Monday, October 30, 2006

All Night Radio

Last night I took a trip in my mind back a ways, back to a time when I was little, and the sky unfolded, and life unfolded, and I was the captain of my little ship. I was sure I'd sail into the big sky sometime, or they'd come for me. Have I already told the story of how, one night, I was certain I spotted UFOs hovering over what I thought must be a landing field 25 miles away, only to discover they were just the fireflies of June?

Things never turn out to be quite as we remember them, but it's always nice to go back there to cover the good ground.

Last night I watched the movie, Contact, with my son. It was a really great experience. He was even more riveted than I expected, and I had forgotten how many issues the movie raises -- the questions of science and faith, the struggles, the possibilities, the scariness of being alone, of going it alone, of being willing to do so.

There's a lot of that in my family, I think, and in my very closest friends, none of whom are not average, typical, follow-the-herd types. (Oh, before I forget: visit Kathy Barthway Did It, recently launched by my best friend from high school.)

There are times when I felt a lot like Jodie Foster's character Dr. Arroway -- no, Smartass Choir, not because I'm a dorky scientific genius which I'm not -- because she sought a sort of connection that really was hard to define, to an experience of something greater that's hard to authenticate with our human abilities. That's still the case with me, and probably with a lot of people who question the whys and wherefores of our existence. After all, as the theme goes in the movie, if we're truly alone in this gigantic universe, it sure seems like a waste of space.

Thanks to this little experiment of a blog, sort of its own kind of signal, I know I have a connection with people all over the world. Music is a Least Common Denominator for me. As far back as I can remember, it was always there, in my head when I was alone or playing somewhere in the house or the car or being played by myself or my family. There was always either music I heard, or music I was making up, or music from the radio or the stereo, which I learned how to use as soon as I was tall enough to reach all the buttons on the console and carefully place the vinyl records in the cradle of the turntable. Like the hope that there might be intelligent life out there beyond us, I know that music brings joy and meaning to many millions of people besides me. Add a little live music wherever people are gathered and everything changes.

The last memory of our house in the country was not of driving away and looking back. It was of not being able to sleep on the floor in what would have been the family room. All night, I listened to the radio, voices coming in and out, music, not sleeping, not sleeping there on the floor. My life was never going to be the same, and all thoughts of the future were merely chaos. The next day I'd be packed up and moved to town and forever separated from that country life (ok, until I can get back to it, which I hope to, before I die). At that moment deep in the night I truly felt the unknown for the first time.

I make no bones about it, I love Sam Bush. He's really marvelous. When my son and I saw him a couple years ago at The Kent Stage, we were in fact unprepared for just how much FUN we'd have at that show. On the recently-acquired Sugar Hill set (you will be SO much happier if you'd just go get it, already) there's a tune he does, called All Night Radio, which was featured on his 1996 release, Glamour and Grits. I think it'll take you back a little, if it doesn't at least get you humming or singing.

Music is my constant companion, even in silence, even when I drift off, and in my dreams. It's my one true thing. If you were to take me apart down to the core, at its center would be a "thing" of some kind that ticks because music makes it go. Doesn't matter if it's a solo cello sonata by JS Bach, or this tune, or a Thomas Tallis hymn, or the Shostakovich 5 or Prokofiev 3rd, or a pile of fiddle tunes so spare and so roughly recorded that you can barely make out the more familiar tune.

I hope that, if there's life out there, what they hear is not a message from a maniacal world leader like Hitler as in the movie, but a song sweet as this, true and disarming, no harm done, it's all good.

Is anyone out there on this frequency? If not--sure would be a waste of space, don't you think?

All Night Radio
from Glamour and Grits,
Sugar Hill 1996

Where was I when the lights went out
Up in my room listenin' to the twist and shout
Hot summer nights by the window fan
Out on the airwaves some big dance band

On the All Night Radio
Where's that music comin' from,
It's sure got a whole lotta soul
The All Night Radio

Gotta hear the new sound from across the ocean
All strained and soulful, full of emotion
Make you wanna miss somebody that you don't even know
Lyin' there in the darkness with the sound down low

On the All Night Radio
Where's that music comin' from
It's sure got a whole lotta soul
The All-Night Radio

And you can close your eyes
By the dial so low
Tune into the world on the All Night Radio show

Na na naaa na na naaaa na na na naaaa....

New York and Memphis, Chicago and LA
When you're on that wavelenght they ain't so far away
You know you wanna be there when the sun goes down
Gonna feel a whole lot better when you hear that sound

On the all night radio
Where's that music comin' from
It's sure got a lot of soul
The All Night Radio

Friday, October 27, 2006

GF Addendum: HardBalling the Chicks

I’ve always enjoyed Chris Matthews, even though he’s kind of got this way of accelerating his line of questioning so that you expect at any moment that he’ll produce a hairball. But he gets issues out in front of the media-hungry public that otherwise might not be considered.

Take for example this story:

Now, my friends and I enjoy a past-time we call re-hashing. We do it on occasion when the lure of going over some shared incident is too hard to resist. At first, as I read this, I thought that Matthews and the Chicks were sort of engaging in a bit of re-hash-a-rama, but the underlying message the Chicks are sending through the Big Media, is that the problem is The Big Media. Choice is nearly gone, along with taste and most anything intelligent.

