SUMMER'S LONG GONE No. 2
Mike Marshall in the studio testing Mandolins
Greetings from the Northfield team and welcome to the second issue of Field Notes. We want to catch you up and bring you in to our ever-widening circle of projects and friends. We are continuing to push the limits of mandolin R&D, but we’re also taking the time to enjoy a great cup of tea or coffee as we work and travel around the globe. We are keeping busy as ever and there are no signs of that changing so please, read on to join in.
Field Tests with Mike Marshall
To make the best mandolins we require quality feedback. Thankfully we have a wealth of great artists and touring musicians that help us continue to raise the bar. We met up with Mike Marshall several times this year to play and discuss the newest Artist Series mandolins.
When we heard that Mike was meeting up with Darol for some shows nearby, we loaded the camera gear and a new mandolin and hit the road. The new mandolin was the latest Artist Series 5-bar which we just wanted Mike to check out backstage. He ended up playing the entire concert with it! We were pleased to see him playing it full-tilt and thankful that it held up beautifully, considering it being fresh off the bench. Talk about breaking it in!
Another meeting we’ve coined the “mandolin tasting”. Mike Marshall, Caterina Lichtenberg, Tom Rozum, and Sharon Gilchrist all tried out two new Northfields alongside two Loars, two Gilchrists, and a Nugget. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear all of these great mandolins in a studio setting. Also to be had was a quality spread of food, which has become standard for our gatherings. Please check out the tracks here that Mike and Caterina recorded. This is an opportunity for you to hear the Artist Series 5-bar vs. 2-bar variation in a controlled setting.
Recorded by David Luke at Opus Studios, Berkeley CA. Mixed by Peter and Joe Bagale.
In the Field - Basao Tea
The best thing about having an international company is the people you meet along the way. It’s what makes the adventure and joy of discovery sink in the deepest. When I was living in China I was fortunate enough to make friends so special I consider them family. I started this company with some of them and I’ll forever understand the value of “being there” and learning from people that push their own limits. It doesn’t matter where in the world you come from – you’re just lucky to be present and be curious enough to wonder…what if?
I met a lot of folks from all over the world, many of them on a personal journey, inspired to create. Artists from New York, designers from France, engineers from Russia and Chicago, chefs from Malta and Germany…horseman from Mongolia, musicians from Xinjiang. It was a heady experience. One day I was sitting in a Korean BBQ place down the street from my apartment in Qingdao having a meeting. A few tables over there were these two American guys eating lunch. I glanced over and gave the “foreigners nod” (careful not to assume they wanted to engage. You know, when some people are travelling they like to pretend that they’re the only foreigners to have ever happened on a particular place. Some kind of explorer complex. Kinda weird.) Thankfully not these guys – they were very friendly, jovial and interested in what I was up to. Likewise, I wondered what they were doing there. Turns out they worked for Patagonia – one of my favorite companies in the world – and were in the area working on some of their outdoor clothing designs with a nearby factory. Some of the stuff was exactly what I was wearing in the restaurant! Small world. I knew a lot about their company and was totally psyched to meet guys doing the same type of work as me, designing and perfecting gear that I personally used (and still use!) everyday. One of the guys was Aaron Stair, my age and from Tulsa, OK. He was living in Beijing, spoke fluent Mandarin and was all about hanging out and seeing some musical instrument stuff. He was very curious.
So every time he came to town we’d get together and grab some food and some cold Tsingtao beer. He’d visit our place and check out the mandolin stuff we were working on, and I’d go over and hang out in his world of technical clothing and outdoor gear for a while. Aaron stayed at his gig long after I moved back to Michigan. Some years ago he called me and told me that he was moving on from that job and was focused on something closer to his heart. Travel-Culture-Language-Sourcing-High Quality-Art-Farming-Photography. He’d combine all of it and, with a long term friend mutually interested in tea, form this community in Hong Kong (right in the middle of all the best origins) called BASAO.
I didn’t hear from him for a while, then, out of the blue he was ready. I get a call, then a website address… and then a can of tea in the mail. To say I was impressed would be a huge understatement. He hit it straight out of the park! His approach – small farms, relationships with the farmers from the best tea growing areas in China, Taiwan, and India. He spent thousands of hours on the road, working with the farmers learning the regions, the topography and the climates. Beautiful quality, single origin, and mostly mono variety/cultivar teas, attractive packaging with original art décor. An amazing website showing the people growing and harvesting the tea leaves, explaining the science, explaining the taste and the pairing flavors. The tea is delicious! What’s more, he has created a model company. The simple truths about making beautiful things are universal – be passionate, bring your humility, be ready to collaborate, be relentless in your pursuit to create high quality, take risks, share rewards.
It is with great honor that I introduce Basao to all of you. The tea isn’t distributed in the USA yet but we were lucky enough to have some direct from Hong Kong. There are a few different styles. We invite you to check out his website to find out all the details of the different teas. Make sure to watch all the videos in the “Our Teas” section. They’re beautifully done by Aaron and friends.
