Scott Cawelti Photo
  • REVISED AND UPDATED: Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association Photo Essay

    • Posted on Oct 30, 2015
    October 30, 2015 

    Here's a revised version of my photo essay on the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association that I published here on October 20.  This version includes captions for many of the photos, and the essay portion has been revised as well.  

    Again, thanks to all the guitarists for permission to photograph them and
    thanks especially to BRENDA SCOTT, instructor for "The Photo Essay" course at the Bryan Peterson School of Photography for her very helpful comments and suggestions on each of the photos, and for developing the idea of the photo essay.  It's the perfect genre for writers who also love photography.   

    Playing Real Good For Free

    Why does anyone perform solo for free, as a vocalist or instrumentalist?  It’s stressful, time consuming, and of course doesn’t pay bills.   

    For those who play for free—as street musicians, open mic performers, non-paying charity background musicians, and house concert entertainers—making music inevitably becomes its own reward.  They keep their day jobs, but at least a few of them are in the world as amateur performers.   

    Amateurs play because they love making music, both for audiences and by themselves.  It gets them into a flow they can’t easily find doing anything else.  In contrast, being a professional means a whole different set of pressures and deadlines that interfere with just making music their own way, on their own time.  Besides, professional freelance musicians struggle to make a living from music.  Most of them are better off monetarily with a steady day job of almost any kind. 

    Most cities and towns support several amateur musical ensembles--choral groups, municipal bands, senior musicians, and any number of smaller ensembles who play regularly, and who rehearse often enough to make it part of a weekly schedule. They take pleasure in ensemble playing and play real good for free, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.    

    In Cedar Falls Iowa, a lively group of amateur acoustic guitarists has been meeting monthly for “Song Swap” gatherings since late 1999, where anyone who shows up with a guitar can perform one song for an appreciative roomful of fellow players. Unlike the ensembles, they’re mostly solo musicians, happy to perform alone or occasionally in a small group with funky names like “The Enablers,”  “Uncle Chuck and his Imaginary Band,” “Three Blind Mice,” and my favorite, “Old and In the Way.”      

    It’s called the “Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association,” or CVAGA, (pronounced “SeeVAYgah” and it was started by two amateur but accomplished guitarists, Rick Vanderwall and Rick Price.  They had grown tired of playing by themselves, and found that their playing and enjoyment improved markedly when they joined a group of listeners who were also players.   A small group at first, together they decided:  
    • no dues
    • no membership rules; whoever shows up is a member,  for that night anyway
    • a board, which meets twice a year 

    Vanderwall and Price did develop a written constitution, for tax purposes, which specifies what happens to money they collect from contributions and fundraising concerts.   

    CVAGA does hold one piece of property in common:  a complete and relatively sophisticated sound system, which is available for qualified members to “check out” and use, as long as they take care of it and return it to the organization’s rented storage facility.   

    Over the years the group has grown to 70-plus members, and members are often called upon to perform for a variety of events as volunteers. 

    Some members perform at least weekly for open mics, and their playing inevitably captures genuine passion and commitment.  Many of them play their own songs with a few covers thrown in, and others perform mostly songs from singers and players they admire and seek to emulate.  

    Players receive a boost in confidence from CVAGA Song Swaps, and certainly from the regular opportunities for performing that grow from the friendships they form with fellow guitarists.  

    Clearly, CVAGA has become a vital part of the musical scene in Northeast Iowa.  Listeners and fans agree:  They play real good for free.   

    Taken in September and October, 2015 
    Camera: Sony a77ii
    Lenses: Sony 16/50mm, Tamron 16/300mm
    Finished with Lightroom 5, Photoshop CC  

    Bob Long in Shop 1  

    Bob Long in Shop 2
    Bob Long makes extraordinary custom acoustic guitars in his workshop in Waterloo, Iowa.  He has built over 70 guitars in his workshop. He estimates that forty to fifty CVAGA members play various versions of “Long Guitars” ranging from acoustic cutaways to jazz/classical to dreadnought and auditorium models.  He’s also a guitarist, and he and his wife Jovita were popular performers for several years in the Cedar Valley.  

    Jovita Long with Checker and the Blue Tones 
    Married for 36 years to Bob Long, Jovita sings blues, rock, jazz, and fusion vocals with equal aplomb, and often performs with a beloved local blues band, “Checker and the Bluetones.” 

    Rick Vanderwall with admirer at Artapalooza

    Rick Vanderwall with Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews at Artapalooza
    Rick Vanderwall co-founded the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association, and has been one of its guiding lights from the beginning.  He often emcees performances, and serves as the organizer and all-purpose guitar enthusiast for the group.  He performs regularly as a one-man show and occasionally with “Three Blind Mice.”  

    Rick Price at Song Swap, 9-3
    The other CVAGA co-founder, Rick Price, has been improvising finger-style 12-string acoustic guitar instrumentals since 1975, and regularly performs at a variety of venues and events.  

    Karla Ruth and Deb Niermann at Song Swap 
    Karla and Deb have sung together as a duo for ten years. They perform Karla’s songs for large and appreciative audiences.  Karla has made three CDs, and continues writing and performing to the delight of her fans.  

