Teresa and Ross Friedman met at a wedding back in the mid-1970s. She was told by the bride to bring her guitar because “a guy is coming from Chicago with his banjo.”
Ross was told by the groom about “some chick coming with her guitar, and to bring his banjo.” They played music the night they met and performed at that couple’s rehearsal dinner. “We played music that night and pretty much every day in between,” Teresa said, after decades of marriage.
Fifteen years ago, the couple formed their band, Bitsyland, with which they perform at retirement homes, farmer’s markets, parties and other gatherings. Prior to the pandemic, the pair was putting on about 50 shows a year. Other than the Friedmans, the group consists of a bass player and another guitar player. They all sing.
Ross plays guitar and banjo, and Teresa alternates between guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Ross usually sings lead and Teresa focuses on harmony. Their repertoire mostly consists of songs from the 60s and 70s.
“We sing tunes that we both like,” Teresa said. “We don’t call it practicing; we just play music and enjoy it. If a song suits us, we play it again the next day. Some of my favorite songs to sing are from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I also enjoy singing songs like Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover.’ Ross especially enjoys ‘Country Roads,’ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘The Boxer.’ If we don’t like a song, we don’t sing it!”
Bitsyland can be found in familiar venues around town, including Chastain Park playground, in front of the City Springs municipal building by the rocking chairs and at the Sandy Springs Farmer’s Market. They like to do popup concerts where adults and kids gather around in unabashed joy, doing Irish jigs, toe tapping, knee-slapping and good old-fashioned crooning along.
“For the past several years we have enjoyed popup concerts,” Teresa said. “One of us will say, ‘Wanna go play some music?’ And off we go! We usually go to a public park or venue and play music for anyone who cares to listen and those who just pass by. Quite often people thank us for the music, tell us that we made their day, give us a thumbs-up or a smile! That’s all the reward and encouragement we need. We love when kids — or adults — dance or sing along.”
In addition to performances, the group gets together several times a week to jam with friends. Some are “song jams” and some are “fiddle jams,” where old-time fiddle tunes are played. They also have family jams — “famjams” — where the family gathers and plays music together.
The adult Friedman kids play various instruments and sing. Even their young grandchildren play percussion in jams.
“We love when people come together to see what they can add to the music,” Teresa said. “It becomes a joyful sound and a beautiful connection among people.”
Both Ross and Teresa are retired teachers who brought their guitars into the classroom to engage students in singing.
“Ross had all of his high school students singing along in his English and Shakespeare classrooms,” Teresa recalled. “I often played for Shabbat B’yachad (welcoming the Sabbath) since I was teaching at The Epstein School. I enjoyed teaching many of my students the ukulele in our Ukulele Club. We sang and played ‘random acts of music’ around the school.
“Music is for sharing. Music is a gift. How wonderful it has been to play music to lift people’s spirits! We have played hundreds of gigs at retirement homes over the years. We see our audiences enjoying the music, clapping hands, smiling and remembering an old song and singing along. We are never sure who has enjoyed the time more, us or them.”