We don’t come from some ” holler” in back woods Kentucky mountains with our best coon dog sleeping on our front porch, pop’s favorite whiskey””still ” covered by brush down by the river, grandma’s hot fresh baked biscuits on the table and you better not be late for breakfast if you want to have anything left to eat when you get there.
Bluegrass music was created around fires on nights like this, on people’s front porches, at family cookouts with cheap Chinese lanterns hung in trees for decorations, folks rocking in chairs on their front porches. Back in mountain hollers there weren’t televisions, cell phones, indoor plumbing, or microwaves for quick dinners. People read the Bible, if they could read, and kids didn’t go to school but learned how to fish, shoot squirrels, pitch pennies, and say their prayers real nice.
Alan and Joan have a music discussion. Neal keeps our camp fire bright, and Max and Weston play their guitar and mandolin just fine.
The spirit of bluegrass is here tonight, just as meaningful as what we will hear under the big festival tent tomorrow morning.
Going back to our rural roots, even if we live in big cities, is what this bluegrass festival is all about.
As one group finishes their set, the emcee steps up on stage and introduces the next group. There is a fifteen minute break between bands, enough time for people to stretch, take a walk, find the porta potties, get a burger, stroll the town, or pull a hat over their eyes and take a little snooze.
Some of the spectators today are wearing T shirts from past festivals, here and elsewhere, and spend their breaks visiting with their favorite musicians outside the tent before or after each performance.
Waiting in the wings, this mandolin player plays a few choruses to keep his fingers nimble and his mind alert, rehearsing a song his group will be performing soon. His band mates are joking with a vocalist from the band that just finished their set, one of the co-hosts for the Festival.
All the groups are good but we pick our favorites, either by the songs they play, the way they play them, the way they handle the spotlight, the way they make us feel comfortable, or happy, or sad, or a combination of all of these emotions.
Much of the player’s conversations,inside and outside the performers tent, are about fingerings, rhythms, chords and tempos.
When these performers aren’t talking music they are talking money, relationships and schedules, all of them tied together like a good Boatswain’s mate knot.
Luckily, we, in the audience, don’t have to know their business, their politics, their issues, or their motivations to have ourselves a good time.
Our joy is to enjoy the music and be pleased we can be here to hear some good ole guys and gals show off their musicianship and take us on a musical trip back to America’s quickly vanishing past.
There are 15 bands at this bluegrass festival and each musician, in each band, is a performer.
The performers gather throughout the festival in a small tent of their own, practicing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones, talking shop, telling jokes, calming nerves, rehearsing what they will do when they get on stage. Musicians, like any occupation, share many of the same tools and techniques, and all deal with pressures of being on stage, entertaining, traveling, making a living. There are plenty of egos that need to be stroked, and multiple challenges to keeping groups together.
Good musicians need good listeners, and, today, we spectators all are working hard at being the good listeners these performers need.
All of us are performers, in one field or another, but there are few in this audience that are going to stand on stage in front of thousands and play a tricky arpeggio run that makes his band mates smile.
Here’s thanking those who perform. those who make us smile, lift our spirits, teach us something we didn’t know, show us a better way.
Here’s thanking those musicians who still want to entertain, who take pride in their art, who do something well that is so hard for many of the rest of us.
The High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival runs July 10-13 at the Bluff and Summit Park in Westcliff, Colorado.
A huge circus tent is set up in the town park with spectacular views of the mountains and valley nearby. In the 2010 census, the population of Westcliff was 568, up from 417 in 2000. 15 bands played this year and festival attendance was close to 4000. The Festival is a fundraiser for children of the area and helps with medical services for the town. In the last fifteen years, the event has raised almost $600,000 towards its charitable goals.
In a town of 568, you know everyone, and everyone is involved in their town. There are volunteers running shuttles that pick us up in the festival parking lot and run us up the hill to the music tent. Volunteers haul trash away, direct traffic, provide first aid services, sell tickets ,and one of them wraps the four day green wristband around my wrist and fastens it.securely. If you remove the band you have to buy another to get back inside the grounds.
Smack dab in a beautiful piece of no where, the town and festival is big enough to attract talent and small enough to be family friendly. You can go to the merchandise tent and visit performers after their set, buy CD’s and T shirts and ball caps. There is a beer tent and country folks handle their alcohol better than most. Kids run in the grass outside the tent and even dogs are well behaved and wag their tails in perfect time with the music.
For four days, we listen to and enjoy all the banjo, guitar, mandolin, upright bass and vocal music we can handle, mostly bluegrass ,but some country and some folk.
