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My Dream Gig


Jody Kruskal
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When moms, dads and kids come through the door, they are all greeted by the same question... “Do you want to make a train puppet”? Thousands of families have agreed that making make a train puppet would be just the thing at Ralph Lee’s Train Workshop Studio at the New York City Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx, a hands on family activity at the famous New York City Holiday Train Show.

Since 2013, streams of children have been making working models of an antique steam engine, while singing songs about the “...little puffer bellies all in a row...” and “Working On the Railroad”.

The NYBG has set aside a small room, where for a few weeks each winter, puppetry, song and community arts and crafts mingle to inspire all ages as they create a choo choo train play station and a temporary art environment that grows and changes daily.

Is this hard to imagine? It is certainly hard to describe! There are a number of nuanced and fluid activities all going on at once, yet in an orderly fashion. Orchestrating the flow and feel of the room are the Station Master and the Musician. These two costumed characters are dressed in overalls with the archetypal “brakeman’s” requisite bandanna and blue tick cap, a uniform of dubious authority... so mild that it could almost be janitorial. These two manage the room to keep Ralph Lee’s Train Station running smoothly.

As the musician, I play concertina, autoharp and sing train songs. I also curate the walls, continually adjusting the art to make sure there is always room for the next train to fit on the painted tracks that run around the walls past the farm, the town, the hills, the mountains and the desert. I also lead the hourly train parade where the young puppeteers dance their trains on a musical procession down the line.

Have a listen to station master Kristina and myself as we perform an Old-Time tune with Anglo concertina and Turkish spoons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nf9WOYq8BE

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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Hi Jody,

 

Just wonderful. The things you do for a buck when you're a musician. Yes I've done them too and yes they can be great (dream) gigs. "River Stay Away from My Door", that's a really nice tune. I should learn it on english, or maybe my anglo I've recently acquired. Are the dots handy somewhere?

Edited by Steve Wilson
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Have a listen to station master Kristina and myself as we perform an Old-Time tune with Anglo concertina and Turkish spoons.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nf9WOYq8BE

 

 

Very cool tune. An oldtime rendition of the Harry Woods tin pan alley song?

 

A Sinatra hit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkRGtrm69Kc

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This is the kind of tune I love - recorded in countless diverse genres, artists ranging from Paul Robeson to Charlie Knight and his Country Music Boys, with Barbra Streisand somewhere in the middle. This list just scratches the surface.

 

Great find, Jodie. It's a fun Anglo tune.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYi3J4tvXb4Charlie Knight and his COuntry Music Boys
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywszfPq2mEM Marcus Browning and his black diamonds
Edited by Jim Besser
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My dream gig was one we did last year, playing for a beer festival at a local brewery - free beer, free food, free camping, and we got paid!

 

My oddest gig was singing shanties to the (slightly bemused) Saturday afternoon customers at a large shopping centre, sharing the bill with a sword-swallower and his two lovely assistants.

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Station Master Kristina was fun to work with at the Train Show. This was just one of many tunes and songs we messed around with. No rehearsal, just informal public performance for five or six hours a day. Sometimes we would have 50 customers and be very busy with the train puppets and wall art. Sometimes zero customers and we would spend our time curating the art on the walls or singing songs for our own pleasure. We came to accept a random cycle of intense activity, and then extreme boredom. What a weird and wonderful gig!

 

Mostly, I played and sang solo and Kristina greeted the new arrivals. When Kristina was free though, there were shakers and spoons, train whistles and hand bells for her to enjoy... joining in on the music and sound effects. It was actually hard work to maintain our energy in the doldrums, in order to be ready for the next influx of excited train children and their families.

 

Often there would be charming small children whose antics and dancing made everyone smile. We did our best to keep smiling, and have a good time for the long haul. What a weird and wonderful gig!

 

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Yes, my hand straps have fuzzy sleeves. I sewed them to make it easier on the backs of my hands, where the tendons are just under the skin. I made them a few years ago to deal with a playing related injury and I've grown accustomed to them. My aggressive style, esp. while standing, can be hard on the tendons of my hands and the fuzz adds a cushioning layer that keeps me safe and makes me more comfortable.

 

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The Old-Time tune version of "River Stay Away from my Door" (derived from the well known song, as noted) is from fiddler Charlie Knight of North Carolina. Mr. Knight had an interesting take on timing and you can hear him play his eccentric version here: http://slippery-hill.com/M-K/GDAE/G/RiverStayAway.mp3

 

What brought this tune to my attention was the ear-popping interpretation and musicianship of these folks, Candy and the Canote twins:
http://stringband.mossyroof.com/RiverStayAwayFromMyDoor.mp3

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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