Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Well, Butter My Biscuits! The Bluegrass Express is Comin' to Town!

Well, how about that! That legendary bucket of bolts that has carried many a bluegrass band around the country is pulling into tiny Wadsworth, Ohio this Friday, with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage!

When I first fell for bluegrass, it was the music all the way. But I have to admit, these oddball, time-honored traditions certainly have grown on me. The Bluegrass Express (click for a sample) is just one, hooked up however it may be with another Southern favorite, Martha White. (One of my favorite bands, Hot Rize, takes its name from Martha's secret ingredient.) Twas Martha that put Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and the Foggy Mountain Boys on the bus in the first place, about 50 years ago!

And now, thanks to local boys Tim and Richard Smucker (yes, of those fine jams and jellies made in nearby Orrville, Ohio), who purchased the Martha White Baking Company a couple years back, making those visits to Ohio even more frequent for Rhonda and her ragin' band. They are one fantastic collection of incredible talent, so be sure to make 'em welcome when the B.E. pulls into your home state!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Is it...or Isn't It, a Documentary?

Over the last few days, I've chimed in on a discussion on www.timobrien.net about a film that, while enjoyable, I'm not sure measures up to its nomer as a "documentary."

So once the kids were in bed and I was done keeping them awake with my mando playing, I put Mando away, opened a bottle of Zin, popped in Bluegrass Journey, and am trying to take a look.

Maybe it is more of a documentary than I remembered. When I brought it home from Grey Fox in 2004, it felt more like a Greyfox souvenir than a film about the genre. But there is definitely something missing, like, WRITING.

Now, I'm not trying to be a snob. There is great footage, great interviews, great music. And ok, it is kind of real time. And Grey Fox is a tremendous experience, and for me, being there was a real turning point in my life. But in the film, where are the foot-stompin' jamboree-ers in Kentucky, North Carolina, East Tennessee? Grey Fox is like, a ten-hour drive from Cleveland. It's a SNAPshot, for crying out loud, of an enormously complex, embedded, indigenous artform. Something about that just rankles someone who doesn't want others to miss the point.

HOO boy, I'm on a ramble. I guess I feel like working on the stuff I love tonight, and you poor readers are the victims of my mind opening up and turning over the compost that's been there a while. But the deal is, I have a thing. And the thing is, this music damn near saved my life, and just has gotten into my blood and under my skin and my fingers and everywhere else. I want it to go as far and deep as possible, I want people to love it and get it and play it and give it credit and respect and make a little room for it in their lives. Because it's not just about music, it's about a way of life that has all but vanished except for this music. It's about the story, about where it came from, who made it happen, what they believed (and being mostly Southern, I'm guessing there were ugly parts to that part of the story, and I don't deny it, I look right at it every time I'm at IBMA and acknowledge that the ONLY people of color are the ones serving up the soft drinks), and why. And why does it still matter so much today?

This music has taken me like a secret bride, and no matter what other daydream I live to work and pay bills, this is the real deal.

Thanks for putting up with this little visit into my psyche. Back to figuring it all out, so good night, good luck, and if you get a chance, make welcome a little bluegrass in your life.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus Hatfield

Take a good look at that randy face. The man in the wig is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who would have turned 250 today if it weren't for his wild and crazy lifestyle. I've always been a fan, but now, when I see how much talent is out there, I say, who cares? He's just another twerp who started his career at the age of 6, sort of like Ricky Skaggs or Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek fame).

When I was 16, I stood outside the home where he was born in Salzburg, tromped all over Vienna in a haze of adoration, and let each note of the truly delicate Requiem trip over and off my tongue like drops of wine I was not yet old enough to taste. He was mad, hauntingly brilliant, and he left us with an almost incomprehensible body of work. Those of us who studied music had to suffer committing ever K number to memory, every second-theme phrase. And it was FUN.

I have a fondness for those days when I was passionately in love with Mozart, Bach, and later Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and ohhhh that Vaughan Williams (never enough for my lovesick widescreen romantic ear). I still stop to hear some of my favorite themes every now and then, but somewhere I turned a corner, and roots music claimed the greatest amount of real estate on my cd shelf. I can't speak for Wolfie, but something tells me Ralphie, with his terrible weakness for an old English tune, would heartily approve.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Big Night Out on Main

Well, what is there to do on a blustery winter night but go out into the snow and hear live music?! Yes, in the driving snow, in almost zero visibility along I-480, yours truly took her children out on a school night, and had one heckuva good old-fashioned string band time.

