A report on NAJHF 2000

by Mark D. Poss


The North American Jew's Harp Festival (NAJHF) is an annual retreat held for and by musicians to celebrate and preserve the art of making and playing the small instrument. Unusual instruments of all types are also welcomed and featured. Held every third weekend of August in the North-eastern Oregon village of Richland, the two day event draws musical pilgrims from around the continent and the world.

Info & Registration Booth
Info & Registration Booth

More information on the history of the festival may be found at: http://www.jewsharpguild.org/festindx.html



Being the soundman for the festival, I have a unique perspective from my perch on the sound-trailer above the crowd. The drawback is that I don't get to rub elbows with folks as much as I'd like, nor have the opportunity to take adequate notes. So I quietly observe. Keep track of my knobs and notes. And do my best to reconstruct it all later. This report is the result.

The 9th Annual North American Jew's Harp Festival

August 18,19 - 2000

To say that Richland, Oregon is remote is an accurate statement. But I refuse to say it's in the middle of nowhere... for the somewhere that it is, is wrapped in natural mountainous beauty and an envelope of silence which is broken only by the sounds of animals; the cry of coyotes, hoots of owls, screeches of night hawks, honks of passing geese. For the last six years a remarkable number of musicians have braved the trials of travel to escape to this location for a weekend of music and comradeship. This year, moderate temperatures, abundant sunshine, and total absence of rain, allowed for a near-perfect outdoor experience.

Unusual Instruments Day

 Ray Jacobs' Cardboard Instruments
^ Ray Jacobs &
cardboard instruments >
An official total of forty-two musicians performed during the "Unusual Instruments Day" on Friday, and "Jew's Harp Day" on Saturday. I suspect that there were a dozen or more additional players present. Open-mic performances commenced at noon on Friday and continued non-stop until dinner break at five p.m. Amongst those performing were Ray Jacobs of Montana who builds and plays a variety of instruments built primarily, or exclusively, of cardboard. Most notable of these instruments was an acoustic dreadnought guitar which is loud and easily mic'd. Its tone and playabiliy had folks awestruck.
 Ray Jacobs
Dave Bellinger (kalimbas@spiritone.com) of Portland, OR., impressed us all with his array of electric kalimbas, and an instrument he calls a Violimba. The Violimba is made from steel-strap(s) on a kalimba shell and is bowed. Its eerie sound is captured by a piezo element. Dave also introduced us to his salad bowl bass and other "found-object" creations. He offered all these instruments for examination at his battery powered "Instrument Petting Zoo."

Dave Bellinger's "Wild Instrument Petting Zoo"
Dave Bellinger's "Wild Instrument Petting Zoo"

Musical saws were represented by well known sawyer Allan deLay of Portland, OR. and Rick Myers, also of Portland. Both are virtuosos and delighted the crowd with their sweet-sounding skills. Rick also plays guitar and banjo and provided a great amount of energy throughout the event.
Alan deLay
Alan deLay
Rick Myers & Larry Hanks
Rick Myers & Larry Hanks

John Palmes (johnpalmes@gci.net) of Juneau, Alaska made the long trek to perform on MouthBow and conduct a mouthbow workshop. He was joined by Jon Faddis of Seattle and Wayland Harman of Boise. Wayland also demonstrated some of his new projects: globular didjeridu, cubular didjeridu, horn-in-a-can water didjeridu, and the "parrot" in-the-mouth microphone.

Wayland Harman & his "parrot" mic
Wayland Harman & his "parrot" mic

John Palmes
John Palmes

Of course, our band, The OddTones, also did a set on Saturday which included our song "Water Jar Rock" (a Ball canning jar played against electric guitar and Clackamore/Trump), and a progression for Nose Flute. (see http://www.mouthmusic.com/oddtones/) The OddTones

The OddTones
Michael , Wayland and Mark

Many other less unusual odd-instruments (autoharp, bones, cigar-box fiddle, djembe, kazoo, washtub bass, etc.) were present among the myriad of guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos, accordions, harmonicas and other traditional instruments. Among those performing with these were, Dick Kaiser (the Road Kill Poet) & Craig Hawkins (Pendleton, OR.), Jack Roberts (Goldendale, WA), Jim Sqibb (Nampa, ID), John James (Cheney, WA) and many others.

As the sun set in a vivid red hue from the forest fire smoke that settled in the valleys in the not-so-far distance, Friday continued with Featured Performances by some of the folks already mentioned above. A surprise visit was "cowboy poet" Pat Fielding (Summerville, OR) who recited humorous poems strictly from memory, and his wife who startled us all with some excellent yodeling.
Jim James

John James (Cheney, WA)


The night closed with the "Star-light Jam" as most folks left the audience to join those on stage. I finally shut down the sound-system at 12:50 a.m. after a curious jam of "Hit the Road Jack" indicated that most folk had run out of steam.

