Archive for the ‘Journey of The People’s Mandolin’ category

The People’s Mandolin and the IBMM

September 23, 2011




        The People’s Traveling Mandolin has a permanent home on display at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro,  Kentucky. It was there for the Bill Monroe 100th birthday celebration, an event I had all plans to attend, but my illness forced me to stay home that week. (I’m better now. don’t worry) N.C. bluegrass kingpin Steve Leatherwood (WGWG 88.3 radio and Leatherwood Trading Company) and former Monroe bluegrass boy Yates Greene took it there for me.

        It was covered in signatures of famous bluegrass mandolinists by the time the weekend was over. Steve documented much of this on his FaceBook page and I will transfer some of those pics here over time. Thanks to Gabrielle Gray for a proper home fro the mandolin at the end of the journey. I can’t imagine a better place for it to rest.

        Also more info on the little mandolin’s journey is on my website http://www.themandolin

        Dr. B


The Journey of the People’s Mandolin July 2010

July 21, 2010

        About a week ago I got  a note from Tim And Vicki at Strawberry Park in Preston, Connecticut. They reported the People’s Mandolin would change hands at the Grey Fox festival held July 15-18, 2010.

        This was most appropriate.  The first proof copy of “The Mandolin Case” was delivered to us in New England at Strawberry Park. There we ran into Lisa Husted from Grey Fox. She was the first person outside of my immediate circle to recognize the relationship of music and healing in the story.  (Right away she became just as Harvey County to me as all the rest of us.)

        I wish I could have been at Grey Fox. The release of the book has been a whirlwind, and I found out real quick I wasn’t gonna be able to be everywhere I wanted to be. However the next best thing is to hear from them. Here’s the note I just got from Isabelle who passed the mandolin on this weekend.

        “I had the honor of having the Peoples Mandolin from June 1st until July 18th. I had Sarah Jarosz and Ron Thomason of “Dry Branch Fire Squad” sign it. I was sad to give it away, but I’m glad someone also gets to enjoy it for a month. I want to thank Tim and Vicky for picking me to play this mandolin for a month. I also want to tell Dr. Tom Bibey that this was a really cool idea and thank him for recognizing mandolin players and making them feel extra special. GOOD LUCK ZOEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


       Isabelle and Zoey are cute kids, and I’m glad they are part of the Journey. One person at a time, we’re gonna keep true music alive and well.

        After all, Lisa is right. Music has the power to heal better than pills for this old Doc, and we need to pass it on.

Dr. B

The Journey of the People’s Mandolin, June 2010

June 15, 2010

        This is my favorite photo from our trip to New England. It is from my friend Ted Lehmann, blogger and Northeastern bluegrass photojournalist. It’s one of those shots that captures so much of what I hoped to say with my writing.

 Here are three people of diverse ages and backgrounds, and yet through art they have a common bond. It’s like I said at Strawberry Park. “I know you must wonder what an old doctor from North Carolina and a pretty young girl from New England could possibly have in common. The answer is we both love mandolins, we both love the same music, and we both have families who love us. This makes us the lucky people.” 

        All of us who are that fortunate need to do what we can to pass it on, and I hope the “Journey of the People’s Mandolin” will be some small part of that process.

        Isabelle, wherever you are out there, when you pass it on get your folks to take a photo and send it in. Work hard and play hard. When the tough questions in life come around turn to your parents and grandparents to search for the answers.  See you down the bluegrass road, and take care kid.

See more photos at Ted’s blog:

Dr. B

The Strawberry Park Kid’s Camp “Teach Your Children Well”

June 14, 2010

        Today I wanted to update you on “The Journey of the People’s Mandolin.” On its second leg of the journey it stopped at the kid’s music camp at the Strawberry Park Festival in Preston, Connecticut.  We were there when Irene Lehmann handed if off to Isabelle, who was one of the camp children.

        I got an e-mail this weekend from Vicki and Tim, who were some of the lead instructors at the camp. They have a fine legacy in progress in New England; a very organized effort to pass the music on their children. All of us who love the music, and our children, can learn something from them.   