There was a time when people formed their own opinions, or, alternatively, simply didn’t have them about the people with whom they disagreed, as long as they were performing their job well. Sort of the way half the house at a Barbara Streisand concert are Republicans. They don't like her politics, but they love her singing.

But in this case, as you all remember, Shrubby loyalists hatelisted a bluegrass group. As on Chick said, edicts were issued at the top of the corporate food chain that the Dixie Chicks were not to be played. Period.

This is media consolidation at its worst. If your radio, TV, and newspaper are all owned by the same person, that person is going to control what you get to hear, read, or see. All it took was one Billy Bud Light to shout, “Hey, they said something bad about our President, so we shouldn’t play their music.”

And all the little children followed. Those who didn't, the few rebs buried in the corporate nightmare of Cox or Clearchannel, lost their jobs.

So I'm just reminding you that the issue is not just about the Chicks. In fact it's not at all about them. Matthews' point, and the Chicks' point, and Olberman's point, and lots of other people's point is that THERE IS NO WAY YOU WILL GET THE TRUTH ABOUT ANYTHING UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES.

You will, however, get plenty of noise, a mix of ads and whatever tripe the DJs who work for the two or three radio conglomerates are allowed to dish out.

You'll never hear anything so original that Disney or Clearchannel couldn't back it.

It's membership season for lots of independent or NPR stations. Support your local NPR affiliates, your favorite college station, and other fledgling efforts in broadcasting who take risks to get to you something that hasn't been canned or played to people wearing earplugs in stadiums.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Girl Friday: Waking the Witch

Pardon me while I take a moment to indulge my Anglophelia.

On my way out the door in the morning I usually stop by the cd collection to see what I need to take with me. Typically I know just what I'm looking for, I grab it, and off I go.

Not yesterday. Ringing in the back of my mind were the words "...but it's the only thing you listen to" -- something someone said making polite fun of the bluegrass I had going in the car at the time. Those words must have been floating around when I approached my collection, because I found the selection baffling me some. And then I settled on my dear old familiar, Kate Bush.

Some readers know this extraordinary talent. She has an enormous vocal range, frighteningly direct and hauntingly beautiful songwriting style, plays any number of instruments. She was born to create music. By the time Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour first came in contact with her at the age of 16, Kate had already penned 200 songs. She has been recording since she was 19 years old.

Kate has a new album out, entitled Arial. I should probably have it. But for now, and in the spirit of the hallowed eve season, I grabbed Hounds of Love. (Ok, true, Wuthering Heights would have made an excellent choice as well, but I think I only had that on a tape and Shiva only knows where it is.) It features a song cycle of sorts in the theatrical style that's become one of the hallmarks of her songwriting. From the 6th track on, the listener is drawn into a storyline about a woman lost, "under ice", in the water, far away from consciousness as she slumbers or hovers near death. We are along for the journey with the subject in her encounters with themes and experiences in this "in between" place. Ultimately we are reminded that we are connected through time through the lines of blood and the fact that we all were born of the water, albeit many millions of years ago.

This song, "Jig of Life," does a good job of capturing that message. I fell in love with this song, with the sheer energy of it, in college. It threw in everything I loved about Celtic music and to some degree, it's theology. Now as an older, middle-aged woman, I hear it differently but am as emboldened as I was some 20 years ago when I listened with the ears of a young student of divination. Had I a proper teacher, or paid attention to the many messages I received back then either from my gut intuition or some other place, my life might have turned out differently.

Now I believe that the only way to predict one's future is to live it. But within each of us lies a certain power of divination -- a degree of direction and energy that compels us forward to fulfilling our potential. I am bewitched by the power of human potential in all of us, and believe it is in fact up to us, rather than some crystal ball or astrological dictum, to realize it.

But we must never forget the past, our mistakes, or our roots in the process. All that's gone before contains so many of the clues to our personal mysteries.

Unravel yours today.

Jig of Life
Hello, old lady.
I know your face well.
I know it well.
She says,[Ooh-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na!]
"I'll be sitting in your mirror.
Now is the place where the crossroads meet.
Will you look into the future?"

Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
No, no, no, no, no!
Let me live!"

She said "C'mon and let me live, girl!"
She said,"C'mon and let me live, girl!"
"This moment in time,"
(She said.)
It doesn't belong to you,"
(She said,)
"It belongs to me,
And to your little boy and to your little girl,
And the one hand clapping:
Where on your palm is my little line,
When you're written in mine
As an old memory?
[Ooh, na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na]
"Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
Oh no, no, no, no, no!
Never, never, never!Never, never let me go!"

She said,
"C'mon and let me live, girl!'

[Long powerful instrumental here--lots of fiddling with crooked turns and other good stuff]

I put this
I put this
I put this moment--

"Over here!"
Over here!
Can't you see where memories are kept bright?
Tripping on the water like a laughing girl.
Time in her eyes is spawning past life,
One with the ocean and the woman unfurled,
Holding all the love that waits for you here.
Catch us now for I am your future.
A kiss on the wind and we'll make the land.
Come over here to where
When lingers,
Waiting in this empty world,
Waiting for Then, when the lifespray cools.
For Now does ride in on the curl of the wave,
And you will dance with me in the sunlit pools.
We are of the going water and the gone.
We are of water in the holy land of water
And all that's to come runs in
With the thrust on the strand."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Oh! And there's a DVD!"

