Friday, September 25, 2015

Whipped at Winfield

The "Big Fast Train" has done come and gone. Just as I said in that post, there was a point at Winfield where I had to actually sit down onstage and start playing the tunes I'd been practicing for months. Georgia documented it (below). There was a lot that needed to happen before then, though, and no, I didn't really get "whipped" at Winfield. It's just a fun alliteration. I'd use "Winning at Winfield!" (with more exclamation marks) but I didn't win.

The trip to Dallas to pick up our new Casita went well. We stopped in Clarendon and had lunch with Brianna and Quenten which turned out to be a good thing as they ended up moving (to Claremore...what's next?  "Clareless"? "Clarefree"? "Clare-by-the-sea"?) the week I was at Winfield. We picked up the camper- another undramatic event, except that I had a blown fuse which was promptly fixed at the factory- and headed north to my half-sister's place near Pilot Point, TX. I'd asked for all kinds of advice for traveling through Dallas and we ended up taking 45 to 75 to 380. That was a good route but I have to say, north Dallas was the worst part of the whole trip!  Lots of traffic, lots of construction, fast drivers. However, it still all went without event and we even managed to stop at the Cabela's in Allen, TX.

The Motherlode of Egg Campers

Checking out floor models while waiting

Getting together for the first time.

Out in the lot, ready to roll!

We'd stopped at Cabela's in Fort Worth on the way in and were disappointed. The place was full of screaming kids, merchandise was on the floor, and we just didn't find anything we wanted. Plus, we only had an hour before they closed and when they close at 7 pm, that means they empty the floor at 6:30 pm. The Cabela's in Allen TX was a lot better to us. The former is 250,000 sq ft and the latter "only" 100,000 sq ft, but the Allen store was cleaner, neater, and.... better. Maybe it helped that it was Monday morning and not Sunday afternoon. We scored all kinds of stuff on our list including a Benjamin Titan NP air rifle with a slightly cracked stock for less than 1/2 price. Derek's been wanting one of these for ages but I didn't want to spend $160 on one. This one was marked to $80 and we put it in the basket along with a pair of camo overalls for $20. We found a lot of things and the stop here was well worth our time. We also managed a stop at In 'n Out Burger but, honestly... it was just okay. I like Five Guys' fries better.

Cabela's in Allen TX

After that, it was to my sister's place, whom I haven't seen in 12 years or so, although we talk on Facebook. Her and her husband train, raise, and sell horses and we had a fun, although way too short visit. Derek and I slept in the Casita for the first time and started figuring things out.

Derek, Bryan, and Ky after a successful meal

We took off at first light for Winfield and stopped at Bass Pro in OKC on the way. Prior to this trip, I'd bought a Garmin GPS and, while I'm good with maps, this proved to be a useful purchase for navigating big cities. The main thing is that it warns you of upcoming exits and you get a little picture of what the exit looks like. Armed and empowered with this technology, we navigated into Bass Pro where we spent more money!

Bass Pro in OKC

And then, on to Winfield! Our GPS was pretty helpful here. I'd never come to Winfield from the south and didn't realize that I-35 turns in a toll road. So, we bailed an exit early and the GPS helpfully suggested a road that ran straight to the road I wanted. Finally, around 2 pm, we parked the Casita and breathed a big sigh.

One of my antelope hunters had given Derek a really nice fly-tying kit and I knew there plenty of experienced fly-ty'ers in our camp.

Coy and Derek tying flies

Proulxs and Donohues

The Casita. Camping.

The Famous John Beaver

Dugas and Moe

"Are you SURE you want to learn to play banjo?"
The evening flight of turkey vultures coming to roost

Winfield was fun. I didn't place in either contest and there was no question about that. I did better in the mandolin contest than I did guitar and got a lot of nice comments. One of the most appreciated was when Steve Kaufman- the original and for a long time only 3-time winner of the guitar contest- came over, pointed his breakfast banana at me and said "You played great in the mandolin contest! Smooth, clean, interesting... that was good!" 

Advice from Steve before the contest

Wanna hear my contest tune? Video!

I drew next to last in the guitar contest and that gave me about 2.5 hours to listen to the other guys, get tense, and think about what I should've done. I played pretty good, but my arrangements and execution, honestly, are not up to Winfield standards. But I paid attention and brought some lessons home. This year was tough.  Of the 5 finalists, 4 were previous winners. And at least 3 previous winners did not make the cut, as well as a few professional musicians there to try their hand at the contest. So, it was no dishonor to not make it. I think I could've played better and done more, though. Next year, maybe I will.

Here comes that train!

Picking away!

Warming up for the guitar contest

I didn't play well, but here I am.
My view

Derek slept well.

That was Winfield. It was a fun but tiring week and we drove 1400 miles round trip. On the way home, I decided that 2015 would be my last year. Next year, I'm going elk bowhunting or fishing or whatever. It's getting really hard to hear in noisy environments and I had a hard time participating in anything other than very small group conversations. So, I'm done. Of course, when I got home, I started learning new tunes and practicing. Maybe I'll go but just not say anything.