You've heard me mention The Kent Stage in just about every other post. We decided to make last night a special event, the first live music gig of any real note for my five-year-old daughter. My son is a veteran, and we really had no idea what to expect from her.

And we had no idea what to expect from The Foghorn String Band and The Wilders, two of the finest bands I've heard in a very long time. Old time just does not get any better than this, folks. Throw in some of the honky-tonk of the multi-faceted Wilders, and we listened ourselves silly (ok, sillier, for those who know us).

Far and away the best part of the evening was that we were able to share it together. While my son took the pictures you see here of the bands, my daughter sat with me, mesmerized by the instruments, the style of playing, and the fact that some boys got to talk but others didn't.
"Why are they poor?"
"What makes you think they're poor?"
"Their clothes are old."

"That poor man in back, with the cello, he has to move around a LOT when they play REALLY fast."
"That's a bass."
"No, you mean a cello."

"The man with the guitar is doing a good job. Now he's frowning."

"I hear the mandolin! The man with the mandolin, he sings good too."

"That guitar has its inside out."

"That song didn't have any words but it was named after me!"

And so it went, quietly, until the last note was played and we finally pulled ourselves away and drove back through the snowless Portage County night, to our home, and to sleep, perchance to dream, that nights like this are all we'll ever really need to get by in this crazy world.

Hear what we're talking about, without my daughter's questions, by clicking here:


Monday, January 23, 2006

Go Ahead, Get Too Close

On this blog I have too infrequently lauded the accomplishments of women in the bluegrass and traditional genres. Bluegrass is no different than other industries dominated by men. So today I just want to pay tribute to one of my favorite songwriters, performers, and people, who happens to be an extraordinary, strong, beautiful woman.

Laurie Lewis (pictured here with partner, companion, and performing buddy Tom Rozum on mando, there) is an exceptional talent and a joy to witness. The first time I caught her live was about a week after my mother's funeral. It was one of my earliest ventures into Kent (Ohio) to enjoy The Kent Stage, and I had taken my son and a couple friends along for the show. She is a singer, a storyteller, a fiddler of incredible dexterity, and a songwriter whose honest voice I could listen to over and over. Moreover, she is a woman who is very happy in her own skin, with where she is, and in what she does. No apologies. Also like almost every other industry, country music has gotten sexed up to sell records and steer the course of fashion. I'm grateful for the talented women who haven't fallen into that trap, or for it. They light my way.

This is one of my favorite Laurie Lewis songs--oh ok, I love ALL of her songs, so I went with the longest clip I could find! Its deft, infectious melody carries a lyric sweet and honest in its veiled reluctance.

While you enjoy, be sure to check out Laurie's blog/journal at http://www.laurielewis.info/, and tour dates at www.laurielewis.com.

Don't Get Too Close
Laurie Lewis, from Earth and Sky (Rounder, 1997)


(Chorus) Don't get too close
You know I think I could love you
Don't get too closeI've got my own life to lead
When I lay me down to sleep, I don't wanna be dreamin' of you
Don't get too close, a heartache is something I don't need

You breezed in like a southwind in December
So warm and so surprising
So sweet and tantalizing that
I believed to my soul that I began to remember
Feelings that I thought were dead and buried long ago

(banjo solo)

Well I guess I'd grown accustomed to the cold
I'd bundled up my dreams, and pulled my heart inside
I didn't realize, I thought it part of growin' old
But here are all these feelings flowin' like the spring tide

(mando solo)


Don't get too close, a heartache is somethin' I don't need.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Contented Must Be

Folks, I'm sorry about this ugly mess. More sorry than I can tell you. I hate getting myself into trouble when I can't quite get myself out of it on my own. Technology is one of those areas in which I am not naturally resourceful enough to go in and fix things. I'm no dummy, I've just wandered into an area I know little about, foolin' around with this blog. You wouldn't want me lookin' under your hood, either. I always am the first to say, "Leave it to the professionals."

But, it's ok. Either I'll eventually figure it out, or give up and start over. Kind of like most of life.

Most of the time, there's no use wishin' different. Sometimes, things just are what they are. Either it makes sense, or, it doesn't. And if it doesn't, it probably won't kill us.

Another master of the ancient ballad is Bruce Molsky. Legend has it that the American version of this Scottish song, "Green Grows the Laurel," turned on an American soldier's love for a Mexican woman. As it was sung by cowboys and ranch hands along the Texas border of Mexico, the words that stuck and were understood by their Mexican counterparts were "Green Grows..." well, you be the first to guess what happened with that.