...I said to myself, out loud. In my empty house. Because at the back of the box of 4 cds and 81 tracks in the Sugar Hill Retrospective, that's what I found.

I'm a bit easily distracted lately.

It's true. Between recovering from the Fall Crud that took my voice and sent me coughing for about ten days, the death of a member of our office family, the serious occupation of trying to learn new tunes played and sung with actual other people, my job, my kids, and my feeble attempts at keeping up with the housekeeping habits of my friends, the best I can do lately is pimp good new releases and whine about my inner work.

So it continues.

I've been taking in the CDs of this release which I mentioned having aqcuired at auction to support the International Bluegrass Music Museum. And I am taking them in one at a time. The last two nights, I've pretty much burned a hole in the "Whiskey Before Breakfast" track on the second CD. Tonight I've moved to disc 3, and I see John COWan there near the end, along with more The Seldom Scene, Del, my pals Robin and Linda Williams, and just a whole BUNCH of other people I love, including Darrell Scott's (in)famous You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive.

This retrospective is special because Sugar Hill founder Barry Pos handpicked each of the 81 tracks. I can't really imagine what it must be like to look back on a career spanning 25 years as head and founder of one of the most innovative labels in the recording industry, let alone one of two (Rounder being the other in mind) that shamelessly pimp traditional, bluegrass, and folk music almost as much as I do.

The song below has been covered by all kinds of "stars" from Patty Loveless and Brad Paisely, but no one will come close to the singer songwriter who penned it, Darrell Scott. He's the one who's included on the Retrospective, and if you only listen to a handful of the 81 tracks, this one has gotta be on your short list.

Thank you Barry, and thank you Sugar Hill for a quarter-century of preserving and presenting some of America's very best music and musicians. Here's to the next 25!

(No, I'm not gonna watch the DVD tonight. I mean, I don't think so. Hm...)

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive
Darrell Scott
Sugar Hill Records SHCD-3864

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That's the place where I trace my bloodline
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone
You will never leave Harlan alive

Oh, my granddad's dad walked down
Katahrins Mountain
And he asked Tillie Helton to be his bride
Said, won't you walk with me out of the mouth
Of this holler
Or we'll never leave Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinking
And you spend your life just thinkin' of how to get away

No one ever knew there was coal in them mountains
'Til a man from the Northeast arrived
Waving hundred dollar bills he said
I'll pay ya for your minerals
But he never left Harlan alive

Granny sold out cheap and they moved out west
Of Pineville
To a farm where big Richland River winds
I bet they danced them a jig, laughed and sang a new song
Who said we'd never leave Harlan alive

But the times got hard and tobacco wasn't selling
And ole granddad knew what he'd do to survive
He went and dug for Harlan coal
And sent the money back to granny
But he never left Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinking
And you spend your life just thinkin' of how to get away

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinking
And you spend your life digging coal from the bottom of your grave

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That's the place where I trace my bloodline
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone
You will never leave Harlan alive

Sunday, October 22, 2006

At My Window

A family I am very close to is letting go a loved one. As the time ticks and I type, he is sleeping further away, sailing into the blue night, going wherever it is we go when it's over.

Death is a big important part of life. When my mother died I was going through a sort of spiritual death as well, and came through with a new perspective on my relationship to Self and to whatver God is. Late last year, my perspective widened again when I was introduced by my good friend My Boring Best to the work of author and scientist Richard Dawkins. The encouragement to explore the world in a manner more scientific was a huge challenge to all the work I had accomplished a few years before, but I could not turn away from Dawkin's message in his book, Unweaving the Rainbow.

My Boring Best recently posted a YouTube video of an interview with Dawkins discussing his latest book, The God Delusion. The only thing I enjoy more than reading Dawkins is watching the passion and enthusiasm with which he so deftly discusses his perspective.

In times of confusion brought about by death, troubles, or relationship matters, I used to turn to God and "let go let God" routine. But the truth is that in matters of the human heart, I have an enormous responsibility. Regardless of whether in fact there may be some god influencing the patterns of my life, or, equally unlikely, the notion that the position of the planets at my birth somehow determine the people with whom I relate best and worst, ultimately I alone am responsible for the choies I make. Likewise, if I have the gift or challenge of a relationship of somekind, any kind, it is up to me to be a steward of that, for whatever reason it is in my life.

I think I am fortunate that I've learned that. Just a year or two ago, I would anguish over the whys and wherefors of human relationship. I don't know whether there is such a thing as karma. What I do know is that in thr course of the human life, I will encounter any number of people with whom I will be in relationship, and I bear some responsibility for the quality of that relationship. So do we all.

What burns me about religion is just that notion that it appears to be ok to love God but hate your gay, black, bisexual, Republican, Democrat, atheist, Jewish, hispanic, or Muslim neighbor. That's where the whole religion thing really loses steam in my view. A bunch of crap, in fact.

I prefer simply to take each day as a gift, each moment as an opportunity to put into it whatever I can. Sure, it's real hard sometimes. We all want understanding, to feel like we have some grasp on purpose in our lives. But we can have that without the delusion that our lives are driven by an invisible force some unfathomable distance from us. Therein lies the slightest abdication of responsibility, albeit small.

