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  The Balls at work, Bill's Tavern, Cannon Beach, OR
  The Floating Glass Balls

Cannon Beach Gazette
April 2-15 2009

"Winter in Paradise"

by Joan Marie

Back in December, as everyone was hunkering down and trying to stay warm, dry and off the snowy passes, the members of the Floating Glass Balls were traveling back and forth to a Portland studio, laying down the tracks for their third CD, "Winter in Paradise."

"We picked the snowiest time in the history of Portland to record this CD," said Peter "Spud" Siegel, reflecting on the group's time in the studio during the two consecutive snowy weekends in late December. The combination of the wintery weather, and a line in one of the songs, written by fellow member Joel Marshall, "Dank, Dark and Dismal" and the title of the CD was born -- "Winter in Paradise."

The Floating Glass Balls are well-known in Cannon Beach and can be found playing weekly at Bill's Tavern on Thursday nights. Thursday, April 2 at Bill's is the kickoff of multiple release parties scheduled for "Winter in Paradise." The group will also perform from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 4 at The Lumberyard in Cannon Beach and beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5 at Fort George in Astoria.

Their music is broad and pulls from many genres -- bluegrass, Caribbean, contemporary, country, and swing tunes-- the likes of the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family, to name just a couple. It is reflected in what each member brings to the table. Together now for 10 years, "The Balls" can easily play four to five straight gigs without repeating a song -- a testament to the depth the group has developed throughout those years playing together.

Their last CD "Ashore" was released in 2005.

"Winter in Paradise" has 19 tracks and includes the most original pieces the group has placed on any of their CDs. As a matter of fact, you can find The Balls featured via the Internet on YouTube, capturing their recording of "The Guns of Fort Stevens," an original piece written specifically for this CD by Dan Conner, who plays the Dobro.

Conner said, "I'm looking forward to this CD -- it is our most original work so far on any of our CDs." His other contributions included two instrumentals, "Sidewinder," written while visiting Weiser, Idaho during a National Fiddler's Contest, and "Wood Rat," a piece named by Joel Marshall, The Ball's guitar player.

Gar Keiski, who fiddles and wrote, "Love Comes to Call" some 15 years ago, pulled it out of the archives to record on this CD. He said, "Original material is really important because it's nobody else's." And, in reference to recording being important, but secondary, "I enjoy the live performances. We've had good compliments from people about our performances." And, he added, "This CD is a good representation of what we sound like live."

"I am pleased to play with people who give it the attention to quality for a live performance -- paying attention, and listening to each other," Keiski said.

Spud, the group's mandolin player, contributed three original pieces -- an instrumental titled "Pumpkin Puss," "Finish Line," written some time ago, and "Peace for All the People," a song composed about two years ago in a train station while traveling through Croatia with Marshall.

In addition to "Dank, Dark, and Dismal," Marshall's experience of 14 winters here on the coast, he contributed "Shane." This song chronicles the life of his friend as he moves through his daily routine as a landscaper in the Cannon Beach area.

Bill Uhlig, who plays bass but does not sing, said, "I am very fortunate to play with great people." In fact, he sometimes gets so caught up in listening and watching Siegel's playing, that he has to remember to jump into the song for his part.

Uhlig worked on coordinating the graphics for "Winter in Paradise." He shared that Roger McKay, an Astoria artist, provided the artwork illustrating the CD's cover of floating glass balls and broken instruments moving down and out to sea. "The elements just came together," he said.

Talking about the release of "Winter in Paradise," Uhlig said, "It works for us. It is a chronicle of our crop of original songs, and it has been a fun project."

He also reflected that there is more freedom, tools, and resources to play and record music today, whether is is on the coast, in Portland, or anywhere.

"American music is alive and well," he said.

"Winter in Paradise" was produced using analog versus digital technology. There was no opportunity to go back, pick the tracks apart and make digital enhancements. The playing, the creativity, spontaneity and, most importantly, the passion of each person creates the Floating Glass Balls.

There is excitement in the future for The Balls as they launch "Winter in Paradise" and set their sight on playing as much as possible up and down the coast the rest of this year. Soon anyone will be able to download their songs directly from their web site.

"It's good," said Siegel on the completion and release of "Winter in Paradise," "and long overdue. We should have recorded a year or two ago."

You can catch the Floating Glass Balls' updated schedule on their web site at

January 2006

Floating Glass Balls Live at the Coast

by Jenny Gamroth

Heading over the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the coast's connection across the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. Photo by Doug Bowers (
Certain things remind us we're alive: a laugh, a brief and immediate connection with a stranger, witnessing live music unfold before our very eyes. Live music can really stick to the ribs, uplift or make us weep, cause us to sit in rapture or pull us out onto dance floors. So when given an opportunity to experience truly live music (instead of wincing to your neighbor's karaoke-rendition of Love Shack or King of the Road), I strongly suggest you take it.