I have always loved this song for its happy tune despite the tone of sad resignation. It's kind of the Mother of All "Oh Well" tunes. This is not the lyric with which I first fell in love, but it's the closest version I could find.

Oh well.

Green Grows the Laurel
(Clip from Bruce Molsky, "Contented Must Be,"
Rounder Records 2004)

Green grows the laurel and soft falls the dew
Sad was my heart when I parted from you
And in our next meeting I hope you'll prove true
Never change the green laurel for the red white and blue

I once had a sweetheart but now he is gone
He's gone and he's left me I'm here all alone
And since he has left me content I must be
I know he loves someone far better than me

I wrote him a letter so loving and kind
He wrote me another with sharp bitter lines
Saying, Keep your love letters and I will keep mine
And you write to your love and I'll write to mine

He passed by my window both early and late
And the looks that he gave me would make your heart ache
The looks that he gave me ten thousand would kill
Wherever he wanders he'll be my love still

I once was as happy as the red blushing rose
But now I'm as pale as the lily that grows
Like the tree in the garden with its beauty all gone
Can't you see what I have come to from the loving of one

Thursday, January 19, 2006

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties...

Excuse the disarray. I'm experimenting. This is what happens when I do that.

Meanwhile, listen to a snippet from Three Forks of Cumberland...

And pretend this is the view.

Oooh, I do love that view.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Me and My 400-Year Itch

Early in my journey down the trad path, I had stumbled across some recordings with Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Bela Fleck, and Edgar Meyer. Some were compilations and others efforts by some formation of any two or more of them. All were intriguing to me, having studied classical music but coming out of the Appalachian foothills.

On my way to work this morning I was enjoying Grammy-nominated Fiddler’s Green, in particular a track that features bassist Meyer with Tim on vocals and fiddle. The simplicity and virtuosity at the same time was what drew me into this music in the first place. If I have adopted a truth about traditional music, it’s this: You can’t hide behind it. Not only are the stories and the sentiments raw and honest, but the lines of the music are pure and unadulterated.

There’s something else that I realized I truly enjoy about traditional music. When I listen to what we might consider an old mountain ballad, I’m really listening to a song that has held together even longer, probably four or even five hundred years. That’s a hell of a long time ago. I love this.

Intellectually, I love progress. I was absolutely awestruck at the news about NASA’s recent accomplishments (read Jim’s post and enjoy his unrestrained joy on the topic – he’ll have you dragging your kids outside to look at the sky in no time!) and enjoy having the secrets of the world revealed to me. But I also especially love old stuff, and old places, things that tell us about our human past. I love walking on battlefields, running my hands along the open pages of a very old book, standing in the middle of a vacant area lined only by stones where someone’s house once stood three or four hundred years ago, sitting on the banks of the James River where John Smith landed himself in a heap of trouble over a young Native Virginian named Pocahontas. And of course, I love to hear music, any music, played just the way it was played when it was brand new.

Songs like this one are particularly illustrative of the nature of these ballads – you’ll think you’re hearing one song, then suddenly you’ll hear a phrase or verse from a different ballad make an appearance. Also, throughout the repertoire, seven years seems to be a standard period of separation -- you see it in "Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden", in "The House Carpenter", and all kinds of other tunes. I wonder if it has anything to do with the seven-year itch -- and more importantly, what do these guys think, bailing on their women and expecting things to go on "like nothing happened" after a seven-year hiatus?! Just like a man. Sheesh.

ANYway, this is the arrangement I listened to this morning; the melody actually ends on V rather than the tonic, as though it will go on forever. Kind of like, well, this blog entry.

I've Been a Foreign Lander

I've been a foreign lander
For seven years or more
Among the brave commanders
Where wild beasts howl and roar
I've conquered all my enemies
On land and on the sea
But you my dearest jewel
Your beauty has conquered me

I can't build a ship love
Without the wood of trees
The ship would burst asunder
If I proved false to thee
If ever I prove false love
The elements would moan
The fire will turn to ice love
The sea will rage and burn

Have you heard the mourning dove
She's flying from pine to pine
She's mourning for her own love
The way I mourn for mine
I lie awake out in the night
I see the shining stars
I wonder if you see them too
Wherever you are

I've been a foreign lander
For seven years or more
Among the brave commanders
Where wild beasts howl and roar
I've conquered all my enemies
On land and on the sea
But you my dearest jewel
Your beauty has conquered me

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Wisdom of No Escape

Lately, I’ve been spending more contact time with the guitar. I know this is because it feels easy, familiar, and accessible – in other words, I feel less like a clumsy dolt. I can find my way in any song; to my enormous amazement, I’ve been playing along fairly evenly with a favorite album, Tim O’Brien’s Traveler. (Allow me this aside: Traveler marks a year of landmarks for me. In February before it was released, I met Tim. In August, I went to Nashville for the CD release gig at the Belcourt. In September, I went to a songwriting event and attended workshops by Tim and his frequent writing collaborator, Darrell Scott. On December 26, I moved out of my house, and my marriage, and took my old life back.)

