I have been buried far, far back in the piney woods of east Texas for several days. I have come out for a quick touch of civilization before going back in. My intention is to stay at the campground in Pine Mills until Friday morning, May 22, when I will break camp and drive back to Luckenbach for the Memorial Day weekend.
Troy Miller is the male half of the duet T&C Miller. Folks in Luckenbach call him T-Roy for some reason. He is a profoundly gifted and talented guitar player in the same league with Dennis McMurrin or Craig Erickson. T-Roy's parents own a beautiful piece of timber next to Pine Mills, Texas, which has been owned by members of T-Roy's father's family since the 1840's. Carved out of the middle of it is a small old graveyard, oddly enough, because the timber surrounding it is now used as a campground twice a year for the spring and fall sessions of Pickin' in the Pines.
Pickin' in the Pines orginally developed as a outdoor gathering for musicians to get together at the Pine Mills campground for a weekend and play music for each other. There were no stage acts. In an effort to spare T-Roy's father the expense of subsidizing this gathering, stage acts were added and a very reasonable admission charged so that the public could drive in, camp for the weekend, and get to hear great acoustic music. And the musicians could still get together as before.
Typically, on Thursday there is an open mike night so that amateurs can come in and show their wares. Then professional bands play on the stage that T-Roy and his friends constructed on Friday and Satruday evenings from about 8:00 p.m. until close to midnight. None of that sounds very unusual, does it?
What sets this thing apart is the campfire sessions after the last professional has sung his or her last note. Everyone forms circles around campfires. Then the players in each circle take turns going around the circle playing and singing. These sessions go on for the rest of the night. I could make it until somewhere around 3:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., and then I had to go to bed. Cigar Box Steve always made it to sunrise without fail.
The thing about these circles is that the players have all different levels of skills. There are some beginners in these circles, and there are players who have been earning a living at it for years. Everyone is supportive of everyone else. It is very cool. As soon as I saw this, I realized I needed an acoustic guitar. The demise in 2005 of the garage band with which I played had thoroughly disgusted me and hurt me a bit, too, to be honest. I had put the electric guitars, the amp and the sound system away until my preparations for leaving Iowa when I passed the guitars and amps out to my son, my son-in-law, and David Murrell, who is a semi-pro.
Cigar Box Steve and I drove down to Lindale first thing Saturday, and I picked out a moderately priced acoustic guitar there. We celebrated with a huge store-bought breakfast in Mineola and came back. I played in a circle in the wee hours of Sunday morning and then again with a delightful bunch during perfect weather late Sunday morning and into the afternoon.
Pickin' in the Pines has been a transformative experience indeed. Here are a couple of the many great characters I met there.
This is Mike Low with one of his home-made dobro guitars that he had previously sold to the Texas Taliban of Blues. It is called a Low-bro. Mike also constructs guitars and banjos. He sold a newly constructed cigar box banjo to Cigar Box Steve over the weekend.
Making this man's acquaintance was truly one of the highlights of the weekend. This is Bradley Blackwood of Tulsa, the harmonica man. Over his career he has played with everyone—at least, the people he has not played with are not worth mentioning. Currently, he plays with the Texas Taliban of Blues, but a lot of the other players ask him to join them for a song or two.
I will tell you one of the major problems with life on the road right now. It is the problem of saying goodbye to people like these too soon after you have met them.