One of the things that challenges me is the abundance of beautiful Gospel music in the Bluegrass tradition. There are artists I really adore, like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, who are dedicated to straight bluegrass as well as Gospel tunes, and their faith is real. Then there are artists like Townes Van Zandt, a songwriter of infinite talent who gave us the number below.

I'll always continue striving to understand my place in the world, but I won't dwell on it, or why things are what they are. I have to work at reminding myself as we all do that things ARE, and that is the gift to us. Life is an experience, not an audition for the afterlife.

Today was quiet and slow and full of meaning and emotion. I will miss my friend. His legacy is part of my present and I will have fond memories of him. But I have a lot of living and beauty and work left and am working hard at striking the right balance between the commitment of doing it all well and detachment of not doing it for my own satisfaction but to leave the world a better place. This song by Van Zandt, which I heard for the first time on a soon to be released Sugar Hill Retrospective I won at an auction at IBMA (to support the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky), just caught my attention and speaks to the moment in which we must sometimes look in on our lives differently, to make sure we are living in right action and intention.

My wish for you all this week is a brush with consciousness that takes you to a new place.

At My Window
by Townes Van Zandt

At my window
watching the sun go
hoping the stars know
it's time to shine

aloft on dark wings
soft as the sun streams
at days decline

Living is laughing
dying says nothing at all
baby and I are lyin' here
watching the evening fall

Time flows
through brave beginnings
and she leaves her endings
beneath our feet

walk lightly
upon their faces
leave gentle traces
upon their sleep

Living is dancing
dying does nothing at all
baby and I are laying here
watching the evening fall

Three dimes
hard luck and good times
fast lines and low rhymes
ain't much to say

Feel fine
feel low and lazy
feel grey and hazy
feel far away

Living is sighing
dying ain't flying so high
baby and I are lying here
watching the day go by

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I Get to Feelin' Stoopid

Just a quick note to direct y'all to the updated Lonesome River Band website. You can hear clips of all the tracks of their new cd, The Road With No End which debuted earlier this month, AND you can purchase a download of the whole thing OR your favorite tracks. Not that I can imagine anyone being able to stop at one or two.

I just love the sound these guys make. Really, I get all stupid around 'em. They're really consumate musicians, not just incredible instrumentalists but an incredibly tight vocal ensemble as well. And I understand that uberadorable Jamie Johnson of Grascals fame even penned a tune or two for this release.

Go on now and have yourself a great day -- make sure you have the soundtrack to go with it!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

This Friday, Go to the Well

Irrelevancy is tortuous.

I remember the feeling I had when I started to look for a job a few years ago. My marriage was at an end, and after almost four years at home with my kids (I started with one and ended up with a bonus, my daughter) I had to start the process of re-entering the world of work.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine I didn’t work outside the home for almost four years. In fact, I didn’t think it was that long until I checked to see when I actually left my previous job and started this one. It went very quickly, despite remembering how tough it was to get anything done with a baby, or how long the winters were cooped up for what seemed like weeks at a time. But while I devoted the majority of my time to my family, I also did a great deal of professional-level work as a volunteer and a good bit of self-development in reconnecting with and exploring my interest in music. So when I hit the pavement in search of a job, I figured I’d have a much easier time. I was wrong.

Now, as a recruiter, when I look at those gaps in a resume, I know how to ask about it sensitively rather than put a person in the “circular file”. All I could think was, “There has to be a place out there that needs someone like me.” I had a lot to give and could be a great asset – why didn’t anyone else get this?

In some – many, in fact—ways, I’m very lucky. I stumbled into a job that brings me real satisfaction and I work with people who are fabulous, not to mention I come into contact with some pretty strong leaders in the music business. I’ve found a hint of belonging there, in a place where I feel moderately competent, welcome, and can make a contribution while working on my own “thang.”

I’m also very fortunate that one of my friends has encouraged me to dig in to my playing and singing and is willing to work with me on that part of myself that hasn’t seen the light of day for a long time. It feels to be doing that a little again, and it’s encouraged me to bring that out in others and to seek out opportunities to help bring that about.

But outside of all that, despite the friendship and love I have in my life, sometimes I feel a little like I’m standing alone on a raft in a lake surrounded by a desert 300 miles in every direction.

Relevancy matters to most of us. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be such a powerfully profitable pop psychology industry built on the basic human need to forge connections, sustain successful relationships, have notable careers, and create families. The desperate need to attract a mate is manifested everywhere in our society, and in many of the wrong ways. Our instant-gratification modus operandi has caused us to expect more without working harder at the most important things.

Choosing a path that doesn’t race at breakneck speed, doesn’t feed into the notion that you can pretty much buy anything you want (including love), doesn’t require extremely high voltage, and doesn’t cost as much is kind of lonely at times. But I think it’s more related to the present state of my life and the forces I have to work against, and the fact that most everything else in society seems to be incongruent with these values, than some notion that I’m flawed in some way. It’s really that we’ve lost touch with our humanity and think we can pay a price to regain it. We’re paying, all right. With our soulfulness.

I don’t believe in the same notion of “God” that I once did, and I no longer have that notion to lean on. But there are ways to cultivate inner work and peace without “faith” as it’s popularly known. Going back three or four years, to another time I felt deeply lost and surrounded by the loss of my mother and a significant friendship, I recall leaning on a connection to ancientness, to nature, and to the reality that I am but a tiny piece in a very big picture.