I love the sound a mandolin makes, but it’s definitely more work for me than guitar. I can sing along easily with the guitar, but the mando requires more concentration and precision. Even if I’m just chopping cords, evoking the right sound demands dead-on technique when hammering the frets. Sometimes I just want it a little easier. Who doesn’t?

I chose the mandolin precisely because it was new and strange to me, and would force me well outside my comfort zone. How often we abandon those challenges that might bring us to a whole new view of things, a new world of wonders, give us a new perspective, prove to us that we are more than we think, and allow us the fullness of joy we so desire. When I spare the patience, time, and endure the frustration it takes to learn a new song on the mandolin, I know the feeling of satisfaction is worth it.

One of my favorite writers is a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. In one of her books, The Wisdom of No Escape, she writes about taking off the armor we all wear, piece by piece, until we realize we have the courage to do the craziest things, the things that scare us the most, without throwing up or running in the other direction. Achieving this is no leap of faith; it is a daily practice, a commitment to smell our own fear, then move ahead toward the unknown, calculating as best we can that we’ll find what we need.

Each of us has a thing that we fear most. My boss says much of what we fear is our own success. I think there is truth in that; we fear actually having that thing we most desire, or achieving that which we think is in us. Rather than advance toward it in some way, we retreat behind our armor, step back into our comfort zone.

I’ve learned for a fact this doesn’t work and only extends my grief and frustration. Life is short; so far, it has always brought me not necessarily what I want, but what I need. When I trust it, I find that things work out for the best, and I am less afraid to go to the places that scare me. We all have to go there eventually to get what we are supposed to have, or more importantly, give what life demands of us.

This song is about getting outside the comfort zone at that precise moment it becomes most critical. It’s honest and beautiful. One night recently, while in comfy guitar mode, I put this song on and played through it, to my great surprise – proving that I can work harder. It’s a love song, but I think it could be applied to any goal. If we have the right support, and faith in ourselves and in the objective, we can push beyond that most frightening place, and probably find that we are still standing, even if what we thought we wanted or expected to find turned out to be something else.

If you are struggling with such a thing, take one small step every day to realize it.

Let Love Take You Back Again
From Traveler
(Tim O'Brien, Universal Music Corp/Howdy Skies Music/ASCAP)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Not Southbound, Just Waterbound

I' ve mentioned here how lately I feel what I can't describe other than homesickness. Recently smacked out of another "I can make it work!" reverie, I'm also feeling the pull of the combined forces of the mining disaster, another terrific David Sutherland documentary called Country Boys, a visit with my family last weekend, and just the direction of my life in general.

You can take the girl out of the Valley, but you'll never take the Valley out of the girl, no matter how old she gets or how far she travels.

I came of age along the Ohio River, in the valley that separates Ohio from West Virginia. The river is a powerful memory, and the economic driver for that region. Today, eastern Ohio and the northern panhandle of West Virginia are suffering from a complete lack of economic growth. There are no high-tech companies vying to get into Bridgeport or Martins Ferry (if my friend and mentor, Eric Fingerhut, can turn this around, he gets my vote for Governor of Ohio). There are only ghosts of steel mills and other factories, remnants of the glory days when life along the river meant security and even prosperity.

My mother's house is gone now, but oh! how I remember sitting on her porch on those warm river nights, gazing into the black wall of mountain foothill that rose from the thick veil of river mist, listening to the barges roll up and down as they taxi coal, steel, waste. I remember before then, how the river was my witness to countless rites of passage into womanhood along the banks in her tall grass. When I drive east to reach her now, and come around that bend that brings us together again, I feel safe, known, believed. The last time I drove back produced an ache I did not ever expect to feel or believe for someone who had worked so hard to get away from all that never could be possible in small river towns.

Now as I turn another bend in life, all that I know is that other things are possible, and that what may someday make me possible is attached to the other end of the golden thread that keeps my heart anchored gratefully in that place, those now grey towns that gave us Lou Groza and poet James Wright, Dean Martin and Clark Gable. I am not a Southern woman, but I am waterbound, and in full moon's light I see with extra clarity, the running is over. The realizing begins.