When, as one of the musicians says on stage, talking about a song he wrote,before he performs it, you move from a country where seven percent of the population feeds the other 93% you are seeing some real change.When people don’t know where their food comes from, they tend to lose their humility and appreciation for simple pleasures.
When we take the country out of America, we are burnt toast.
Bluegrass should be in every music collection, even if you don’t know where the country is and would never go there of your own free will.
” All of Me ” is a jazz standard, a song called often at jam sessions and performances, a standard that has been going strong since the 40’s.
Tonight’s performance brings back the Big Band era after World War 2 when ballrooms,in big as well as small towns, turned lights down and let dancers cuddle through the melody with their feet making tiny squares on the dance floors as emotions arced back and forth between husbands and wives, lovers, friends in the process of becoming more than friends.
The featured vocalist this evening is a transfer to the band from Virginia and is introduced by Chris, happy to have her singing with the band.
Lillian caresses the song and it holds up well, even if it is played by musicians wearing camouflage pants and black T shirts.
In the old days,these musicians would have worn suits and ties and the vocalist would have packed herself into a Las Vegas torch singer dress.
Music, as does art,literature ,or drama, captures the mood. time, and place when it was composed and shows us how we used to be.
” All of me”, tonight, wraps a generation in it’s arms and gives them all a big gentle honest kiss.
In the American Civil War, drummer boys lead troops into battle and were one of the first to be shot by opposing forces. Paintings in the White House show George Washington surrounded by a drummer and flute player when he was surviving Valley Forge and winning our disagreement with Britain. GI’s in World War 2 were entertained by singing show biz legends at the front when they had a rare break from spilling blood in someone else’s fight. Music and fighting men/women have always had things in common.
Tonight, the 44th Army New Mexico National Guard Band is doing a free concert at the Albuquerque Museum of Art. Food and drink is available, crowds are good for a Thursday night, and the band performs jazz standards, big band charts with solos and lots of rhythm. During the show, a female soldier joins the band on stage and belts out songs for an appreciative crowd.
Everyone has to play their part well tonight to make the whole group sound good. Like the military unit, that they are, the soldiers must play in time, play in tune, play their written and improvised parts in the style and spirit required. Their marching orders are to follow the conductor when he moves his hands in front of them, left and right, up and down.
After the big band plays, a smaller ensemble of brass players march onto the stage, literally, and play rousing New Orleans brass band music.
After the concert, the audience and some of the soldiers, hang out on a nice summer evening, not in a hurry to leave.
Music brings people together,in spite of wars ,and keeps them together, whether they are military, or not.
Greg has been playing since he was a kid, a professional since his teens. He has toured the world, made recordings, teaches , creates instructional aids for aspiring musicians, promotes his music, travels extensively and is among the best at what he does.
His wife, Judy, is on piano tonight and plays professionally in the Chicago area. Tom, on bass, is a touring jazz musician who plays with with Lee Konitz but is sitting in tonight, much to our joy.
Listening to Greg is like standing next to pro golfers on the practice tee,watching them hit three hundred yard drives followed by wedge shots within a few feet of the pin.
Fluency, flexibility, precision, attitude, creativity, are required to make this jazz music, all in the right combination, like a spectacular chef salad at the world’s finest restaurant.
I love what I hear even if it is beyond my ability to even copy.
What’s possible to do on the saxophone gets a whole lot bigger after tonight.
It is humbling, but uplifting, to watch people do what they do better than most everyone else.
Seeing how far you can go with gifts you have been given is , for some, what life is all about.
In the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, the County Line Barbecue is packed this Friday night. I am on the band’s e mail list, and got my invitation via e-mail. Judging from a plate of ribs on another patron’s plate, on the bar counter next to me, the barbeque doesn’t sound shabby either.
The entertainment tonight comes from the “Radiators”, who are singing and swinging with an upright bass, mandolin, lead guitar and vocalist, playing originals and top 40 hits.
The County Line has Texas longhorns hung on its walls, pictures of cowboys and horses in every dining room, and acoustic guitars signed by musicians who have played here since it opened. The men’s bathroom has a poster with pinups of the 50’s that is nostalgic for guys over ninety. There is an unusual horseshoe chair you can sit in for luck,and, in the front entry of the restaurant, a “Love Testing Machine.”
Barbecue and blues blend well, and, even though their marriage has been tempestuous, they could take the ” Love Machine ” all the way to the Moon.
Next visit, the house ribs will be a must try.
Good ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, cornbread and potato salad all help chase the blues away, and keep them at bay.