That is the truth for each of us. That is the reality. While many are busy trying to fill a hole they never can with Hummers and electronic toys and beautiful lawns and unending social engagements, the continuum rolls on and meaning slips away.

My heritage is English and Welsh, and I’ve always felt a connection to that past, to the way my ancestors were mindful of the fleeting nature of life and the way we are intricately entwined with each other and with the elements. This is one of my favorite songs because it celebrates that honorable view. I have always felt a connection to water and its power and symbol, making this song especially meaningful to me.

Take a drink.

Holy Well
From Two Journeys
(Tim O'Brien (Howdy Skies Music/Universal Music Pub., ASCAP--2001)

Let’s go down to the holy well
Down among the heather
Hear the water make a gentle sound
We’ll heal our souls together

Where the water flows from a deeper place
And it starts it’s life anew
We’ll plant our wishes there with love
Let our dreams come true

Let’s go down to the holy well
Down among the heather
Hear the water make a gentle sound
We’ll heal our souls together

We’ll linger there for a quiet hour
By the grasses flowers and ferns
Just put your ear down to the ground
Let simple thoughts return

It isn’t all the far away
Just a few steps from the road
But we can leave our burdens there
We can lighten up our load

Let’s go down to the holy well
Down among the heather
Hear the water make a gentle sound
We’ll heal our souls together

Hand in hand and side by side
And heart by loving heart
Sit quiet there in the misty shade
And let the healing start

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Family Craziness, Family Pride

There's nothing quite like the grind of the typical American family. While it's true that many families put themselves through a terrible grind rather unnecessarily, us singles with kids kind of have to throw that job thing in to make ends meet while supporting our kids' many interests as well as find time for our own.

One of my interests, ok, OBSESSIONS, is of course music. I make as much time for music as I can, whether I'm just listening to it, learning a new tune, writing about it, coming up with a lyric here and there. You could call it a hobby except that I've had a little training and I have a lot of passion for it, so it's really going to be sort of my second act. But at this stage I temper the time and attention I spend on it.

But some families are meant to make music, whether their kids have other lives or interests. The Cherryholmes are one such family, and they are also one of the bluegrass artists we were fortunate to hear for the first time this past September at IBMA.

I really can't complain about my little family and the few things we have to do each week. A little homework, a swim or ski lesson, maybe a few errands. This family -- Jare (bass) and Sandy (mandolin and vocals) along with children Cia (banjo) , Skip (guitar), BJ (fiddle, mando, vocals) and Molly Kate (fiddle, vocals) ranging in age from 22 to 14 and all homeschooled -- are full-time musicians, working, living, and playing together. What an interesting way to grow up. And, um, busy.

To see this family, this naturally produced and assemble collection of exceedingly talented musicians, perform together really is an experience. There is a beauty to the ease with which these six individuals execute the most challenging tunes. I mean, it's like they're actually having FUN.

Now, to be sure, they are still a family. When my son and I were scrounging in one of the concession rooms for a quick lunch between the last morning set and the separate workshops we wanted to attend, we encountered a slightly quarrelsome pair of Cherryholmes. They are normal kids, afterall!

Like most family bands in the business, this one is filled with family pride. They've made a living out of a way of life, an alignment that too few of us will ourselves be able to achieve in this lifetime.

Enjoy a clip of one of our favorite tunes off the self-titled album. It's a Bill Monroe tune called Tallahassee, and many of you probably know other versions. But to watch this family play this, especially the two young fiddlers who earlier were arguing over salad vs. sandwhich, really
was a delight. My daughter and I enjoy this tune as the soundtrack to watching the school buses queue up from my son's school to the high school in the still-dark morning hours that begin another busy family day.

This bunch has LOTS of dates, and several coming up righ here in Ohio. Click here for all the details -- and maybe I'll see you there!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Only Passing Through

Hello, Leipzig!

(Sorry. I just get a kick that someone in Leipzig stopped by. Danke! Haben sie Bluegrass? Gut! Wilkommen, alle.)

For the rest of you, that should confirm, if it wasn't already evident, that one thing is pretty clear: I am a bit of a freak. The last couple of days have kind of reminded me of this. Ok, that's not really true. Today it hit me the way that horrible gripping fear hits you just before you fall on your ass when you hit that patch of ice on your front steps.

So I have to change my life. Now.

And I don't mean dumbing myself down or becoming more mainstream so that I can play nice with others or pretend to like the same things everyone else does. I don't mean bending over even MORE often, keeping my mouth shut MORE often (hell, I get paid to keep it open so I should probably trust myself the way the people I work for trust me), looking the other way MORE often, sitting on my hands MORE often. I mean, I gotta be around more freaks like me.

My boss's grandmother used to tell him that it was expected that children would keep "profitably busy." What an excellent notion. I have been of late, most profitably busy, but I do find that being alone in the middle of a cornfield at times with two young kids at your side, you lose track of time and direction and sometimes projects. But I realized today that just isn't going to work. All irons in the fire, at all times, come what may.

