Life lessons: Being schooled by the Bums

Fairweather Bums
at Shebeen
May 22

I haven't been in school for a while, but I'm still learning things. Just last Saturday night at Shebeen, I was lucky enough to take away three valuable pieces of knowledge, life lessons in a way. In chronological order these were: 1. Do not attempt to take your underage girlfriend (20, not 17) to Shebeen. The bouncer will not let her in despite the place being a deserted restaurant. 2. Sometimes the payoff is worth the wait. 3. Bluegrass lacks a "Play some Skynard" type of drunk-guy chant.

With regard to #1, after I'd returned my youngster to her bed, given her some warm milk and her teddy bear, "We're off" was again the motto of my roommate Ray and me. Proud to show our driver's licenses at the door, we took a seat in the spacious (but still rather vacant) Shebeen and began to become intoxicated as we waited a little less than an hour for the bluegrass band Fairweather Bums to start.

Allagash White Hefeweizen was my choice for the evening, and Ray made bad jokes all night, which added to the fun.

After about half an hour, we overheard that the fiddler and bassist of the band would be arriving soon (the guitarist and mandolin player were already setting up), and lo and behold! the gentlemen eventually arrived. It was then that I learned lesson #2.

"Been all around this world," a Grandpa Jones tune, was not even a quarter of the way over when I came to the conclusion that Fairweather Bums is a fabulously talented group. Walking bass line and verse-solo-verse-solo structure allowed all the members of the group to shine in turn, but probably the most luminous was Nate Leaf, who was filling in for the group's usual fiddler. Leaf has probably the greatest command of his instrument I've ever seen in a bluegrass band– besides runs that were as complex as those found spewing out of a hair-metal guitarist from the '80s, he would slide his fingers up to produce different notes, producing an effect I've never heard before.

The rest of the group was extremely talented as well, notably the mandolinist who plucked through perfect solos every time. A traditional tune, "Angelina Bagel" (or something along those lines), was next, beginning with lonesome notes that occasionally sounded Indian in their turning, a very uncommon occurrence in most bluegrass. After this came "What a Life," which featured the group oscillating between a shuffle verse and syncopated chorus.

Fairweather Bums' ingenuity totally blew me away.

Lesson #3 was brought up by the by now-intoxicated Ray who wanted something to yell at the group. I suggested "Play something from O Brother, Where Art Thou?" but unfortunately he did not comply. We rather sat, letting out a reverent "whoo" once in a while, as the group continued to help me create musical memories.

Fairweather Bums