        I couldn’t help but contemplate what kind of world we might have if we all set out to teach our children music and not the hate and aggression that is so often passed along. I guess we have to have our dreams and our art to keep going. I believe they will make the world a touch kinder for their efforts. I posted some of the pics I took of the kids below. There are more on Vicki and Tim’s website at http://www. and also at Ted Lehmann’s blog. His address is:

        The book website is now google-able, and they tell me the Amazon link to order will be operational soon, so stay tuned. 

       All my best to Vicki, Tim, Isabelle, and the other camp children and instructors. You have my respect for your preservation of traditional music, and for your wisdom to “teach your children well.”

Dr. B

Kid’s Camp; Strawberry Park and The Journey of The People’s Mandolin

June 6, 2010

        “Is there an age limit for the kids in this class?”

          One child rolled his eyes. The director looked my way. “Have a seat, Doc.”

         I wish you could see all these young children at the kid’s camp here. They are instructed by seasoned acoustic musicians whose only reward is the satisfaction to be a part of passing it on. Saturday the kids learned a bluegrass number, a gospel song, and a fiddle tune. I thought back to when I learned to play. I sure did scratch up a bunch of records. 

        They even taught me one I didn’t know, “Hull’s Victory.” It’s a traditional number from 1702, so I guess it was a couple of years before my time. I quoted Sam Bush to the kids. “You can learn something from every mandolin player you meet.” I appreciate you guys showing me this one. 

        I met Isabelle, the child who is gonna have the “Traveling Mandolin” for a month, and also her parents. The kids are gonna play today right after Darin and Brooke Aldridge’s set. Isabelle will be given the mandolin at that time.  

       I brought my kids up in the music and they still play. I wanted to give them a gift that would last a lifetime. These kid’s folks feel the same way. The only difference is they have the good sense to be more organized about it. Mine learned in jam sessions with middle-aged men who chewed tobacco and went outside to drink some kinda near lighter fluid-like shine stashed in the bed of a pick-up truck. It was no kinda way to raise a little girl but she came out fine in spite of it all, as did my boy.

        A lot of folks here at Strawberry Park signed my proof copy. Zach of the Farewell Drifters picked it up and looked at the cover. He leaned over the table and flashed a grin. “Honest Lawyers?….”

        I laughed. “You bluegrass young’uns are always smart. My agent said it was imperative I show conflict on the cover and here you picked up on it with one look.” I’d spent a half day worried over the subtitle of the “Mandolin Case” before I opted for “Country Doctors, Honest Lawyers, and True Music,” and this young man had a read on it in fifteen seconds. Oh well, everyone in bluegrass knows how quick these kids are coming up behind us. We’re very proud of ’em all.

        The proof copy of “The Mandolin Case” has been given the green light, and the presses will roll Monday AM. Also my web site is due up any day, and I’ll post about that as soon as it is operational.

        As the project approaches release, I have to admit to a little apprehension. I hope it makes bluegrass proud; they have always done right by me. If y’all spot a typo let me know and I’ll correct it. It’s hard to get a perfect cut on the first take, but we all gotta keep trying.

Dr. B

Better Than I Deserve

May 29, 2010

        A friend of mine died a few months back. He was such a cool guy. Whenever anyone asked “How are you?” he always said, “Better than I deserve,” and smiled.

       I feel the same way. I started a blog in 2007 to learn to try to learn how to write. I had no idea where the journey would lead. The best thing to come out of it was new friends. Ted and Irene Lehmann were the first ones, and I soon found out they were true bluegrass. Ted writes one of the biggest independent bluegrass blogs around. They have become fast friends and we see them at most of the festivals we go to.

        Ted wrote up a post on “The Mandolin Case” and the “Journey of The People’s Mandolin.” I was touched by his kindness. Y’all go over and check him out at As my old friend would say, “it’s better than what I deserve.”

         Y’all remember Julius? He graduates today, and old Doc here is “”Professor for a Day” and will hood him in the ceremony. I’ll bet it ain’t every day a mandolin picking country doctor gets the honor. I was his community med mentor, and he said my rotation was his favorite. Hm. Maybe it was those jam session at the Bomb Shelter, or perhaps it was “Temple’s Law,” but whatever the reason I am honored.