I remember praying. I remember, when I believed, how I could just let it all go and pretend something or someone else would handle these issues while I toiled away at the dishes and the laundry and the homework and the bad dreams. I wish I could fall back on that now, fall back on something, anything, that would just ease the burden and give me a little direction. I miss that.

Consciousness is really hard work. Purposeful living is really demanding. It requires us to make a commitment. Once the purpose in us takes ahold of us by making itself known, even vaguely, living any other way is disingenuous, inauthentic. Ultimately a cop-out.

How many more times will I come up with an excuse to be where I am rather than where I should be? How hard will it get before it gets easier? How much lonelier before I find community? How much worse before it gets better? How deep is my well, and when it's empty, what will I do? It feels pretty dry right now. Do I remember how to pray for rain?

The haunting first bar or two of this song by Claire Lynch (I warned you readers how I would be shameless in my props) on her New Day cd puts me in a place to be ready for this song. I can barely sing, still getting over this cough thing, but this album, and this song in particular, kind of go easy on my mind and I force myself to sing through it. If you read Claire's myspace bio, or if you're lucky as me, shake hands or look her in the eyes, you'll know she's traveled quite a road. She has inspired me, and reminds me it's not over til it's over, never say never, "worst case scenario, the world just keeps on case scenario, pretty much the same..."

We're only passing through. And I'm not wasting my ride.

Hey, Europe fans, THANK YOU FOR LOVING BLUEGRASS! Thank you for being even more unusual, more daring, more dedicated because it's not as accessible where you are. I would love to come join you in May! I'd only be passing through but we would have fun!

Only Passin' Through
by Claire Lynch

Wooden porches
Run down houses
Mildewed sofas
And grownup yards

Drivin' past 'em
I am reminded
Of where we come from
And where we are

We are only passin' through
Like it's all we have to do
And for all it means
To me and you
We are only passin' through

Up on Wall Street
They shape the curve
Of what we have
And what we deserve
I don't buy it
And they don't care
Can't say which of us
Is the most aware

We are only passin' through
Like it's all we have to do
And for all it means
To me and you
We are only passin' through

Worst case scenario
The world just keeps on turning
Best case scenario
Pretty much the same

And all that seems to matter
Is the scramble for the credit
And the blame

Big old houses
Tall, white columns
Iron gates to keep what's bad outside
Driving past 'em
I am reminded
The price we pay
Just to enjoy the ride

We are only passin' through
Like it's all we have to do
And for all it means
To me and you
We are only passin' through
Only passin' through

Friday, October 13, 2006

Get Down (in the Valley) --GF Update

For crying out loud! Who besides me DOESN'T have a myspace account?!

All my very favorite artists do, including Claire Lynch (see last Friday's post).

To boot, you can listen to ALL of "Down in the Valley" and several other terrific tunes (my favorite song to belt out these days is "Up This Hill and Down" -- and yes, I can belt out a few, when I'm not croakin' sick like I've been all week).

So get on over and listen up. And Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

All Those 'Untold Stories'

I bought my first Hot Rize album, in fact it might have been my first bluegrass album, "Untold Stories," back in 2002. It was a Friday night, the night before my mother died. I remember falling in love with this album, this band, instantly -- of course I had the cellophane off and the disc in my car's player before I was even out of Borders' parking lot -- but getting home too late to call Mom to tell her about it.

It would have been the last time I spoke with her. It would have been a chance for her to hear in my voice real joy, for the first time in a long time.

The fact of falling in love with bluegrass and simultaneously losing my mother might have been a lesson I needed to learn early. In what nearly was one swift action on the continuum of my life, I gained and lost two equally precious things that have given me life, allowed me a voice, encouraged me to dream and follow that dream. Where mother used to sustain me and be my compass, music is now that ally.

Today I had a bit of a revelation about how much like my mother I am. We daughters know something of the rhyme, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all." But I can of late draw deeper similiarities.

She spent a lot of her life in situations and relationships that didn't befit her. It's likely that her marriage was probably on the whole as unhappy as mine was, and it went on so much longer. She loved a man who was not really capable of loving her back. She took on way too much after he died -- after the marriage ended -- and was essentially on her path alone, except for her children who really could not share her burden. Unlike me, she chose to accept an enormous burden for which she was unprepared -- running the family business.

In a moment of moping today it occurred to me how she too lacked a partner, an ally--after my father died. She was a middle-aged single mother of two relatively young children who lived the rest of her life with no other primary relationship to ease the burden. While my children's father is by no means dead, he certainly is not what I would consider an ally by any stretch nor was he much of one during our marriage. So I know something of the aloneness she must have felt trying to navigate running a business and raising her two youngest children. And although she missed her husband terribly, and had to bear all the decisions alone, she also had to learn to rely solely on her own judgement to live out the role of mother and businesswoman. All her mistakes were her own -- a blessing and a curse, or as a friend and I call it, a "blurse." I have the luxury of sharing the responsibility with a former spouse, likewise a blurse.

My mother loved us and took great care to see that in particular my sister and I had every opportunity for an education that would prepare us for nearly anything. She was always there for late night talks, and always reminded us how "everything happens for a reason." She continued to be the mainstay of our growing family as my brothers and their wives all had children of their own. She never gave up the role of motherhood no matter how old we got; she worried after us constantly and never failed to offer up her opinion.