Be curious. Enjoy.
In the Field - Rudy Baggs Coffee
Chocolate Sky, Harimau Tiger, Costa Rica Café’ Vida. These are some of the names throughout the years I’ve seen on my home delivered, fresh roasted coffee from Rob Flanders. When I say delivered and fresh I mean it’s dangling off my front door knob less than 24 hours after it was roasted, every week.
To know Rob is to know a holy yogi mystic crossed with an Olympian with a punk ethos. He refers to himself as the “ol’ man”. A lean, tattooed, 70 year old man with beads in his hair and a flaming red goatee, Rob is not hard to spot. At the heart of the matter Rob is interested in the spirit of love and just being himself. Not an easy task in this world and he doesn’t care if it’s graceful or not…it just comes back to love.
Rob, like most of us drank coffee. But after a foray into an “expresso” machine, a hobby was born which quickly developed into a passion for roasting world class coffee. The business was nameless until Rob was at the local supermarket getting water for his espresso maker and, “a voice from above, like it was over the loud speaker, but wasn’t,” said, “Rudy Baggs.” Rob called his son Jacob, who has been involved with the business since the beginning, and told him the name of their venture. And so it has always been.
Whether in our Marshall or Qingdao shop all of us at Northfield love good food and appreciate excellent coffee or tea. The preparation of our favorite morning or midday beverage is part of the shop ritual. Any of our meetings or listening sessions always include the results of these small labors.
Another interesting connection between our two shops is celebrating the sport of dragon boating. Rob and I have are deeply involved in the ancient Chinese sport of racing sleek, 40 foot long, human-powered boats. It’s somewhat similar to Olympic style sprint canoeing but with 20 paddlers paddling simultaneously in each boat. I have paddled and trained with Rob, as well been lead by him as the head coach of our local dragon boat crew, Anahata. True to form, Rob has been paddling dragon boat for less than 7 years but has already won several gold medals at the highest levels of international dragon boat competition. Also, he is now traveling the country as a coach and boat steersperson for competitive dragon boat teams.
We are pleased to introduce you to Rudy Baggs and we believe as Rob says: “Rudy...more than just coffee...it's the experience."
Festival Season - Grey Fox & Swannanoa
Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival
On a sweltering early Friday afternoon in the middle of July, we pulled off a rather nondescript backwoods country road, somewhere near a little NY town called Oak Hill. My family and I found ourselves gazing into this amazing new world (at least to us) called Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Having never experienced any kind of festival life before, but plenty of concerts where crowd’s meant, “could be a bit crazy so watch out”, this couldn’t have felt more different. As soon as I checked in at the welcome booth and was handed a VIP pass, courtesy of the gracious folks at Northfield Mandolins, I realized that we were in for a remarkable weekend. People immediately felt welcomed to this party, that seemed to have been going on for decades without my awareness. I then flipped that pass over and noticed a sticker on the back that read, “I have no complaints”. I simply thought ‘damn straight!’
Amazingly enough that sentiment stayed with me even through the seemingly endless journey around the entire campground, searching for a good place to fit our little pop-up, and ending right back behind that same welcome booth. We made sweaty work of setting up camp in that heat, and bounded right out in time to find a comfy place to watch the amazing Jerry Douglas lead up the Earls of Leicester at the Catskill stage. Man, what way to open up my festival eyes! These guys all dressed in black pants, white shirts, and those black Colonel Sanders bow ties, just tearing up some Flatt and Scruggs style in front of the old timey large diaphragm microphones. It was fantastic!Read More
The Swannanoa Gathering
For the last 3 years we have been lucky enough to be involved with the mandolin,banjo and fiddle week at The Swannanoa Gathering, hosted on the campus of Warren Wilson College right outside of Asheville, NC. It has been absolutely exhilarating. We’ve met many our mandolin playing heroes, dozens and dozens of Northfield mandolin owners, great luthiers like Will Kimble and Tom Ellis, and have seen some fantastic concerts and jam sessions. This year I brought my whole family down with me and got my 12 year-old daughter completely hooked on old time music. Even bought her a dang open back banjo! If you’ve never been down to this part of the US you owe it to yourself to go. The college campus is beautiful. The camp is top notch with a vibe that feels more like a big front porch than anything else. Everyone sitting and jamming – beautiful mountain air accentuated with a refreshing cold beverage while you sit and watch John Reischman and Emory Lester pick old fiddle tunes. It can’t get much better. This music is really all about the closeness, the accessibility and the openness. No big egos or fog machines… no attitudes or security guards. The Swannanoa Gathering has created something so special it’s hard to explain in words. So, we say, just go there. You’ll be happy you did.
In the Shop
ARCHTOP OCTAVE MANDOLIN
Check out our newest addition to the family. Your gateway to a whole new world of music.
Made with a robust multi-ply fiberglass shell. Designed to protect your most prized possessions.