I want the river now, to wash me clean, give me one more chance, tell me what I need, where to go, what to be next. This song by one of my soul's champions, Dirk Powell, practically puts me in a trance, helps me give myself over to that longing that will not be denied. Listen just a little, please.

Dirk Powell, Time Again, 2004


I went out late one night
Moon and the stars were shinin’ bright
Storm come up and the trees come down
Tell you boys I was waterbound

Waterbound on a stranger’s shore
River risin’ to my door
Carried my home to the field below
I’m waterbound, no where to go

Carve my name on an old board wall
No one know I’s there at all
Stable’s dry on a winter’s night
Turn your head you can see the light

Black cat crawlin’ on the old box car
Rusty door and a fallin’ star
Ain’t got a dime in my nation’s sack
I’m waterbound and I can’t get back

It’s” I’m gone and I won’t be back”
Don’t believe me, count my tracks
River’s long and the river’s wide
I’ll meet you boys on the other side

So say my name and don’t forget
The water still ain’t got me yet
Nothin’ but I’m bound to roam
I’m waterbound and I can’t get home

Linsly Prefect Snags Grammy Nod!!

Well, it's about damn time.

Fiddler's Green has been nominated for a Grammy in the category, "Best Traditional Folk Album" -- HOOwah.

Hear a snippet of every track at Amazon today! Hint: I prefer to use Amazon's sampler, as it has a brighter sound that lends itself to the crisp playing of the trad instruments on this grammy-worthy recording.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Don't Give Me That Ol' Time Religion

Hello trad fans,

I’m going out on a limb, here, knowing that much of the traditional and bluegrass community is also entrenched in old-time gospel music. I know a number of artists who are squarely secular in their music and in their livin’. Personally, there is music that I love in both camps.

But this event today just drew into razor-sharp relief for me what is wrong with religious fervor.
Almost 350 people were killed -- at least that's the number we have at the moment -- in a stampede at a ceremony designed to thwart the devil. Now, what the devil is up with that?

I’m reminded of some of the more evangelical churches, and how folks tend to gettin’ whipped up in a God-fearin’ frenzy enough to cause a ruckus akin’ to this here. And we have more than a few examples throughout history of the bloody mess religion can leave behind. While I have a personal conviction about the meaning of religion in my own life, my definition certainly does not encompass this kind of tragedy. In the words of those very nonbluegrass boys Hall and Oates, I don’t go for that.

Not one to lose my sense of humor in times of trouble, I hesitate to tell you that this is the song that popped into my head when I heard the news about the hajj. Couldn’t help myself.

By the way, you might be able to hear it performed live if you come by the Kent Stage on January 24 when we'll be treate to The Wilders, a wonderiffic trad band that I first heard back at Grey Fox in 2004. They are a real live blast from the past, and the kind I can live with.

Sing along, now:
Gimme That Old Time Religion

Chorus: Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me.

It was good for the Hebrew children
It was good for the Hebrew children
It was good for the Hebrew children
And it’s good enough for me.

It will do when the world's on fire
It will do when the world's on fire
It will do when the world's on fire
And it’s good enough for me.

It was good for our mothers
It was good for our mothers
It was good for our mothers
And it's good enough for me

Makes me love everybody
Makes me love everybody
Makes me love everybody
That's good enough for me

Chorus: Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Trouble on the Banks of the Ohio

The other day I learned a terrible thing: the old Capitol Music Hall, Wheeling’s (WV) cultural seat and home to WWVA and Jamboree USA, has landed in a struggle over ownership.

Naturally, the fight involves a close relative of recently-deceased Clear Channel Communications. Is there anything, aside of Sirius, that Clear Channel hasn’t eaten and spit back up in a completely unrecognizable form?

This landmark is of considerable personal significance to me, and great historical and cultural significance to the Ohio Valley, where I grew up. It was there, home to the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (yes, Wheeling, WV has an orchestra), that I first heard a symphony concert. I performed every year in the Linsly Institute (formerly Linsly Military Institute for alum Tim O’Brien fans) Extravaganza with my pals. I saw any number of shows there. Two of my nieces have danced with various traveling companies performing the Nutcracker there for seventeen years. And, it is home to the second-oldest country music program in the United States, just behind the Grand Old Opry on WSM.