But in later years, we began to see how angry she was. She was unable to share responsibility or decision making with my brother who was then and is today the primary external executive in the business he rescued from disaster. She came to loathe the veil of democracy and in the last election before she died, didn't even vote. There was an undercurrent of deep disappointment in her personality which grew in the months before she died. The secrets of her marriage at one point revealed, she faced the conundrum of accepting her life for what it was, or plowing ahead to get through.

As I set out on a guided exploration of my own life, decisions, and relationships, it's good to be aware of these things. My bond with my mother is both strengthened and serves as an important reminder of the choices I have as I work to fulfill my purpose, whatever it is. As optimistic as I am that I can and will accomplish what I set out to do, I know it might take a little longer without a partner. Although I have friends and family, personal and professional advisors, when it comes down to the choices I make or the people who get in my face, I fight my own battles. I guess I wish I didn't have to do it all alone, but for the time being, that's the right path.

Digging into untold stories is important for all of us to do. When we don't acknowledge those things that give form to our actions, relationships, and decisions, we're deciding to live ignorantly. I refuse to do that and to pretend to be someone I'm not or live a life that doesn't suit me. I tried that.


My IBMA experience a few weeks ago brought full circle the journey I started back on that autumn night in 2002. There onstage for the first time for me were Tim O'Brien, Pete Wernick (Dr. Banjo), Nick Forster (of etown fame), and young Bryan Sutton in for the late Charles Sawtelle -- bringing back together the band, Hot Rize.

Hot Rize played together for some 20 years, until in 1998 Sawtelle took ill with an inoperable cancer. After he died, one of the guys found tapes from their last live show at the Boulder Theatre in Boulder, Colorado where the band was headquartered. That live album also became a staple in my collection, but nothing could match the experience of watching and hearing these four gentlemen play together some of the music I loved so dearly because of the way it truly righted my life's direction.

I am grateful for that moment in Nashville last month. I guess some might even say it's a sign, maybe even a sign that I'm still going in the right direction. I never would have dreamed I'd see that bunch live, and there they were. I regret not sticking around to tell them how much it meant; so far I've only been able to track down Pete who responded to my email that the set meant a lot to him, too. So if you're out there Nick, Tim, and Bryan, thank you, from the bottom of an old girl's heart, for a set I'll never forget.

Here's one of my favorite tunes, the title track from "Untold Stories". It's great to sing. I love the vocals. Also check out the first track, their version of that eminently singable and playable old chestnut, "Are You Tired of Me, My Darlin'?" which is probably the first bluegrass song I learned because it reminded me so much of some of the songs my mother sang to me.

How I wish she were here to sing with now. It's just gonna be another untold story.

Untold Stories

All those untold stories
All those silent lies
We'll never know each toher
Keeping it deep inside
Let's wash away the troubles
Keepin' us apart
Tell those untold stories
Let the healin' start

It's been so long ago
That we went our separate ways
And now maybe time has changed us
In one or other ways
You look the same as ever
And I'm glad you're here with me
Take a look into my eyes
And tell me what you see, its

All those untold stories
All those silent lies
We'll never know each toher
Keeping it deep inside
Let's wash away the troubles
Keepin' us apart
Tell those untold stories
Let the healin' start

Now I don't want forgiveness
And honey, I don't need you now
But we've built a wall between us
And it's time to tear it down
Let's plant a tree together
Maybe we can make it grow
If not now, then maybe never
We might not ever know

All those untold stories
All those silent lies
We'll never know each toher
Keeping it deep inside
Let's wash away the troubles
Keepin' us apart
Tell those untold stories
Let the healin' start

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

uR mi Flr

Google is watching.

Did you know that? Those clever Googlers throw us a news bone, like the acquisition of YouTube, to distract us from the fact that they are reading our email.

I realized this not too long ago while in a Gmail conversation with Jawbone. I don’t know how many of you readers use Gmail but I have found it to be easy to use, free, well-organized, and almost entirely spam-free. The catch? Send a few emails to your friends and then watch as the Gmail police proffer up links related to the topics in your email, in the sidebar next to your email screen.

Kinda spooky, huh?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Google, and live by it pretty much in my line of work. But this email scanning thing, even if it is automated, is just a little bit unsettling. I expect the government to be doing it, and am sure my NSA file is pretty hefty. But this is GOOGLE. It doesn’t seem befitting those two young entrepreneurial lads to be spying on my email.

I discovered this when I noticed to the right of my email window what appeared to be a rather disjointed collection of links on string bands and composting. Methought that was an odd combination – until it dawned on me that our emails had been about string band music and composting. A recent thread evoked a link on autoharps. How many of you even know what that is!? Ok, probably a good many faithful bluegrass or mountain music fans do, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t just pop up on the average Google search. What would Mother Maybelle think?

It’s kind of fun to go back through a few of the messages just to see what Google pulls up. In one in which I venture a guess that Keith Olberman is probably the perfect man and plays banjo,too – this is in the text of the email, not the subject line, mind you – I get banjo related links that even include my favorite instrument purveyor, Elderly Instruments. A recent email newsletter from fiddler Casey Driessen, in which he talks vividly about his upcoming tour of China and Tibet, renders “Get College Gigs” and “USA-China Cheap Airfares.”

