I hadn't heard Joe before and his voice was as powerful and his guitar playing was impressive. He did a song he wrote with veterans that left no dry eyes in the room. 

Jody Carroll did a set that was potent and a lot of fun. He and his girlfriend Sigrid were incredibly gracious and sweet. We spent a lot of time jawing getting to know each other and I'm sure we'll see each other again down the road.

Mitch Greenhill closed the stage out with his presentation on being "Raised by Musical Mavericks." He presented slides, played a little and although it was too sparsely attended and should have been earlier or even scheduled for Friday, I was profoundly moved by his stories.

One of the hard things about running the stage was that I caught very little music relative to what was going on in The Pit. So many great acts were there but Saturday night I managed to catch Sam Bush who is always stellar and finally got to see Jim Lauderdale with Buddy Miller and the North Mississippi All Stars. What a set! Buddy played "Wide River to Cross" and the range of material was awesome. I was left feeling a great reverence for the breadth of music that is out there and all the amazing performers' skills. 

After the final set was over on Watson Stage I went to the Midnight Jam and caught Mandolin Orange playing with Tommy Emanuel, who I would have the chance to meet and hang out with on Sunday, Buddy Miller played "Bright Morning Stars" that was incredibly powerful. I worked up the nerve to introduce myself to Buddy and he couldn't have been nicer! I also got to chat with Luther Dickison whom I had met years ago in New Orleans. 

Sunday was equally hard to crack my tired eyes open but I had a Cabin Stage set with Joe Kyle on bass so I was also excited. We met at the Hampton Inn for more pre-cooked eggs and sausage and the always needed coffee. We ran down our tunes and set up on the Cabin Stage. I had to calm my nerves with a few deep breaths looking out over the expanse. For so long playing with my father at MerleFest gave me a certain amount of security and confidence that my playing would be accepted and this was the first time I was flying solo.

While I was missing Happy being there I was also looking forward to seeing how my own style and original songs would go over. I felt really good about my set. The cobwebs were expunged from my pipes in our rehearsal and I turned out to be in good voice. Having Joe there was so helpful too since I have an injured right middle finger which has impacted my fingerpicking. I can still do it but not with the same flow as when I have the use of my middle digit. After our set we got a lot of great feedback and I think I may have at least a new fan or two. 

After my set I caught the always-inspiring Alison Brown and later the Steep Canyon Rangers with Steve Martin. I also got a chance to hang with Jerry Douglas and Tommy Emanuel for a little while. They were so fun and it was good to get to know them a little bit. 

While I wish I could have been at MerleFest under better circumstances, I was grateful I could sub out my West Coast gigs and be there for my family to represent Homespun and my family. I don't know if I could have pulled it off as easily five or ten years ago but sometimes being thrust into something gives you the opportunity to show what you have.

I'm happy to report that my dad is on the mend and hopefully our next MerleFest will be together. I also have to acknowledge my wife for insisting that I needed to go and help out while she picked up the slack of watching our son. I also saw too many other friends, new and old, to mention in this blog but suffice it to say I'm grateful for the opportunity to be making music and be a part of something I love.

 

Live From the Kitchen Table Podcast 003  Podcast

Check out my latest podcast of Live From the Kitchen Table. I have some new songs and have dusted off some old ones too. I dedicated this podcast to my good fried David Ian Robins who sadly passed away a few short weeks ago. He was a man who lived life on his own terms and if he was on your side he would be the best kind of friend you ever had. Enjoy this episode!

Adam Traum
www.adamtraumguitar.com
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  1. LFTKT 003

A Visit to Larry Cragg's Shop and Other Musings 

I was in Marin County doing my usual teaching rounds when my friend Linsday called me to tell me he was dropping his new Collings D2H off with legendary guitar tech and repair man Larry Cragg. For years I've held Cragg in very high esteem not just because of his clientele, but also from the stories I've heard about the quality of his work. 

My Collings CJ had a buzz at the seventh fret for some time and since Lindsay was going to be there I decided to drop by and check out his brand new axe. I also saw it as a sign that I should get Cragg's opinion on whether I'd need a full fret job or if a set up would suffice. We immediately hit it off as we all are Collings fans. 

I walked into his workshop and my jaw nearly hit the floor looking at photos of rock gods and progenitors of modern music hanging everywhere Classic amps, soldering irons, cables and parts were everywhere! There was a rack full of guitars and cases strewn on one wall. Needless to say, I felt immediately at home. In the corner by the door was a painting of a Carlos Santa record cover that Santana had given to Cragg as a gift. He explained that Santana has been his client for over 40 years, even longer than Neil Young! The man is a veteran guitar tech and had some great stories to tell. In spite of being friends with many of the worlds rock icons, he was so unassuming and warm that looking at him you wouldn't know he was a legend among guitar aficionados.