Jamboree USA has been broadcasting live over 50,000 waft AM 1170 - WWVA Radio since 1933. Fans from all over the eastern seaboard have enjoyed tuning into the live weekly radio show to hear their favorite country music artist perform on the Jamboree stage. Guests on the Jamboree have included every major country and bluegrass artist. And it’s damn near the only good thing left in Wheeling that feels like it’s at home.

I am surprised at how shaken I am at this news. So much of what I left behind is gone, and I expected that. But the Capitol should still be standing after I’m long gone and King Wilkie and Nickel Creek are still going strong. As I struggle with feeling totally lost and out of place, the news of great uncertainty surrounding what has been something of an anchor really knocks me for a little loop, here.

The messages in the last week or two have been steady and clear: time to make a trip down home. I feel anxious, alone, and I am absolutely certain I am in the wrong place. My compass is fogged up. Before I lose my steadiness entirely, I best get back to the Banks of the Ohio and regain my footing. So much has happened since I've been gone.

My Fair and Tender Ladies

Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend some time with some of the people I love best: My brothers and their families, and my aunt, her daughter, and granddaughter. We missed my sister, who lives in Nashville, but it was good for the rest of us to have the chance to be together again.

When I look at my brothers’ beautiful daughters (there is one other who couldn’t be with us yesterday) my heart is filled with amazement. I cradled each of them as babies. I’ve watched them grow, but also, wrapped up in my own life as my children came along, missed out on a lot. Suddenly, here there are, today, fair and tender ladies.

I’m filled with love for them, and sick with worry, too. What lies ahead for them? Certainly joy, but no doubt heartache, too.

I wish I could protect them from that misery of being heartbroken, feeling cast aside. I can only hope my considerable experience with this sentiment comes in handy should they find themselves mourning lost love, so that I can be some comfort to them.

And I wish I could have had the kind of cherished human love they deserve, so that they would see it is possible. I felt I disappointed them when my marriage ended, but better they should learn to stand up for trueness to self, and hope as I do to find a true love that honors and nurtures who they are rather than demands they hide or change who they are.

This old ballad was born across the pond. It really is the classic mountain ballad. I can taste the bitterness every time I sing it. I don’t really want to warn them off love, and which of us can resist the promising, if ultimately ill-fated, encounter with love? I am no longer young but even I still fall prey to my hopefulness, and like a brown-eyed rabbit am caught in my own lover’s trap time and again.

Hm. On second thought, maybe I’m not the best one to teach them, after all.

So I’ll just love them, and scrutinize every boy that comes along…if my brothers haven’t already finished him off.

Fair And Tender Ladies

Hear a clip at

Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court young men
They're like a star on a summer morning
They first appear and then they're gone
They'll tell to you some loving story
And they'll make you think that they love you well
And away they'll go and court some other
And leave you there in grief to dwell

I wish I was on some tall mountain
Where the ivy rocks were black as ink
I'd write a letter to my false true lover
Whose cheeks are like the morning pink

I wish I was a little sparrow
And I had wings to fly so high
I'd fly to the arms of my false true lover
And when he'd ask, I would deny

Oh love is handsome, love is charming
And love is pretty while it's new
But love grows cold as love grows older
And fades away like morning dew

Friday, January 06, 2006

Poor Wayfaring Bystander

Wayfaring Bystander

From the recent and somewhat close-to-home mining disaster, to someone close to our family battling cancer, to the everyday struggles I witness as an individual contributor in a family-based enterprise, some events remind me that in some cases, I’m a woman on the outside looking in.

I’ve had a rich life in a lot of ways, and because I chose to live with intention, I gave up some of that inner wealth to forge a more authentic existence. This came into sharp relief earlier this week, after spending a rare vacation day with my children while most of the rest of the world was back at work. My children and I had taken a walk along the bike path to check on our favorite ponds and paths, and enjoy the unusually mild afternoon weather. Once home and settled, the kids went about their unwinding while I did a bit of work and planned our dinner strategy. In that moment I was transported back to a time when I did not work outside the home and my main occupation was the care and feeding of two small children and one grownup man. I suffered an instant of confusion as I pulled myself back into real time: there were only the three of us, and even at that, only half of the time.

Our life together is good. What is missing is not so much missed as noted on occasion, as in this odd moment where it seemed my new life, which I love, crossed paths briefly with my old life, which for a time was good too, if often a little soul-less and ultimately ill-fitting.

