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Texas Trip - July 2001


Here is the diary of my trip to SAMFest, Texas in 2001 ~ this has been published in full in two UK magazines: Traditional Music Maker and Folk On Tap  


I’m writing this article sitting on a Jumbo Jet, flying economy-class back from Texas to England. The reason for this trip was to teach and perform at the 7th SAMFest (Summer Accoustic Music Festival) in Houston.


First United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas


As you might imagine, it’s hot in Houston in July so I really appreciated the air-conditioned environment we worked in. The festival was held at the Westchase Campus of the First United Methodist Church. ‘Campus’ is the right word as the venue includes a college, chapel and a large theatre space. The premises are only a year old and this was a first-class facility for the event. To give you an idea of the scale of things: the First United Methodist Church has 25,000 members.


Chuck and Peggy Carter


The festival director is Peggy Carter, herself a fine musician on mountain and hammered dulcimers, having won both the Texas and Southern Region Hammer Dulcimer Championships. Peggy was assisted by her husband Chuck, who developed and sold fine instrument cases as well as providing accessories for the players at the festival. I arrived early with Peggy and Chuck and folks started arriving from the surrounding areas of Houston, Texas and neighbouring states. In no time there was a sense of community that pervaded throughout the 3-day event.


SAMFest dulcimer class


I was commissioned to give a concert performance and to teach 7 classes. On the first day of the festival I lead a 3-hour ‘power workshop’ on guitar, teaching modal music in the Open-C tuning. I then gave three very well attended dulcimer classes: one on chords in the Ionian mode, one on the Dorian mode and one in the Bagpipe tuning. Peggy also asked me to include a class on arranging traditional music as well as a session on chanting and rhythm, which I lead sitting the group in a circle, cross-legged in the campus Chapel. Finally I lead a dulcimer ‘play-around’ on much the same lines as an English sing-a-round. I was really lucky to have good students, some of whom are graduate musicians, performers or teachers themselves. They were interested in my approach, asked good questions and participated eagerly in the lessons.


Rick Thumb


My concert performance was warmly received and resulted in very healthy CD sales. Just before hand, while I was warming up, a lady called Anita Bustamante started singing along with me. During the performance I invited Anita to the stage and, with minimal preparation, we sang a song together that sounded very rehearsed indeed. It’s always a pleasure to meet and work with new musicians. I also met David Moran and Rick Thum who are master hammer dulcimer players. Rick is also an expert maker of the hammer dulcimer and one of his instruments was raffled and won by a student of the festival.


with Linda Brockington


One lunch-time a novice player asked me to help her decide which one of two dulcettes (small dulcimers) she should buy. She gave me one to evaluate and gave the other to Linda Brockinton, another player/teacher. In no time we were making really nice music together and soon had a dulcette duet of the Beatles song: Let It Be. Later that night we performed this at three of the jam sessions. At the biggest of these the room lights were put out and we were lit be cigarette lighters being gently waved from side to side - it was a lovely moment.
I swapped (Americans say traded) CDs with some of the performers there and came back with a number of interesting new records to add to my growing collection of dulcimer albums of American musicians that I’ve had the privilege to work with. One of my favourites this time is a CD given to me by a student called Cindy Angel who plays flute in a group called Briar Rose.


Lorinda Jones at SAMFest


I already knew three of the tutors/performers from my tour of Kentucky last year: Maureen Sellers, Lorinda Jones and Steve Seifert. All three play mountain dulcimer and Lorinda also plays harp. Steve flew in from Nashville, Tennessee whilst Maureen and Lorinda flew in from Indiana and Kentucky respectively. Coincidentally both Maureen and Lorinda were up-graded to first-class seats on their flights to Houston. They became known as the ‘first-class dulcimer players’ and lived up to their name, in their individual ways, by performing with grace and aplomb. As I write I’m lying, stretched out across three seats on the plane, which is only half full. It’s not first class but does this make me a ‘laid-back dulcimer player ‘?  Steve and I shared a room at the hotel, which was very comfortable, and got to know each other a little better this year. We joked a lot and got on very well. 

with Stephen Seifert @ SAMFest


On the last night of the festival there were problems with the sound system. They were short of staff and the ‘gremlins’ were out in force. Because of my experience of sound engineering, I was asked to help out. With a little re-scheduling, some straightforward mic-ing techniques, a pinch of common sense and a lot of hard work we got a good sound for the show. And what a good night it was …


Rick Thum’s band gave an excellent performance, ably supported by Patty Amelotte, Frank Simpson and Lorinda Jones. It would normally be unfair to single out one artist for special praise, but there was one performer that night who, for me, was something really special: Steve Seifert. I had previously thought that Steve was on the par with the great guitarists of our time but he’s progressed further now, not only mastering his instrument but completely transcending it. He deservedly won a standing ovation for a solo performance of a jazzy/rocky number on the mountain dulcimer – taking the instrument to heights that no-one ever imagined possible.


… and to think I shared a room with that guy and we’d pull each other’s leg over a beer while watching some trashy TV, just before turning in for the night. People have said to me: “you went all the way to Texas for a 3-day festival – was it worth it ? “. Worth it ? – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

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