Thursday, February 22

Things are gonna get better in the bye-and-bye

"When we were young," I told my cousin Anna, "and your dad used to play his bluegrass albums, I thought I would never like that kind of music. I remember thinking, 'Uncle Scott is great and all, but he's just got it wrong on this one.' And now look where we are." We were standing in line at Hal & Mal's on Saturday night, waiting to hear Old Crow Medicine Show. Anna laughed and we went inside the smoky room to slip up to the front, ready to hear some good live music. While we waited for the band to start I mentally added bluegrass to the list of the things about which I've been wrong. I'm glad to have grown into an appreciation for rural music. Perhaps a steady TV diet of The Andy Griffith Show made it inevitable.

Old Crow delivered on the good live music. I'm only peripherally familiar with them--I don't feel much ownership of artists unless I own at least one album--through a few mp3s and hearing them open for Gillian Welch at Hal & Mal's two years ago. Back then they were up-and-coming bluegrass newcomers; now they probably have more mainstream recognition than Gillian Welch does. Fiddler Ketch Secor plays with almost Chris-Thile-like intensity, and the band was loud, tight and raucous.

There's a certain dorkiness inherent in bluegrass music. I have to admit I'm surprised OCMS is as popular as they are. Mountain music has been around for a long time; is it because these boys are young and sexy that it's suddenly cool to listen to? One of the things I love about bluegrass and rural music is its acknowledgement that life is hard but still worth celebrating. This view is shared by a lot of traditional folk and Celtic songs (another love I didn't see coming). Some of these have been brought to my attention lately by the lovely Kate Rusby. Her amazing voice wraps around lyrics like, "When Jimmy talks about the wars, it's worse than death to hear him / I must go out and hide me tears, because I cannot bear him" (The Recruited Collier) and our hearts break for the girl who's lost her love to the military. In another Kate Rusby song, Drowned Lovers, William and Margaret lose their lives thanks to meddling mothers and a strong river, but the music urges us to dance.

The bluegrass tradition in general recognizes that God and the Devil are real, the world is broken, and good things come into it but more is promised after life. Dancing to a song like Drowned Lovers might seem incongruous, but a worldview that allows for beauty and pain, fun and death, music and tears lets us do that.


Sarah Jo said...

:-] good post.
by the way - i have a book in my room called the eschatology of blue grass that talks about much of this. But I know you've already got alot of books on your plate and it sounds like you already know much about what the book says - still, if you want to ever read it, it's there :-]

wendell said...