This experience is what makes me feel something of an outsider during these times of national and personal crisis. I left one kind of life behind, because the love had died and what was left wouldn't still be working 40 years from now. Then, the love that I was certain I wanted ultimately turned out to be the one I had to refuse. And so, at 40, while I know what it is to love, I will never know what it feels like to lose a partner I’ve loved for a lifetime. My former father-in-law is facing this; the women whose lovers and husbands perished in Sago Mine are facing it as they bury their men. I cannot fully understand; I can only appreciate having been halfway there, and imagine the sense of loss at letting go of one, true partner.

Despite this lesson, being surrounded by these kinds of losses, or near-misses, somehow girds my sense that it is what we do here on earth, and the love we give each other now, that matters, no matter for how short or long a time. I have learned that having lived a life giving and accepting love in one form or another, whether it is to and from children, brothers and sisters, parents, service to a cause or the people in our communities, our friends, one special love -- or for the most fortunate, all of these -- is not only a worthy goal in and of itself, but perhaps all there is. Some believe they will have another chance or are here only to reach some golden shore. I finally realized that we stand on that shore now, and have to love and celebrate each other while we live.

This tune is a parting song. Parting songs, for me, are right up there with murder ballads. The sadder they are, the more I love ‘em. “Your Long Journey” is a such a song, all the lovelier when sung as a duet. I send this out to all true lovers who face that sad final parting, whether they’ve been together a week or a lifetime.

And by the way: while I shouldn't have to remind y'all, tell someone you love that you love them, today, before they take their long journey.

Your Long Journey

God's given us years of happiness here
Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Oh the days will be empty
The nights so long without you my love
And when God calls for you I'm left alone
But we will meet in heaven above

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Fond memories I'll keep of happy ways
That on earth we trod
And when I come we will walk hand in hand
As one in Heaven in the family of God

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I Hope There Were Angels

What must it have been like? You pitch the cheesecloth tent and resolutely don the mask. But hours pass, no one comes, and you see in your brothers' faces that reflection of what you know. Your race is run.

Were there jokes? Messages entrusted? Were the prayers for a miracle, or acceptance, and hope for a peaceful and painless passing together over Jordan?

Death is never easy for those left behind, but I've become pretty comfortable with the concept. I'm at peace with my life so far even though it would be a shame not to finish it out. I'm not really afraid of what comes next because I'm not sure anything does, or if I'll actually be able to sense any such thing. But when the time comes, I hope that I have a moment to collect my thoughts, give a word of love and gratitude for the people in my life, and let go into that clear blue ... or wherever I'll go.

This is the beginning of an arduous, glorious, sometimes pychically dangerous journey for those this event leaves behind. This is a small, tightly-woven community of Appalachian baptists who fear God, love each other, and work hard. It's that simple, and so things like this just aren't so simple. One woman spoke of how she wasn't sure there is a Lord--a significant crisis for someone who has spent her life in the Highways and Hedges. There is in all this darkness some light of opportunity to learn and to grow. The journey these families are about to begin will require great care of soul, enormous capacity for those in any real position to help, to allow for the extraordinary real agony that will follow in days and months ahead.

But now my thoughts are on those miners and their last moments. I hope there was a comfort, either in the human spirit they shared or in some fleeting, ethereal bliss before they died. If angels are real, I believe they would not have miraculously escorted those men from their dark grave but stayed awhile beside them, helping them to let go and get on. This song, a a popular gospel hymn you've surely heard, is one they may even have themselves sung. I first heard it in the context of reading Cold Mountain. A version sung by Ralph and Carter Stanley appeared on the "O! Brother" soundtrack masterminded by T. Bone Burnett. Regardless of what you believe, it is a beautiful song. It always puts me at peace when I sing along. And deep inner peace is what I wish for the surviving men, women, and children of the Sago Mine accident.

Angel Band
(An easy song in 3/4 time, in G, G-C-G-D-G)

The latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph is begun

O come, Angel Band, come & around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home

I know I'm near the holy ranks of friends & kindred dear
I've brushed the dew on Jordan's banks, the crossing must be near

O come, Angel Band, come & around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home

I've almost gained my Heavenly home, my spirit loudly sings
The Holy ones, behold they come, I hear the noise of wings

O come, Angel Band, come & around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home

O bear my longing heart to Him who bled & died for me
Whose blood now cleanses from all sin & gives me victory

O come, Angel Band, come & around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

For the Life of Miners

Yesterday morning, after a Fire Boss for International Coal Group declared Sago mine in Tallmansville, WV safe to fire up after idling for two days. When the men went in not more than 45 minutes later, an explosion occurred, trapping 13 minors on their first day of work in 2006. They are still buried some 260 feet underground, with lessening hope of coming out alive.

