Sunday, September 28, 2008

Old Tin Can String Band; September 28, 2008; High Noon Saloon

The first time I went to one of the Old Tin Can String Band’s Sunday afternoon shows I had no idea what I was getting into. Blake Thomas and I stumbled in to the cool, dark bar from a bright spring day. For a few seconds I couldn’t see a thing, but I could already sense the commotion inside. As my eyes adjusted I took in an unusual sight, there were as many kids in the bar as adults, all of them eating pizza and sucking down 16 ounce Sprecher root beers. This time I knew what to expect, and, probably even more important, this time I wasn’t hung over.

Though the crowd wasn’t quite as large or the kids quite as high on soda this time, there was still a buzz of excitement in the room. After all, I’m sure most of these kids don’t get to spend several hours in a bar, and a lucky few even got to play on stage. Fiddle player Shauncey Ali and guitarist/mandolinist/bazukist Chris Powers both teach lessons and they invited some of their students to perform with them. Shauncey brought up a whole string of junior fiddlers, including an impressive trio, none of whom were more than half his size, in addition to a charming young man in a cowboy hat and an adorable little girl. Chris Powers also featured one of his students on guitar. All of them seemed quite comfortable on stage and not the least bit nervous, though I guess when you are backed by a band as good as the Old Tin Can String Band, which also includes Chris Boeger on upright bass and Pat Spaay on guitar, it would be hard to look bad.

While all of the kids were terrific, they were completely upstaged by the curly-haired blond named Cole who couldn’t have been more than three. Cole was sitting in the audience playing his blue guitar when Shauncey spotted him and called him up on stage to play a song with them. I’ve never seen a children’s guitar quite like this one, it had a pole like a cello and he played it upright watching Boeger intently the whole time. He strummed along with the band unflustered, even taking a “solo” at one point, and stealing the show in the process.

Other than keeping all the songs G-rated, the band doesn’t do anything different for their family shows than they do every Thursday night at Brocach. They’re still playing everything from Bill Monroe to the Grateful Dead, and that may be the secret to the success of these afternoon shows. It gives the parents a chance to get out of the house without hiring a babysitter, and it gives the kids a chance to hear some great bluegrass music. As opposed to much of children’s music, this is actually palatable to the adults. And the kids can’t get enough of it.

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