This is long enough.  Next time, I'll talk about cattle shipping and the End of The Year. Maybe I'll even have a photo of me opening a box of the Revised and Updated 2nd Edition of "Falconry Equipment".  We'll see.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Big Fast Train

The big fast train is here.  "What", you ask, "is 'the big fast train'?" It's a concept that I use to describe events that are a long time in the future and seem like they'll never get here.  Then, suddenly, they are here. I don't know if you've ever been out West (where the horizons are a long ways off) and watched a train coming, but you'll often see them way out there, sometimes as nothing more than a dot, a million miles away. You can sit beside the track and spit your tobacco (if you chew, and you really should quit if you do) and wait. Nothing happens. The dot doesn't seem to get closer but if you keep waiting, after awhile you'll start feeling the tracks vibrate a little. The train still seems a long ways off. When it gets closer, you can start making out details. Closer still and maybe the conductor will blow the whistle to warn you to get your foot off the track where you've been feeling for vibrations. And then, with a lot of noise and rumbling and flying cinders and whooshing air, the train is HERE! The ground shakes, the rails flex, your eardrums scream at the noise and commotion and then...WHOOSH!!!!.... it's gone. And off into the distance it goes until it becomes a small dot on the other horizon and before long maybe you don't trust that your memory was all that good and it really wasn't all that. So, wait for another train.

That's what long-anticipated events are like. You plan and prepare and it seems like the date will never get here and then, suddenly, it's here and like a fully loaded train, it sometimes threatens to just flat-out run you over.

My big train right now is "Winfield" or, as it's more formally called, the Walnut Valley Festival. This is home of the National Flatpicking Guitar (and other instruments) contest and this year, I'm entered in both mandolin and guitar. I did the guitar contest 4x- 1994, '97, '98, '99- and the mandolin once ('99, I think) but then quit contesting and just focused on playing. There is a maximum of 40 contestants, each of whom play 2 tunes. From these, 5 "make the cut" to the finals where they play 2 more tunes and from here, 3 are winners. It's a very prestigious contest and hard, too. On any given year, there will be 3-9 former winners and your first job, if you wanna make the cut, is to beat them. Also on any given year, only 1-2 of those former winners will make the cut themselves. It used to bother me that I competed for 4 years and didn't make the cut and then I thought harder about the fact that a lot of great players don't make it either.

This year, I needed some motivation to practice guitar and I was starting to feel semi-creative again after a long non-creative period, so in March, I signed up for the contest.  This kicked me into a frenzy of tune preparation and practicing. I could see the big train down the line and knew it was coming and I wanted to be ready. The train isn't quite here yet, but the tracks are shaking. Our truck is loaded up and tomorrow, Derek and I head off to Dallas TX and then up to Winfield. Once I get to Winfield, I'll be able to see the conductor and hear the whistle. At the end of the week- on Friday, at approx 1 pm- after being intimidated by 15 year old hot-shots backstage, I will step on the mandolin stage, sit down in front of the mic, adjust my chair, look at my rhythm guitar player, and then...I'll play the first note of my first tune. At that point, the train will be upon me. I'll be a little nervous, but with any luck, I won't forget, mid-stream, what tune I'm playing like I did in the guitar contest one year when I had to just rip around in the scale for a few seconds until I remembered and got back on track. On Saturday morning, I'll do it again in the guitar contest, but having- hopefully- survived the mandolin contest, I should be more relaxed. My goal is to simply make the cut. If I make the cut in either contest, I will pass out backstage and be the first person in the history of the contest to fail to make the finals because he's passed out backstage from excitement.

If you want to hear quick recordings of my contest tunes, go here. These were done with a simple digital recorder sitting on my desk, just so I could hear how the tunes actually sounded.

In May, I noticed that I'd started to put finish wear on the top of my mandolin neck. I bought this mandolin new in 2002 and I've never worn a mandolin neck before- 2 guitar necks, yes, but never a mandolin. I took pictures.

Finish wear in June

Finish wear in Sept

Underside of neck. 

So, why I am going to Winfield via Dallas?  Well, several months ago, I got it into my head that we needed a Casita travel trailer. Derek and I have been doing a lot more fishing, archery shoots, and just getting out and I would really, really like to have a little trailer that I don't have to pop-up and which has a bathroom and shower. The Casita fits the bill. The family was a little hesitant but one day we headed off to Clayton Lake to go fishing and I brought up the topic. As we came down the hill to the lake, lo and behold, can you believe it? There was a Casita travel trailer! The owner kindly gave the family a quick tour and our fate was sealed.

This is not our trailer. This is what they look like.
We're getting a 16' for the lower weight

I started earnestly searching for a used one but they are hard to find and the only ones I found were 7-9 hour drives away and, yeah the pictures look good, but who knows what condition they were really in? I decided to check prices on new ones and what do you know? Casita is having a sale. The price quoted for a brand-new trailer was barely higher than what I was looking at for 10 year old trailers. I figured that in 10 years, I'd have a 10-year old trailer instead of a 20-year old trailer, and so, thanks to generous financial donation from my mother, I ordered a new one. Lead time was 2.5 months and there, folks, is another big fast train. After all this anticipation and preparation, Monday, Lord willing!, we will hook the new trailer to our truck.

In other news, Derek and I have been fly fishing. After testing the waters ourselves, I decided to hire a guide and jump start the process. We ended up selling 2 of our doe pronghorn permits and using that money to finance a full day's fishing on our local waters. We learned a LOT and had a lot of fun. I hope this is something that we'll be doing more of in upcoming years. Thanks to Eagle Nest Fly Shack in, appropriately, Eagle Nest, NM

Derek's first Brown trout (yes, the fish was back in the water quickly)

Stalking fish pre-guide

Derek and guide

Last bit of news... "Falconry Equipment" is being edited by my co-author Jim Hodge as we speak. When I get back from Winfield- Lord willing- I will make suggested corrections and send it off to the printer. I should have copies in hand by mid-October, if all goes well.

It's been a great summer. I'm looking forward to fall.