How in this day and age, with so much technology, so much evidence that other sources of energy are safer, cleaner, and less expensive, so much knowledge of the danger of underground coal mining, can an industry still be so critical? I know it is a mixed bag, a source of pride and anguish for families who have mind for generations.

When I was growing up in eastern Ohio, the area was heavily strip mined by a handful of companies. Unlike deep mining, strip mining literally is done with blasts to remove layer upon layer of earth, revealing the layers of coal. My sister and I watched from our childhood home as the underbelly of a field we once played in, and a small forest kingdom we called our own, were all razed and raided for what seemed altogether like a bucket of coal. What is left is a trail of environmental destruction that destabilizes the soil and leaves surrounding communities at risk for hazards such as flooding. And, it's ugly. What used to be "Almost Heaven" is now almost nothing but an arid, barren, grey wasteland.

I don't have a position on this. Both methods of mining are hazardous and by today's scientific standards, should be unnecessary. But there are jobs to be kept so mouths can be fed, communities sustained. Apparently the government is too lazy to retrain miners for safer, growth-oriented jobs in regions currently dominated by mining. Besides, what would there be to say to each other if miners and their families were to sit down to dinner each night without worrying who's number is up next?

There are many mining songs but the Dream of the Miner's Child is one of the most poignant. Where I grew up, children were seen and not heard, and I suspect in the places where mining is still the main economic driver, that's likely still the case. Maybe that's why this song made such an impact when it was first recorded on Victor records in the late 1920s. The song is considered to have originated in England as a parlor ballad.

The sound clip features the legendary and much loved Doc Watson.


A miner was leaving his home for his work
When he heard his little child scream.
He went to the side of the little girl's bed;
She said, "Daddy, I've had such a dream!"

"Please, daddy, don't go to the mines today,
For dreams have so often come true.
My daddy, my daddy, please don't go away,
For I never could live without you."

Then smiling and stroking the little girl's face,
He was turning away from her side.
But she threw her small arms around daddy's neck;
She gave him a kiss and then cried:

"Oh, I dreamed that the mines were all flaming with fire,
And the men all fought for their lives.
Just then the scene changed, and the mouth of the mines
Was covered with sweethearts and wives."

"Oh, daddy, don't go to the mines today,
For dreams have so often come true.
My daddy, my daddy, please don't go away,
For I never could live without you."

"Go down to the village and tell your dear friends
That as sure as the bright stars do shine,
There is something that's going to happen today;
Please, daddy, don't go to the mines."

"Oh, daddy, don't work in the mines today,
For dreams have so often come true.
My daddy, my daddy, please don't go away,
For I never could live without you."

My heart hopes against hope for the miners in that mine, and for their sweethearts and wives and children. Credit for the photos goes to Dolores Riggs Davis (check out her website for incredible stories of WV and mining) and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006: Year of the Gig

I don't typically do resolutions. Having fallen short already in a number of areas of my life, and prone to starting things I don't always finish as planned, I hate to set myself up. At the same time, turning 40 late last year set me to thinking: What if I used the next 10 years while I'm stuck in Ohio to really work toward some of my goals? Hence, a few resolutions, Bluegrass style:

1. Practice. Practice, practice, practice. With and without background noise.

2. Go to jam sessions. Practice isn't going to mean anything unless I actually play with other people.

3. Get to a show at the Station Inn. This mecca for bluegrass performers and fans alike in Nashville has long been on my to-do list. And it's not like I'm never there. So this is the year.

4. Get as many people as possible to live shows. Northeast Ohio has some great bluegrass venues, if they are a little out of the way.

5. Spend a couple of days in actual bluegrass country....southern West Virginia, western Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky. Wander up into the hills. Listen to what the people who live there have to say. Sing with them. Let them teach me.

6. Gig (depends on how successful I am with Nos. 1 & 2). Why not?

7. Save enough money to buy a very modest model Deering Goodtime banjo and a few lessons.

8. Truly make room in my life for what my dream demands. Get rid of stuff. Stop acquiring stuff. Start aquiring people and experiences that keep me close to my vision. Support others who share the vision or who are already working hard to sustain it.

9. Make at least one meaningful contribution toward developing the local bluegrass and traditional music "scene".

10. Honor the gifts this entire experience has brought me by continuing to look forward, love fiercely, and live passionately, and by bringing what I can to be of service to the people in my life.

Oh my! Looks like I have some work to do...these don't even include basic things like getting my life in order, balancing my checkbook, and trying a few new things. I'd better get busy.

To all, a happy high-lonesome 2006!