I got my hair cut Tuesday. Every Tuesday night, there’s a local bluegrass jam there after the barber shop closes. I’ve written about that before but it took two years or so for me to go back.

Spectators are discouraged and so when one of the guys took a break to have a smoke outside he handed me his guitar and told me to play.

It was one of those oddly stressful but not in a bad way moments where I thought I wasn’t ready but discovered that I knew quite enough to chop my way along with them even though I didn’t know any of the tunes. By watching the left hand of the guy on my left I was able to muddle through.

It seems spectators are discouraged because of a group chemistry thing. With an audience there is a pressure to perform rather than just participate and enjoy. It all makes sense now that I’ve sat in once.

They don’t follow the bluegrass algorithm that I learned from a friend (and a book) where each instrument takes the melody line for one round and it passes around the circle. Instead, each guy picked a song, announced the key, and sang the melody.

Since I was new, they passed me by at my request although not without some pressure.

It was pretty exhilarating and good in the makes-you-practice sort of way. They’re all friendly but I wonder if this is the sort of thing I should set myself up for. The answer is undoubtedly yes; I had the same questions about my first job interview and that was obviously a no-brainer.

I guess it’s good to have a list of things you want to do; it’s better than boredom and watching reality TV.

My friend who wanted to do the guitar stuff has bought a house which has got him too busy to mess with it now which is just as well since I find I have to learn a lot of electronics first.

Luckily I have a good friend who is not only a whiz with electronics but also willing to teach it to me.

Then there’s the acoustic guitar project. I need a large number of a special type of clamp that will gently but firmly hold the pieces while they’re glued. They look easily home made to me and so I embarked upon a project to build them. Thus far, things have gone great but I’m in the middle of production and that’s annoying since I have my machines set up a certain way and can’t move them until I’m done.

It’s all good though. I like having stuff to do.

Here’s some things I’ve learned that I didn’t learn from a guitar teacher.

1) if you say you know how to play even a little guitar, you’d better be prepared to play something. It can’t just be a riff from something, it has to be a real tune although it need not be something the listener knows.

2) If you attend a jam, spectators are not allowed. You better be prepared to sit in and play.

3) At a jam, it’s actually pretty easy to figure out what chords to play. Most jam tunes are in the I, IV, V progression which is easy to chop your way through.

4) It’s a bit less stressful to play with people you don’t know. Something about preconceived notions or something.

5) If you don’t totally suck; if you can play and sing at the same time and can avoid sharping and flatting, you’re probably good enough to actually be in a band. The singing thing eliminates 90% of the population.

6) Thou shalt tune your instrument carefully. The difference between harmony and caterwauling is very small.

I mentioned my excitement before about an old friend buying a coffee shop that just happens to be around the corner from my office.  When I visited it the first time, I mentioned that some of my guitar playing friends should come in and jam some time AND THAT WOULD BE OK RIGHT? He agreed – anything to get people in the door and if any other customer happened to be entertained then so much the better.

The next time I had lunch with my guitar-playing friends I suggested that coffee shop as a potential jamming spot.  At some point, they visited my friend’s coffee shop and worked out a schedule.  Last night, I stopped by there after work to listen and fun was had by all.  While they played away at one end of the store, the manager ran the coffee bean roaster on the other end of the place.  So there was live music and fresh roasted coffee all at the same time.

We were the only ones in the place.

All I can say to the people at this end of town is:  you missed a great time as well as the freshest coffee anybody is ever likely to taste unless you roast your own beans.

I don’t mean to suggest that I made anything happen; I only seek to document the pleasure I feel at seeing something come together.  I wonder how you get the word out that there’s a good time for free to be had right in our own backyard?  Not exactly free I guess but a cup of coffee is pretty cheap.  Plus, they have free refills.

I went to see Tommy Emmanuel at the Performing Arts Center last night.  He’s the most awesomest guitar player ever.  Just him and a few acoustic guitars.  Maybe in the afterlife I can play like that.