Jew's Harp Day

Saturday started off with a group photo and "Band Scramble" sign-up and selection. A "Band Scramble" is a sort of organized jam where interested players throw their names into a hat. Names are then drawn to form a number of bands with six or seven players each. The newly formed bands then disperse to various locations to practice and pick a spokesperson, a band name, and three songs to perform in an hours time. The black headed and footed sheep in the pasture adjoining the park made a slow walk to graze next to the band at the fence. A quail observed the same practice with a steady gaze.

NAJHF 2000 Perfomers
NAJHF 2000 Performers

At ten a.m. the call-to-arms is given from stage and each band in turn performs their hurriedly learned arrangements. I am told this is great fun for the musicians, but from the soundman's perspective it is the most challenging aspect of the entire weekend. (If there are any other soundmen out there with this kind of experience mixing on-the-fly so many unusual instruments, I'd love to hear from you!) In most cases the extreme talent of these musicians is obvious at this time, as the performances already have a polish with only an hour of practice.
The sunny day warmed up with Jew’s harp performances. A couple of fine trumpist from California, Chris Towne (Nevada City,CA.) and Clive Julianus (Prpltig@aol.com) (Fairfax,CA.), showed innovation and versatility in their sets.  Pluck editor and world-known jawharpist, Gordon Frazier of Seattle, played 'harp with several groups throughout the day and gave a short beginner's workshop on stage. He also shared a look at his extensive collection of 'harps with everyone during a relaxed workshop in the cool of shade tree. Again we took a break for dinner at five p.m. (Reasonably priced food provided by the Grange folks from their little cook shack on site.) Chris Towne
Chris Towne

Clive Julianus
Clive Julianus

A gusty summer breeze picked up as day slid into evening. The sunset still spectacular in the smoky sky. Saturday evening is when the local folks from this mainly agricultural and tourist driven area come to enjoy the only show in town. The parking lot swelled and every spot in or around the area in front of the stage was covered with seat or backside. This small community has always supported and enjoyed our annual visits.

The band scramble bands repeated their morning performances. Then there was a mood-shift as the night's Featured Jew's Harp Performances opened after a short stage presentation of all the kids that had made "Unidentified Musical Instruments" during the "Kids Events" of the weekend.

The kids
The kids & "Unidentified Musical Instruments"

Clive Julianus opened with a bit of hot improvisation as people got settled then gave up the stage to The OddTones. Other featured performers were Bill & Janet Gohring (Sumpter, OR.) Larry Hanks (Berkley, CA) Roland Bades (Molln, Austria), and Gordon Frazier. Matt Glasson (alias Mugwump Jizm) of New York City absolutely stunned the crowd with his high energy, theatric performance. I'm not sure what Matt expected from a crowd of this nature, but he tailored his set quite nicely and received a loud and furious round of applause.

(L-R) Wayland, Gordon, Bill, Roland, Larry, Clive
(L-R) Wayland, Gordon, Bill, Roland, Larry, Clive

Matt Glasson (alias Mugwump Jizm)
   Matt Glasson
(alias Mugwump Jizm)

As the night grew cooler the music got hotter as we filled the stage with wall-to-wall musicians for what we call the "Grand-Jam." Again it was pushing one in the morning when I threw the last switch and gathered the mics. I then laid my back on the grass in the middle of the park grounds to soak in the milky way and full red moon. Satisfied the world was right I crept into my sleeping bag somewhere near two.

New 'Harp News

One of the things I look forward to every year is examining new designs of 'harps, or those of other cultures that I'd not had a chance to lay my lips on before. Unfortunately there were not many of that description present this year. It was a great pleasure to see and hear Roland Bades (Wimmer) playing multiple (usually four) 'harps. While this may be common in Europe, it is out of the ordinary in North America. I felt fortunate to be tutored in the technique by such an excellent player.
Bill Gohring did introduce us to his newest designs of 'harps. Two of his tiny new creations fit into an extra-small Altoids box with room to spare!! They played as good as they looked, with excellent volume, and incredibly long sustain with very little air required. These could be blow started, and were precisely tuned as usual. billhrp2.jpg (7034 bytes)
Bill Gohring's new design

Tying on the Ribbons

The NAJHF is not a large festival and I personally feel it's not destined to be. I refer to it as a retreat, a getaway from the world to concentrate on my art and to share and absorb a common experience with fellow musicians. It is a unique event in many, many ways and one of the most enjoyable I've ever been part of. I felt a certain amount of dread as we descended from the mountains and crept back up to the speed of a fast lane world.



Other Notes

Jew's Harp makers:

Bill Gohring (Gohring Jew's Harps) (www.jewsharpguild.org/wgharps.html)

Roland Bades (Wimmer (pronounced Vimmer) Maultrommeln of Molln) who made a twenty hour, 7000 mile trip to be here. (see: www.maultrommel.at)


Mouthmusic.com (www.mouthmusic.com)


Jew's Harp greeting cards and prints by pointillist artist Ron Vinson (rvinson@eoni.com)

Photos by Veronica Poss & Valerie Bruesch