    Uncle Chuck, Perry Miller, and Jay Robertson at Artapalooza 
    Perry Miller and Jay Robertson perform often at Jameson’s for open mic, and Jay also performs regularly with a variety of other musicians, being a superb lead guitarist on both acoustic and electric instruments. Perry hosts Open Mic nights at Jameson’s and performs with a variety of groups as well.  

    Uncle Chuck at Artapalooza 
     Raconteur, singer, songwriter of very funny and much-requested songs, (“Sail Cat,” “I Like You Just the Way You Are,” “Already There,” are among well-known songs) Uncle Chuck delights audiences wherever he performs, which is often. He has made several CDs of his original songs.  

    Mike Morris at Jameson’s 

    Raldo and Friends Rehearsing 
    Raldo and friends from Outside 
    Raldo Schneider, another popular and well-known singer-songwriter has been performing around the Midwest at a variety of functions for thirty years. He has created one LP, three cassettes, and six cds of his songs.   

    Brothers Gors at Jameson’s 

    George, Jim, and Paul at Jameson’s 

    Phil Watson at Song Swap, 9-3
    Phil Watson is half of the “Phil and Travis” duo, who perform regularly in the Cedar Valley, with Phil playing lead and Travis playing rhythm guitar.  

    Barb Waters at Song Swap. 10-1

    Kim Nicholson at Song Swap, 10-1  

    Marty Drilling at Song Swap, 9-3

    Song Swap 10-1
    The “Song Swap” meet has become an enduring tradition for CVAGA members. They meet the first Thursday of every month, and every attendee performs one song.  The skill levels range from beginners to semi-professionals.  They perform acoustically for just each other, with no sound system, no electric instruments.  All manner of songs are encouraged—both covers and originals, old and new.   It’s a friendly and appreciative group that offers an encouraging monthly performing venue.   

    Eli Smith at Song Swap, 9-3
    Eli is among the younger members of CVAGA. His father Corey brings him, and members know that players like Eli are the future of CVAGA.   If Eli becomes a passionate devotee of the guitar, some of the credit surely goes to CVAGA.  

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  • Huge Charleston Mural Appears in a Month

    • Posted on Jul 08, 2014
    July 8, 2014 

    Was walking Charleston on Monday, June 2 when I came up Queen Street, just a few feet off Meeting Street, and couldn't help but gape at this sketch on the wall of the Mira Winery building:  

    Hard to not gape, right?  The artist, David Boatwright, was sketching a painting-to-be of 14 figures, and was just beginning, either that day or possibly the week before.  I didn't actually measure it, but it's probably 15 by 15 feet and fills most of the wall.  Hard to miss, and right across a small parking lot from the well-known Poogan's Porch restaurant.  Everyone stops and stares.  

    So I began taking photos, this one just three days later: 

    That's Thursday of the first week.  Not bad for two guys working four days, I thought.  
    I did ask one of them how long it would take, and he said "weeks."  

    So I made it a point to walk by the wall every few days, and took these photos, in order: 

    Took this on Saturday, June 7, shocked at how much Boatwright had completed: 

    Then this, on Friday June 13:  

    Again, these guys work fast, I thought.  

    Then this, taken on June 19, just 17 days after that first sketch above:  

    And on June 23, a week before completion:  

    And here is the completed mural without scaffolding, taken Monday,  June 30:  

    So David Boatwright and his assistant completed that mural, sketch to full figures in living color, in one month to the day.  

    Here's a detail, just to show what you could see with good light walking up to it: 

    Now:  in case the mural looks familiar, you're right:  it's more or less a copy of Renoir's famous 1881 painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--here: 

    The Mira Winery hired Boatwright to paint an homage to Renoir's painting, only with a difference:  each of the figures, instead of being Renoir's friends--that's who Renoir painted, after all, would be the faces of fourteen of Charleston's well-known restaurant owners or chefs.  

    Of course, foodies around Charleston will certainly recognize at least a few of the faces, just as Renoir's friends must have recognized themselves in his painting.  One difference would be size--Renoir's painting measured just 51 by 68 inches, whereas Boatwright's as mentioned, covers a large outdoor wall.  

    A few thoughts on this whole process: 
    ---an "homage" if done by a writer might be called "plagiarism." 
    --Renoir's is a work of art, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Boatwright's is worth whatever the Mira winery paid him.  But it certainly adds 
    a dimension of interest to the Charleston food scene, not to mention making that wall a thousand times more interesting and attractive. 
    --how well will it hold up to the weather?  --high heat, sun, humidity, rains, hurricanes? Will be curious to photograph it again in a year and see if it has faded. 
    --was great fun watching it emerge, and a pleasant surprise that it took only a month. 

    A note of congratulations to the muralist, David Boatwright, his assistant, and the Mira winery for having the imagination and vision to create an engaging image that flatters and reveals some of the people that make Charleston's restaurant and food scene such a memorable part of contemporary Charleston.  
    Go comment!
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