Once a year the Morgantown Wednesday Night Jam moves from its normal location at the Morgantown Brewing Company to Clifftop West Virginia, as part of the annual Appalachian String Music Festival (to see the full-up version on youtube, try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWKCUkR2w6Q ).
Wednesday night at Clifftop is famous because that is the normal night for the string music jam in Morgantown. So naturally the jam just moves to Clifftop, since everyone who is someone is at Clifftop. People literally come from around the world to visit this humble gathering. Since Kristian is from Sweden it is perhaps not surprising that there is a large connection with Sweden to group, but even before that people from Europe seem to really love our music and there are always a number of groups that attend.
Here is an awesome video (not sure who took it, but thanks, whoever you are) of the Clifftop version of our jam. Keith McManus, as usual, is the ringleader, with many other of the usual suspects from Morgantown WV present, plus the entire Swedish contingent, and a few other dozen stray musicians thrown in for good measure. One of the interesting things about our jam is that we usually have a couple of really good horn players, which gives it a little bit of a ragtime sound.
Despite being filmed in the dark, the video does an excellent job of conveying the festival feeling, and you can get a sense of what it is liked to be surrounded by the almost deafening sound of fifty or a hundred instruments. The jam, by its nature is completely unrehearsed, which results in a spontaneous kind of atmosphere. Not everyone sings the same words to each verse, and it's impossible to know exactly what is going to be performed on each verse. Everyone has to develop a sort of extrasensory perception in order to make it all come together.
Think of Woodstock, West Virginia style. Only we do it every year. So y'all come and visit next year, okay?
This song is entitled "Down the Old Plank Road." One version has been recorded by Stewed Mulligan group on their album Liv and Howl. I'm not sure about the origins of the song, but one of the early recordings of this song was made by Uncle Dave Macon in the 1920's. I would call this a "nonsense song," intended to make the audience laugh by telling jokes in verse. For example one verse talks about a fellow whose wife passes away on Friday, and then remarries by the following Monday. Ostensibly, the song tells a story about a person who was in prison, with an iron ball and chain to make sure he would not run away. The singer pledges that he "won't get drunk no more," down the old plank road. Back in the old days, wooden planks were sometimes used to create makeshift roads, in place of bricks or asphalt. We might question whether the promise to not "get drunk no more" will be kept.
Keith's version is similar to Uncle Dave Macon's version which went something like this:
Rather be in Richmond with all the hail and rain Than to be in Georgia boys wearin' that ball and chain Won't get drunk no more Won't get drunk no more Won't get drunk no more Way down the Old Plank Road I went down to Mobile, but I got on the gravel train Very next thing they heard of me, had on that ball and chain Doney, oh dear Doney, what makes you treat me so Caused me to wear that ball and chain, now my ankle's sore Knoxville is a pretty place, Memphis is a beauty Wanta see them pretty girls, hop to Chattanoogie I'm going to build me a scaffold on some mountain high So I can see my Doney girl as she goes riding by My wife died on Friday night, Saturday she was buried Sunday was my courtin' day, Monday I got married Eighteen pounds of meat a week, whiskey here to sell How can a young man stay at home, pretty girls look so well