I got a call back from him yesterday saying my CJ was done and we made an appointment for me to pick it up. I have to say, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. He straightened the neck, got my frets milled and "woke up" the top, a specialty of his. I have no doubt my trusted friend, the guitar, will sound better than ever and I will report soon with a sound file to share her newly opened up sound.

In other news, I've been working on some new songs including the attached rough mix of a tune I wrote with my friend Denis Loiseau. Jack Hines was nice enough to play bass on the track and I was playing mandolin, guitar and vocals. Let me know what you think of this new tune. 

I've also been gigging like crazy and I'm proud to see the seeds I planted in 2006 when making the transition from being a professional photographer and photojournalist to a working musician are taking hold. I'm inspired by the musicians I'm getting to work with and they make me better with each gig I do. One of the things I love about music is that there is always something to learn, someplace new to go and new territory to cover. 

Keep your eyes open for a second podcast coming soon. My first podcast got great feedback and I look forward to getting out my second "Live From the Kitchen Table" podcast. Enjoy your upcoming July 4th weekend and look for more blogs, videos, podcasts and songs!

Post Script:

I picked up my guitar yesterday and the neck is beautifully straight and it plays better than it ever has! Thank you Larry Cragg.


 

Live From the Kitchen Table Podcast 001  Podcast

Welcome to Live From the Kitchen Table, a blog and podcast with a series of lo-fi recordings that are stripped down and frequently done on my iPhone or other hand-held devices. I wanted to bring an intimate vibe to these recordings that put the listener right in middle of the music as it's being created. I hope you enjoy these podcasts!

Adam Traum

MerleFest 2014 

I was invited to attend MerleFest 2014 with my father, Happy Traum to play a few sets with him and help out at the Homespun Learning Stage in the Mayes Pit. 

Before I left I borrowed a Calton Case (a super protective fiberglass guitar case) from my friend Teja Gerken. He told me that the case used to belong to our mutual friend Scott Nygaard, a world class guitarist in his own rite, and that the case had already travelled to MerleFest at least once. I was glad to see it return with my guitar inside it. Although the Calton Case was a beast to carry I felt good knowing my instrument was well protected after seeing the video "United Breaks Guitars" a few years ago!

I flew into Charlotte, North Carolina, from San Francisco, and had a few hours of down time while waiting for my father's flight from Albany, N.Y. Once my dad arrived we rented a swanky SUV and rolled out to the Blueridge Mountains foothills where the festival takes place, in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Coming from the drought-stricken state of California I was reminded of how green everything gets and the immediacy of the dense humidity in the south.

I spent about 12 years living south of the Mason Dixon Line first in Northern Virginia and later Savannah, Georgia, and knew what to expect. But being there again reminded me of how my understanding of Americana roots music was deepened profoundly by hearing the sounds of the south including the breezes through the trees and the sounds of bass-filled streams everywhere! The sight and smells of lush fauna and flora came rushing back to me. 

After stopping for "dinner" at a Starbucks, which was really about the coffee, my dad crashed out since we had an early start and I went over to see Alan Jackson play on the main stage. I was expecting a country show with "Chattahoochee" and other Jackson hits, but was pleasantly surprised to see a star-studded bluegrass band with an amazing talented young woman sitting in on mandolin named Sierra Hull. Don Rigsby was on backing vocals and Rob Ickes was on dobro. Jackson was so relaxed and humble and said he was grateful to be playing with a great bluegrass band, and to be able to pay a tribute to the music he loved listening to growing up.

Friday morning Happy and I got down to the Mayes Pit and played our set. It went by incredibly quickly but it's always a pleasure to play with him. There were some amazing performances that day including Rory Block, Roy Bookbinder and many others. 

Rory Block put on a great show as always and amazingly continues to improve every time I see her. Roy Bookbinder has the most interesting sense of time. He studied with Pink Anderson and others but has a style all his own.

Friday evening I saw Tim O'Brien and Daryl Scott, two of my favorites. Man alive, those guys put on one of my favorite sets. A perfect combination of loose and tight! After the show I got a chance to say hi to Tim and met Daryl for the first time and was doing my best to play it cool. I had become a fan of his music when I saw him play with Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, with Patti Griffin and Buddy Miller. I was glad that he was so nice and didn't spoil the image in my head of songwriter and performer who was as cool as his music.

After that I saw another great band the Old Crow Medicine Show. I hadn't had a chance to see them live before and they didn't disappoint! It was a great set and they burned it up. 