It's especially fun to attend a show of a group that has a following. You're guaranteed to be mixed in with folks thrilled to be there. At Kernville Steak and Seafood house (just south of Lincoln City, along the central Oregon coast), I met such a group of men last spring: Floating Glass Balls.

The name may not work well on a marquis, as bassist Bill Uhlig was quick to point out. In fact, not one of the five would admit to coming up with it. But it stuck and is perfectly suited for their folksy, traditional, bluegrassy... well, beachgrassy sound. Ask anyone along the north coast where you can catch The Balls and they'll point you to Bill's Tavern in Cannon Beach, where they perform every Thursday night. Each of the band's five members has played there, together or individually, for years. Mandolin player Peter Siegel has since 1977, when Bill's hosted a weekly open jam. Over the years Bill's remodeled and became a little more refined, wanting an actual band. Hence, Floating Glass Balls.

Peter Siegel ('Spud') met the others in turn playing at one spot or another. First there was dobro player Dan Conner at a jam session at Spud's brother's house 20 years ago. A retired army colonel and engineer, Dan is a combination of West Point grad and life-long bluegrass fan. A man of few words, but a glance from Dan speaks volumes. Next came Uhlig. Bill and Spud have played together in coastal staple Bond Street Blues Band since 1989. To watch Bill play is a joy. He typically has his eyes closed and a peaceful smile on his face, looking as though dancing with his favorite partner. Between beats he'll suddenly let go of his instrument and grab it up again with an accented thump. Then there was fiddler Gary Keiski, who was introduced to Spud through guest washboard player Billy Hults. The three of them were roommates for a time in the early '90s. Gary is a kind- hearted fellow with a pleasant smile and a non-judging nod for anyone. Lastly, we have the band's youngest member, the group's practical joker, guitarist Joel Marshall. He watched the others play at Bill's and at the American Legion Hall in Cannon Beach about 6 or 7 years ago. He sings most of The Balls songs. He may be the youngest, but his band mates say he is extremely responsible and wise beyond his years. These prolific fellows have been playing together as a band for three years now.

To watch them, you'd imagine they weren't thinking about what they were playing at all; their movements seem unconscious as all good musicians do. Something about their music makes one willing to be chatty with the person sitting nearby. In fact, the last time I was at Bill's, the man sitting next to me couldn't wait to share his Balls enthusiasm with me. This man comes from Sisters every year to write his Christmas cards and have an extended stay in Cannon Beach. When he is at the coast, he is a Thursday night regular for music he says reminds him of small clubs in Tahiti and Greece. It is great fun being part of the comraderie this band inspires. At the same time they are so good I am tempted to ask my neighbors to stop talking just so they don't miss anything.

One night I asked Gary why he keeps playing with these guys and he told me, "Cuz they let me keep trying to get the style right and it's just too much fun not to."

I encourage all of you readers out there to meet the Floating Glass Balls -- each one polite, each one an excellent storyteller. I love these guys.

Pick up FBG's latest release ASHORE. The 15 tracks include vintage string classics like Bill Monroe's flowing but intricate Evening Prayer Blues, demonstrating FBG's adeptness of mando, dobro, fiddle and guitar picking. Just Let Me Fall, originally recorded by Happy Smith in 1952, features Dan Conner's vocals, lending authenticity to this Appalachian-rooted tune, and righteous old-timey harmonies contributed by Siegel and Marshall -- a constant you can count on from the band. ASHORE is a great mix of tunes passed between fellow musicians (the aural tradition continues) as well as stringband versions of tunes done by, for example, Springsteen, Gordon Lighfoot, and Townes Van Zandt, and treated to diverse and appealing arrangements. In addition, Seigel, Conner and Keiski originals (including Keiski's reggae paeon to clean air, Respiration), enliven this recording and add to the spirit of North Coast musical ensembles.

Jenny Gamroth is a freelance writer from Lincoln City.
Photo: Heading over the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the coast's connection across the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. Photo by Doug Bowers


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     "We're into the second set. Spud, the intense fellow with the bandana and mandolin, has been taken suddenly barefoot and Gary's fiddle is having its way with him again. Joel and his six-string are kicking up serious dust, Dan's watching a melody sliding around on his dobro, and Bill's hugging his bass, eyes closed, nodding his head and smiling that smile. People are whooping and hollering and stomping their feet. You'd have to have been there. Next time, maybe you should be."

— Michael Burgess

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