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Have you noticed the red-winged blackbirds are back? I started seeing males about a week ago and now there are loads of them around. The arrival of these boys is a harbinger of spring, and if today is an example they’ve got it right.

I haven’t seen any females yet, but that isn’t unexpected. The boys come north first and check out the local real estate market weeks before the girls fly north to join them. If you’re not familiar with these birds, you may not be aware that the females look nothing like the males. Sure, their bills are similar but the female red-winged blackbirds are a dark brown bird with streaks and a yellowish area around the bill.

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Hey Aunt Katie, there’s a bug on me

Here’s the late great Melvin Wine.

Melvin Wine was a great old time fiddler from West Virginia. he was born in 1909 and passed in 2003. There are a few other excellent videos on YouTube besides this one, so if you like what you hear, check them out.

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York Railway Modellers Open House

I enjoy the weird and wonderful world of model railways and I have a soft spot for those individuals who are drawn into the model railway abyss. It’s a very serious hobby for some people. When I heard the York Railway Modellers were having an open house, I decided to visit. This is not the first time I’ve been in their building. Tuffy P and I visited one of their open houses several years ago and really enjoyed it.

These folks have rented an industrial unit just off Wilson Ave and over the years they have filled it with a fantastic, complex layout with an emphasis on getting the details right.

The place was hopping. There were quite a few families, many of whom came prepared with step-stools their children could stand on to get a better look at the layout in action.

There were also quite a number of men with big beards. Oh oh, maybe I’m part of the model train demographic. Ha!

My inner train freak is now well-fed.

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I’m continuing to follow Patti Kusturok’s fantastic 365 days of fiddle tunes. She’s at day 73 now, and she’s recording these while touring around the prairies playing shows with Jeremy Rusu.

Here is a John Arcand tune he wrote for Harry Daniels, a M├ętis leader…

If you love fiddle tunes, check out Patti Kusturok’s YouTube channel.

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I met up with Ted and Isabel today to play some Old Time music. We’ve been having these sessions regularly, and I am enjoying them so much. Ted and I had already been playing together for a while before Isabel joined us. We had a tune list and were working on improving our performance. Isabel knows many of the tunes Ted and I had been playing plus she’s introduced several tunes into the mix which are new to me.

I find these sessions to be exhilarating and so much fun! At the same time, they’re mentally exhausting for me as I’m trying to focus on listening to what the others are playing and adapt my playing on the fly. As well, with the tunes that are new to me, I’m trying to figure out how best to contribute as we’re playing them and I’m finding it’s taking a few sessions to fully start to feel one of these new tunes. Fortunately I feel comfortable enough to not worry too much about messing up during a session.

We’re starting to really cook on some of these tunes, such as Rachel (Texas Quickstep), Sandy Boys, Snake River Reel and Greasy Coat. We still have work to do on some of the others, but I feel they’re all coming along. I made up a list of tunes that either Ted and I or all three of us have played together so far and was surprised there were over 40 of them on the list. We play some of these tunes a lot more than others, of course, and I think for all three of us, some tunes are quickly becoming favourites.

Isabel introduced two tunes today – Old Bunch of Keys and Icy Mountain. I’m familiar with Old Bunch of Keys but had never tried to play it before. I don’t think I had even heard Icy Mountain previously. Homework. The first thing to do is get on YouTube and listen to various versions of each of these tunes, until I get those melodies stuck in my ever-so-tiny brain. I need to be able to hear a tune in my head to learn it. Sometimes in a session, when we flounder, we find a version of a tune we like and listen to it together, and that seems to really help.

I feel as if I’m becoming a better banjo player pretty quickly as a result of playing music with my new friends. I’m learning a bunch of new tunes more or less at once, and I’m also learning to listen and be sensitive to the other players. Although I’ve played with others some at banjo camps and festivals, more of my time has been as a front porch player, so this has been a fantastic opportunity for me.