One of our first concerts was at Rockefeller University in downtown Manhattan. I think Marie had arranged that due to having been a private student of Joseph Silverstein, then the concertmaster of the Boston Symphony and leader of the BSO String Quartet. The first half of the concert was Marie doing solo classical pieces. I had never heard her play that music before and to say it was awesome would be a gross understatement. We then proceeded to play our mix of Irish, French Canadian and Bluegrass fiddle music. The staid classical audience went nuts.
Soon after that we began hitting the New England fiddle contest circuit where one of two things inevitably happened. Marie would either win the contest or not even make the first cut. Sounds strange, eh? You bet. The bottom line was that she was just.... too good. I clearly remember one contest in which she was rejected after our first set of tunes (a jig, a waltz, a reel - the strict rules of the "open division" in serious fiddle contests) and she demanded to know why. One of the judges said to her (exact quote here): "You're no fiddler! You're a violinist! You should give this up!" What had happened was Marie had played the reel TOO WELL. It was a difficult tune filled with triplets, and instead of slurring the notes together and sounding "authentic" (i.e., sloppy) she had played them all perfectly and the judges mistakenly though the 4/4 reel was a fast 3/4 waltz! Marie was distraught and pissed off, as well she should have been.
As we drove back - I believe the contest was somewhere in northern Vermont - Marie was still steaming. At that one we also had my good friend Glen Carlberg playing stand-up bass with us.
"You know what we're going to do?" Marie said as we drove toward the Massachusetts border, "We're going to go play with Arlo Guthrie! I know he is headlining an outdoor concert in the Berkshires today!"
"What???!" I said. "How....? We can't just walk in and play with Arlo!"
"Oh don't worry about it," she said. "I've known Arlo for a long time. He'll let us play."
Well, this was news to me, to say the least! But Marie often came up with surprises like this. So an hour later we were driving down a road into the backstage area of the concert, with Marie rolling down the window and telling the security people: We go on in a few minutes! I'm Marie Rhines! I'm a friend of Arlo's!
And damn if they didn't let us through.
We arrived backstage. The stage was set up in a huge field. Someone was on stage playing but I don't remember who. Then Marie spotted the man himself.
Now, you have to understand: this was about 1976 and Arlo was a bonafide star in the folk-rock world. "Arlo!" Marie shouted.
"Marie!" Arlo shouted, and she ran up to him and gave him a big hug. Glen and I stood there dumbfounded.
"When do we go on?!" Marie asked.
"Well, how about right after this song?" said Arlo.
Two minutes later we were climbing up the stairs to go on stage. I looked out at the audience that must have numbered well into the thousands. Glen and I looked at each other. We hadn't even had time to tune up.
Marie strode up to the microphone.
"Hi, I'm Marie Rhines! My friends and I just got back from a fiddle contest in Vermont and I was disqualified because the judges said I played this tune too well and nobody could dance to it! What do you think??!!"
And with that she attacked the double-stop 4-beat intro and we dove into the song.
Almost as one there was a roar from the crowd, and they stood up and began clapping along and dancing! I glanced over at the side of the stage and Arlo was standing there, grinning. I thought I was going to faint.
I don't remember how many tunes we played. It was only a few I think. It was all over before I could even fathom what we'd done. The crowd went nuts when we walked off the stage.
"Thanks, Arlo!" said Marie.
"Anytime, darlin'!" said Arlo. And we hopped back in the car and drove home. I don't think I stopped grinning the whole way back.
There were many, many other adventures with Marie, many big concerts, tours to the Pacific Northwest (which included a cross country bus ride for me - I could fill a dozen blog entries with stories of those five days!) and the South, finally a week and half recording "The Reconciliation" for Philo/Fretless Records in their amazing recording studio overlooking snow covered pastures and mountains in Vermont.
In the end, Marie replaced me with no warning with...... Tony Rice! Another of her contacts that I knew nothing about until the day she informed me I was out.
I was heartbroken and more than a little POed at the time, but hey, it was TONY FRIGGIN' RICE!!! My only satisfaction came when I heard them play a concert and she had obviously asked him to learn a tune that I finger picked on the album - and he tried to do it with a flatpick, and as God is my witness, his version wasn't as good as mine! Tony, possibly the greatest acoustic flatpicker who has ever lived, could not finger pick and did a barely passable job on MY part! Ego is a destructive thing sometimes, but in that case I felt some measure of satisfaction!
Peace & good music,