        I wish I could tell you I’m the next Twain, but I am obligated to write the truth, so just me will have to do. But look at it like this. How many books do you have on your shelf by a physician bluegrass fiction writer who is also a Professor of Medicine for a day? It’s like a chance to get in on batting practice with the Cubs. Too much, but all fun. 

       Talk to ya Monday.

Dr. B

Thanks To The Journey People

May 8, 2010

        Before I launch into the series of posts on the writer journey, I wanted thank everyone involved in the “Journey of the People’s Mandolin.” I hope it will have a safe trip and wind up in the International Bluegrass Music Museum for its final resting spot.

        Most of all I want to thank my wife and kids. They have tolerated my maniacal doctor/picker/writer lifestyle for years without complaint. They love the music too, and they make my life very good. I couldn’t live without ’em.

       Ted and Irene Lehmann were the first to ask about the journey, and the mandolin is now in their hands. Ted writes one of the biggest independent bluegrass blogs in the world, and his documentation of MerleFest is the most complete I’ve seen. His web address is at:

        Gabrielle Gray heads up the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Ted knew her from his wide travels and got us in touch. She liked the idea for the people’s mandolin journey, and also believes it will make it home safely. Their site is: 

        Merlefest. They kindly granted me backstage access at Mandomania so all the artists I told you about this week could sign the mandolin. The emcee recognized me. “Doc, you’ve been to all of these haven’t you?”

        “Missed one. l couldn’t get call covered in 1990.”

        Merlefest is the granddaddy of acoustic music festivals on the East Coast. It is not all bluegrass, but has a variety of artists; something for everyone. Their address:

        Mike Lane is a professional photographer. I think I’ve seen him at almost every bluegrass event I’ve been to in the Carolinas over the last few years. He took the first shots of “The People’s Mandolin” for archival purposes and will recreate the shoot when the mandolin makes its way back to the Museum.

        Mike’s work is all over the Internet. In a paparazzi age of cold hard light of reality, Mike still opts for subtleties of soft glow early morning sun backlight or old banjo picker’s last tunes in long shadows of dusk. His palate is of burnt siennas instead of browns, and his images stir the imagination rather than slap you up side the head. I’m a snap shot picture taker. Mike is a photographer. His website address is:

        It is unusual for me, but I did post a few pictures today. I thought the Snyder kids were especially cute. One apology. I tried my best to post one of me and wasn’t able to. Maybe I’m a little self-conscious of one green eye and one blue one, or perhaps it was just one reader’s voice in my head.

        He said, “Doc, when you write about Harvey County I can go there in my brain and it takes me away for a minute. I hope you won’t spoil it with too many pictures.”

        Try as I might, I’m not a journalist. You can’t change what you are, and I’m only a physician bluegrass fiction writer who only dabbles in other genres. As the farmer said, “You gotta be what you are or you ain’t what you is.”  

        This week was hectic, and I wanted to document a lot of data in a hurry. But it also brought my purpose into focus. My writer soup has to be slow cook simmered for me to figure out what I want to say. I found it very difficult to create a post each day and still tend to my family and my doctor and mandolin gigs with the balance that satisfies me. I always was a harmony singer. So, come Monday I’m gonna get back to a “two-a-week” format, and start with some thoughts on the writer journey. See you then.

Dr. B


More on Mandomania

May 7, 2010

        There were three other mandolinists on the stage at Mandomania last last week. They might not be quite as well-known as the others yet, but this does not change the fact they are all superb players.

        It might be the first time one band (Missy Raines and New Hip) had two mandolinists on the stage. Ethan Ballinger was on your far left, and Dominick Leslie was on the other end of the stage. I think Ethan plays guitar in Missy’s band. He joked that he finished school with a degree in commercial mandolin. The idea this young man might not play mandolin on a regular basis and perhaps borrowed one for the gig is remarkable in itself. It reminds me  of a young man who used to fill in for us at times. Once I called and asked if he could cover the bass and he said, “Yeah, but I’ll have to borrow one.” Most of the players at this level play many different instruments well.

        I had not heard Dominick before this festival, but he was a very slick player. He has won a number of national level contests and should be a mandolin force for years to come. 

