I don’t remember when I first performed music in front of people. But I was probably doing piano recitals around the age of 7-8 (1965, if you’re keeping score at home). I sang with the Landon Boy’s Choir on the Ranger Hal TV show in Washington, D.C. sometime around 1966 or 1967. And from then on, I was on one musical stage or another pretty much non-stop through college. I played in orchestras and jazz bands at school, and sang in the madrigal choir (yes, we wore silly clothes). I formed 2-3 rock bands and played at shows and dances. I played bass in the Duke Symphony, sang bass in the Duke Chapel Choir, and played viol de gamba in the Early Music group. I was the electric bass player for a series of performances of the Bernstein Mass, and the double bass player for a series of performances of Handel’s Messiah.
I loved it. I loved playing music with other people, I loved seeing the audience respond to the music, and the musicians respond to the audience. Yes, applause is the single most addictive drug there is – don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I’ve rarely felt so alive as when I’ve been on a stage making music with good musicians.
Somehow, from the time that I left Duke until the past few years, I haven’t “played out,” much, as the expression goes. There are some number of reasons for that – none of them good. There were a few times when I’d have a regular opportunity to play publicly, such as my stint in Asheville, when I was jamming at Jack of the Wood. For a few years in there, Lisa and I sang in Schola Cantorum, a community choir on the Bay Area peninsula. It was a blast and I’m so glad we did it. But playing music didn’t occupy the space in my life that I wish it had. Why? Meh, that’s a topic for me and my therapist, but I’m here to tell you I’m back.
Few months ago, I bumped into Chris Quale, who is the band dad for a hot bluegrass band called Crying Uncle. His two sons, Miles and Teo, are half of the band, and he’s the bus driver, roadie, sound guy, manager, and CFO. But when he’s not that, or w*rking at his j*b, he’s a passionate, and very good acoustic guitar player.
Chris invited me to pick with his mandolin buddy, Nick Khadder. They then invited me to invite my son, John Haupert (also a mandolin player) to join us. After a few evenings of us picking together, I thought, “You know, we’re actually good enough to play in front of people.” That’s when the universe giggled, and sent me an email saying that the Gather Kitchen, Bar and Market in Berkeley was looking for bluegrass bands to play at their alliteratively perfect Bluegrass Brunch.
Now, there’s a fact of the bluegrass world, first elucidated to me by Chris Flanders: “A gig is both necessary and sufficient to make a collection of musicians a band.” So I told the people at Gather that I had a band, and I told my fellow musicians that we had a gig. While neither of those statements was exactly true on its own, by the Flanders Theorem, together, they were both true.
For our first gig, we enlisted Nick’s daughter, Lucy, a dynamite fiddler. She’s also a very good bass player, but I won’t let her near my bass for fear that the band would then fire me. Also, I can’t play fiddle, so it made more sense for me to play bass. Anyway, the five of us had a blast the first time out, and the folks at Gather (both staff and patrons) seemed to enjoy us.
We went back on Saturday, January 29th, 2022. Unfortunately, Lucy couldn’t join us because she was in the recording studio (I can’t make this stuff up). But Chris can walk around his house and randomly tap three different very good fiddle players on the shoulder. In this particular random walk, he tapped Teo (a member of Crying Uncle) and Nikko.
So I spent a Saturday morning having an inexcusable amount of fun. I was playing music with friends in front of an appreciative crowd. John’s brother David, his wife Mary, daughter Elena, and my mother-in-law Liz, turned out to support us, as did members of Chris and Nick’s families.
I am an absurdly fortunate person, and try to lead with gratitude. I am thankful for my bandmates, and their families (including mine) for supporting this time away from other family responsibilities. I am grateful to all the musicians who have inspired and taught me over the years, so I’d play the best I could. And I am appreciative of the people at Gather – particularly Jodi Munson – who gave us a place to play and responded to our music so positively.
I also need to emphasize the sublime joy of playing music with young people. Every tine I get to pick with “kids” (these days, anybody under 30) I am renewed and invigorated. Their youthful energy pushes me and makes me play better. Importantly, their playing is a promise that people will play music as long as I live, and beyond. I find this gratifying. Miles, Teo, and Nikko Quale, and Lucy Khadder all randomly drop into our backyard fire pit picking sessions on occasion. When one of them shows up with a fiddle, the quality of the music triples, and all of us older guys just smile at each other. And speaking of gratitude, what a blessing to have these kids – all with absurdly busy lives – take time out to come pick with us.
What you see and hear here is not professional quality, either the video itself or the playing. But it is, as Chris says, objectively good music. And check out at 15:30, when John steps over right next to me. Musically speaking, it makes all the sense for the bass player and mandolin player in a bluegrass band to be close to each other – each of us is half of the drum kit. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about right then. No, I was thinking, “I’m playing live music with my son on a sunny afternoon while our audience eats brunch and digs the tunes. This is my best life.”
P.S., Teo isn’t in the video because who knows why, but the second set sparkled (a bluegrass brunch sparkly second set) because of him. So: