They call themselves Sister Sue and the Bad Habits, but here's at least one bad habit they don't have: hysterical self-promotion.
The McLouth-based bluegrass band, which plans to perform next Sunday during the Kansas State Fiddling and Picking Championships in Lawrence, played in living rooms during most of its early life. Two of its members are reluctant to expose their music to the light of day.
"We're slowly edging into playing out more,'' said Leo Posch, the band's banjo player. "We've done a few dates around Lawrence. We played two or three times last year, and we're gradually working our way out.''
Posch won the banjo competition in the championships last year. His wife, Susan Willits, plays mandolin and banjo in the band; they're joined by Steve Albright on guitar and Craig Lagerman on bass. Posch, Willits and Albright still live in or near McLouth, but Lagerman moved recently to Lenexa.
BOTH WILLITS and Posch remember being attracted to bluegrass instruments early in their lives. Posch says the banjo, like the bagpipes, is a loud instrument, but he enjoys having a plucking-good time.
"I started playing the banjo in 1977 or '78, somewhere in there,'' said Posch, who grew up in Lawrence. "There was a dueling banjo record that came out about then, and as I kid I remember seeing players in the park during Art in the Park. That really got my attention.''
Willits, who grew up just outside McLouth, remembers her parents' interest in traditional folk music. She started out playing the guitar and banjo and then moved to the mandolin.
"MY PARENTS always liked country music, and they listened to bluegrass, too,'' she said. "I saw banjo players on `Hee Haw' (the syndicated music and comedy show): Roy Clark was always playing it, and I liked that a lot. I really took to it.''
The mandolin, of course, is much softer than the banjo and is played in a different manner. So when Willits decided to play the mandolin, she needed to change musical gears.
"Playing the banjo typically means using three fingers, and the mandolin uses a flat-pick,'' Willits said. "I had to learn everything all over again.''
Music brought Willits and Posch together. They met at an area music store in 1980, while Posch was working there as a clerk. At that time, Posch was playing in a small pick-up bluegrass ensemble that met in living rooms on Tuesday nights; he brought Willits in. That group, with several defections and additions, eventually produced Sister Sue and the Bad Habits.
THE GROUP collects its material from a variety of sources, including trading tunes at fiddling and picking contests such as the one next Sunday.
"We find it in all kinds of places,'' Posch said. "We get stuff from people we play with. We have a lot of old rhythm and blues albums and old country music, too. And we've been influenced by the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Rogers, it's a wide array of influences, really.''
The band will be included in the entertainment that accompanies the contests on Sunday afternoon. From noon to 5 p.m., organizers will judge contests in ensemble folksinging, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, mountain dulcimer, flat-pick guitar and miscellaneous acoustic instruments. The contests are open to people who were not first-place winners in the previous three years, and registration is open up to 20 minutes prior to the event. The schedule also includes a concert Friday night and workshops all day Saturday.
"It's one fun deal,'' Posch said. "I know almost everybody there, and I get to see what's up and listen to people jamming. It's a fun get-together.''