        Jason Norris tours with Alaska’s Bearfoot. I have run into him before when he played one of my mandolins after a show. Jason has an aggressive but clean style worthy of any mandolinist’s study. 

        All these guys signed the People’s Mandolin to kick off its journey. Like Rebecca Lovell, they are all very young, but very talented, and I look forward to following their careers over the years.

        Here are their websites: and

        Tomorrow I’m gonna sum up a few more MerleFest thoughts. Then Monday I plan to launch into a series on the writer journey, how I got into the writer gig, and share some insights as to how I came to see my book project through to publication. It is due out soon, likely no later than mid summer. The saga has been a wild roller coaster ride and more fun than the county fair. After almost a decade I’m just now at the starting gate, and I can’t wait to stretch out and run a while.

Dr. B

Rebecca Lovell

May 6, 2010

        Rebecca Lovell was the only female on the stage at Merlefest Mandomania this year. She was the first woman to win the MerleFest mandolin contest a few years back, and perhaps the youngest winner ever too, though I’m not sure of that. (She’s only eighteen now). She also signed my traveling mandolin.

        Back when I first started playing music it was in the days of rotary telephones and slide rules, and most everyone who played bluegrass music was old, male, and wore cowboy hats. Times have changed, and young people like Rebecca have proven you don’t have to be old and ugly to be a true artist. In the generation after me it was Alison Krauss and Alison Brown, followed later by Kristin Scott Benson. Now it is Rebecca and mandolinist Sierra Hull, and singers like my friend Brooke Aldridge. As Sierra has said before, “Bluegrass is no longer a boy’s club,” and we are all richer for it.

        Like these other ladies, Rebecca is not just a pretty girl; the kid can play, and I mean really play. She can pick circles around long time amateurs like old Doc here. She’s fast and smooth and plays with great tone; a remarkable artist for someone who has only been at it six short years.

        In spite of all her virtuosity, she remains a nice person too. Almost every time I’ve run into her backstage she’s got her mandolin out giving pointers to someone half her age. She plays, sings, and writes with imagination fueled by curiosity, enthusiasm, and a love of books. The kid must have been raised right, ’cause she is always respectful of her elders, too. I am proud to count her as a fellow mandolinist.

       Rebecca played with the Lowell sisters for several years, but her older sister got married and “retired.” (I’m sure she’ll still play some music along the way) Rebecca’s new band is called Larkin Poe. Here’s her website:

        As long as young people like Rebecca are in traditional music we are in good shape for many years to come. Y’all go catch one of their shows. They won’t disappoint.

Dr. B

Mike Compton (Bill Monroe-ish)

May 5, 2010

        The next Mandomania fellow I want to tell you about is Mike Compton.  He also signed “The People’s Mandolin.” He often wears overalls and sports a somewhat Telly Savalas haircut. As he has gotten older he began to wear these 50’s retro glasses. If you gotta have bifocals you might as well be cool.

        Mr. Compton can pick it all kinda ways, but he has Bill Monore’s style down better than anyone alive. Wayne and Darin both say he is the premier Bill Monroe stylist in the world. I told Mike this backstage. He laughed and said, “Tell those boys they don’t know what they are talking about.”

        Ah, but it is true. His powerful downstrokes, slides, and slurs are so reminiscent of Monroe it’s spooky. I am sad to report that Butch Baldassari and John Hartford are no longer with us except in spirit but while they were here they both said the same thing, and I think they know a little about it too.

        Mike earned it the hard way. Not only did he study Monroe’s work for years but I always heard he stayed on his farm in the summer where he split wood and mended fences in exchange for mandolin licks. If so, the boy wanted it bad. He got it, though. When I close my eyes I’d swear it was Bill Monore up there on the stage. Uncanny.

       If you’d like to study under Mike he does some webcam lessons, but I don’t know if he is full. One of my blog pals in Texas, rekx ( has taken lessons from him, and reported it was quite productive.

        Here’ s Mike’s address. Give him a shout if you have interest in Monroe style mandolin. He is the best. (Tell him Doc knows what he is talking about too!)

Dr. B