Here’s why I like old-school barbershops.  Read on…

I started going to the local barbershop years ago when I got tired of going to the sports-themed family haircutters who charged a lot and where I never saw the same kid twice.  They always had to be instructed as to what number of clipper attachment was to be used on my beard,etc.  I figured that since there was a storefront with a striped pole within a quarter mile of my house, I should probably just go there; especially since my hair is as ordinary as it gets.  I certainly have never needed a “stylist”.  And it was less than $10.  Even now, it’s only $11.

My childhood memories of barbershops involved sitting on green Naugahyde seats framed by chromed steel tubes and lots of sports magazines.  And cigarette smoke.

Well, the local barbershop is exactly that minus the cigarette smoke and the old Naugahyde chairs.  Apparently he once had the Naugahyde chairs but replaced them in the early ’90s with his old living room furniture when his wife redecorated their house.  Then he bought a church pew when the church across the street renovated its sanctuary.   Sure, he has the sports magazines but he also has National Geographic, Private Pilot and whatever else his customers leave there.  I don’t care much about sports – too much to keep track of.  My world is complex enough without having to remember what all the sports teams are doing.  But the memorabilia he keeps on his walls are all local stuff – often signed by whoever is in the photo.  There is a refrigerator with soda and water.  You just take what you want and drink; you can pay him later.  He’s not a stickler for the money for the Cokes.

The best part is:  he remembers my name and how I want my hair cut.  And the fact that he sings in a barbershop style quartet in his spare time.  That’s just cool.

But yesterday, I found something else to like.

I had planned all day long to get my hair cut on the way home from work and then managed to forget about it.  When I remembered, it was nearly 6:00 which is when he closes.  I went anyway thinking that maybe I could get in but there was a line.  However, he had not locked the door so I went on in and he told me to sit down but that it would be late.  I was last and it was nearly 7:00 when he finished up with me.  It was then that an old man came in with a guitar case.

Instead of telling the man that he was closed, my barber just greeted him and started talking.  As their conversation went on, I realized that this was the first of a handful of old guys that met there every Tuesday night to play and sing bluegrass music.  Something in the way I asked about it made the guy ask me if I played and would I like to sit in?  Well, I didn’t sit in but I did stay there in a chair as about seven retirees came in, set up, and started playing.

My barber packed his stuff and made ready to leave.  I asked him if he wasn’t staying too and he said:

“Nah.  I’m going home.  It’s OK, these guys have a key, they’ll lock up when they’re done.”

That’s what I like about old-school bluegrass guys.  And barbers.  And small-town attitudes.

After they played their first tune they decided to figure out who I was; they were not used to having an audience except at the retirement home where they play on Thursday nights.  One guy switched to fiddle and tried to make me take his guitar.  I should have.

So I have a standing invitation to go play with these guys but I was told in no uncertain terms that if I showed my face in there again, I’d have to show up with my guitar or there would be trouble.  They would hold me there till I played with them.  It’s not often you feel that welcomed by strangers.  But any bluegrass guy will tell you that there are no strangers in the guitar circle.

I was mystified by the tip jar.  And then it hit me:  they all put in tips to leave for the barber in return for using his shop.

I hope I have the nerve to show up again and play guitar at the barber shop.  But there’s not a one of them there that’s under the age of 75; I’m not sure I’d know their tunes.  But they swear that all the tunes are easy.

I’m about to lose my Dad license by not documenting a huge deal:  Evan and his garage band had their first gig Friday before last.

They got a chance to play at this joint called “The Tree” in Claremore.  I don’t know who the headliner band was but Evan’s band was about four levels deep so that they were playing really early; right after the place opened.   The venue insists that they play all original material so they had a pretty hectic several weeks running up to it to write and rehearse three tunes but they got it done.

Evan reported that night that he thought they did pretty well “considering” which means they actually did pretty poorly.  Apparently the venue was starting a new sound guy that night so that the balance was way off and their monitors were not working.  This made it really hard to play with each other.  The whole thing was pretty alien to them and so they forgot the last bit to their last song but of course the audience didn’t realize that.  From the photo or two that I saw, the crowd consisted of friends and girlfriends of friends.  No matter, they got some extremely valuable experience and Evan did a bit of networking with the owner; thanking her for the opportunity and all that.  Perhaps there will be a repeat performance one day after marching band season is over.