I had the pleasure of being a "celebrity" judge in a chili cook-off in Niwot on Saturday. They wanted Banjo Billy, but since he's out of town, they had to settle for me. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
Before the event, I had this nightmare that the first chili we tasted would be the one that sent Homer Simpson into the desert talking to coyotes. But, only one of the 17 very different versions of chili we tasted was hot enough to get us screaming for water, and it was the last one. In fact, 15, including the hot one, of the cups brought to us were damn tasty. Of the 2 that sucked, one had the "taste of an electric fire", as pointed out by a fellow taster (it also, we think, contained tofu), and the other tasted like dirt. It really was a fine hour of eating, with a team of nice ladies providing us with water and sorbet, and generally treating us as if we were doing some horribly difficult job, instead of enjoying a bunch of tasty food. The payback, of course, came later. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say I did not have a peaceful night of sleep.
One of my fellow judges was Pete Wernick, otherwise known as Dr. Banjo. He is one of the country's premier banjo players, a member of a legendary bluegrass band called Hot Rize, and worked with Steve Martin on his recent album. He's also a very nice guy who I had a chat with after we were done. He commented on how bluegrass crowds now like to dance, which they didn't do when he was young. I asked him about the effect of Bela Fleck on his profession, and he more or less said that although the Flecktones are not necessarily playing bluegrass, his appeal to young audiences and popularity made the banjo much cooler than it used to be.
I told Pete that people often expect me to be playing the banjo on the Banjo Billy bus, but instead I have some Flatt and Scruggs on my mp3 player that I play. When he heard me say that, he clapped me on the back and said "There you go!". Always nice to talk with people who appreciate the classics.