Saturday I got a chance to play with Happy again, this time at Roy Bookbinder's blues stage. With my jet lag somewhat worn away and a set already under our belts my dad and I played a great set. Poking around online I found a video of us playing Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" which can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYw8IOFETWg

Saturday brought more great music including one of my favorites, the Sam Bush Band, that to no surprise threw down! They tore it up with traditional bluegrass and got way out on some jams that elevated the night to a new high.

 

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder were great as always with Cody Kilby and Bryan Sutton scorching the strings on their dreadnaught guitars. 

The sleeper of the night for me was hearing the Steep Canyon Rangers. They are a band that has a great approach to traditional music and write really good songs. Although they may be known for their work with Steve Martin, this is a band that stands on their own merits and I would recommend checking out one of their shows if they come around.

On Saturday night I corralled Joe Kyle, Jr. and Warren Hood of the Waybacks and Dr. Banjo himself, Pete Wernick to play a tune for the Midnight Jam. It was a madhouse backstage and onstage, but what a treat to play with these guys and for a responsive audience.

Sunday came around and I had heard a lot of bass players picking their "root to fives" and more Lester Flatt guitar runs than in the past year, but with a day off to hang and watch music my dad and I rolled over to see the Kruger Brothers, Jens and Uli, on the Hillside Stage. With the mercury rising with the humidity and precious few shady spots we got our daily exercise climbing up the hill to hear these Swiss-born and raised musicians brought Southern American roots music to a new level of elegance. Their sense of timing and space floated up through the trees like they were born in the Blueridge Mountains. As a side note, they moved just outside Wilkesboro to Deep Gap, just up the road from the festival.

Closing the festival was my son's namesake, Merle Haggard. I have seen Hag before, but it is always a treat to see him sing "Silver Wings," "Big City" and "Okie From Muscogee." His old-school country approach of playing the songs as they were written in a no-frills way always reminds me that a great song doesn't need a lot of window dressing if it's a great song.

My final thoughts on MerleFest are about not seeing Doc Watson there. I don't want to diminish the impact of the music and the success of the festival, but somehow it was like looking at the New York City skyline without the World Trade Center towers standing there. Something big was missing. Doc was a force of nature and even though his presence was waning bit by bit over the years he was always a beacon. Something that told me I was on the right path and that I had chosen my guitar heroes wisely. Time passes and legends pass, but honoring their memory by carrying the torch further is what has kept the roots music I love around for generations. 

On the flight home to California where the bugs aren't as big and neither is the hair, I was able to make some notes on the festival and what inspired me. To me, the wonder and joy of music is that there is always someplace new to go whether you are a player or listener. 

My MerleFest set with Pete Seeger 

When I was about 19 or 20 years old, I was  at MerleFest in Wilksboro, North Carolina, helping my parents man the Homespun Tapes booth. At the time it was a relatively small festival with mostly folk, bluegrass and old-time music in honor of the great Merle Watson.

Pete Seeger was playing and asked me to join him for a set on one of the stages. He also invited me to lead a song. I was so nervous and couldn't think of what to play. I was a rocker and electric blues player at the time and didn't have a traditional or folk repertoire. My dad said that I should just play what I feel comfortable with and so I worked up the nerve to play "Little Wing" by Hendrix on my little Takamine 3/4 sized acoustic guitar.

Pete was so gracious and after my song said it was "unfair that someone so young could be so good." I was honored and humbled to play a set with Pete and will remember that day clearly.

When I heard of Pete Seeger's passing I was saddened that our world lost one of the best people to ever walk the earth. RIP Pete Seeger! We'll miss you.

Traum Family Band Gig in Woodstock, N.Y. 

In May I got a call from my dad  inviting me to play with him at the Byrdcliffe Festival which happened to fall on Father's Day this year. My sister, April Traum, a great drummer and percussionist in her own right was also on the gig. I flew across the continent from California to my hometown of Woodstock, N.Y., with my wife and son to play a little music and have some much needed vacation time. It didn't take a whole lot of convincing to get my bassist, Jack Hines to come along as well. We got in late the night before the gig and only had a little time to rehearse and sound check but were pretty much flying by the seat of our pants. The concert was held in a beautiful old Catskill Mountain barn that mercifully was not too hot! 

With no expectations other than knowing it would be a good time, we reconveined at the barn after sound check to a steady stream of people making their way in. It looked like a full house! I saw people I hadn't seen in a long time and it was a wonderful musical homecoming. Most at the gig hadn't seen me play a public show like this before and I was a little nervous. Happy started the show and as I took the stage my nerves quickly calmed. We took turns leading songs and and my sister would come up on stage and lay down a groove on her old Ludwigs when it felt right. John Sebastian, an old family friend joined in on some tunes playing a beautiful harmonica and Jack sat in the pocket like he does so well. The hour and a half set flew by and the first Traum Family Band show was by all accounts a great success. It was the first, but I hopefully it wasn't the last!



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