Then again, there are misses. When a friend sent me a music clip that uses some pretty colorful language in a satirical take on bluegrass gospel, the links that turned up were “Bilingual children!” along with “The Money Savvy Pig” and “5 Indigo Child Secrets.” So there are flaws, after all.

At the bottom of your list of links, Google provides another link to this explanation:

Gmail uses a completely automated process to provide useful information and relevant ads in the sidebar of your Gmail account pages:
Ads and Related Pages
Addresses, Packages, and other links
Add to calendar

Ok, fine. Whatevah. That could be helpful. But they’re reading my email, damn it!

When I caught on to this, I told my good friend Jawbone, who has taken to fooling around with punctuation and capitalization to throw the email knowbots off the track. It does sometimes make for slower reading on my part, but the fact is, it’s clever, and kind of fun to fool around with language. At the same time it’s a little sad that maintaining the veil of privacy involves such convoluted measures as speaking in code for a simple email conversation about how to build a better "Wagoner’s Lad" or in what key I need to practice "You Are My Flower". Oh, I mean, UR mi Flwr. Shhh!

If you’re reading, dear Google, would you mind not spying on me and instead using your access to vast technological wonders to undo the right-wing conspirators or find Osama Bin Hiden? Then again, if you can offer us a way to spread the magic of bluegrass music far and wide, or subtly compel men, women and children all over the world to be overcome with the urge to pick up banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, guitars, or basses, or even autoharps, you can hang around all you want.

And here’s a tune I’m learning that you can share with everyone. It’s called You Are My Flower and it’s in the key of G, and it turned up 42.2 million links when I plugged it into Google. It’s an old Carter Family song that’s just as sweet as can be. It reminds me of my daughter, who sometimes requests to hear it on the way to school.

You Are My Flower

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me

When summertime is gone and snow begins to fall
You can sing this song and say to one and all

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me

So wear a happy smile and life will be worthwhile
Forget the tears but don't forget to smile

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me

Friday, October 06, 2006

Girl Friday: Down River Road

Readers who have been coming around a while know that sometimes I get a little wistful about home, even though home ain't much to write home about. The Ohio Valley area has a good deal of unemployment, just like Northeast Ohio. But it hasn't gotten much worse; in fact I think Cleveland has now passed it up, being the poorest city in America for the second straight year.

It's been kind of an emotional week, with lots of highs, like the trip to IBMA, and the lows, like the shooting at the Amish schoolhouse. I'm surprised how much that latter piece has affected me. At the same time I feel so much hope and happiness and want to look forward, lots of other worries are also beginning to pile up, making me feel like some things are a lost cause.

These are the times I am suddenly caught with a deep wish to find that special place that is always home. That Ohio River Valley might not look like much, and it might not be much, but for me it will always possess a certain magical healing power.

As this all was quietly brewing, a friend I was talking with on the phone the other night got curious about my hometown and pulled it up on Google maps. Over the line I heard the names of streets and landmarks and parks and tiny little I nearly had forgotten about, places of my youth. and images and memories so strong it's like I was there driving along. These familiar names brought to mind the places I'd walked, kissed, laughed, learned to drive, grew up. Yet to go back now is almost impossible.

The parking lot in the picture at left was the place my mother's house stood until a couple of years ago; another picture below shows the United Dairy that has overtaken the side streets I tried to cut through to get my family's welding supply store. The tanks behind the fence still bear my name, but, was I ever really there?

I was, once upon a time. I was a little girl riding in the back seat of an old station wagon on the way to get a black raspberry cone at Isaly's. I was a kid come by the office to see my dad after a trip to the dentist. I was a high school sophomore plodding through my summer reading list in my mother's yard next to her perfectly wild English garden. I was a new graduate gone mad for my first real love, nights spent learning and longing parked in the high grass along that river, as barges rolled by. I was a co-ed on my mother's front porch, sitting in the dark listening for my heart's big ideas. I was a mother, a sister, a daughter down in that valley. I've never been all the things I am anywhere else.

Maybe that's why that place, as run down and redneck as it might still be, means as much as it does. I'm not alone. Many of the women I graduated with from high school have made good lives back in that valley, as professionals, and mothers.

One of the best experiences I had at this year's IBMA event was being introduced to Claire Lynch. I've written about her before on this blog and you'll be hearing a lot more. She is a treasure, and her band is marvelous. Missy Raines is IBMA's bass player of the year; I shook Dave Harvey's hand with my left hand and told him I hope it helps my mando playing (he's stellar). Claire and Jim Hurst tie it down with guitar.

This song has helped me keep it together this week. It's called Down in the Valley and is just how I feel. It's precious to me, the way a song like this can show up just when you need it most. It soothed this open aching and confused heart, filled with everything imaginable and no place to put it, longing for that comfort of what was once home, desperately wanting a new one, but wishing nonetheless for just a minute in the dark on my mother's porch.

Down in the Valley

If my feet could walk
Down that old dirt road
I would follow where it goes
Down in the valley where the warm wind blows

When all peace is lost
And my head hangs low
There’s a longing calling me home
Down in the valley where the dogwood grows

And I carry some comfort with me
Anywhere I go
And I keep it close
And it feeds my soul

To be down in the valley where the river flows

And I carry some comfort with me
Anywhere I go
And I keep it close
And it feeds my soul

To be down in the valley where the river flows

There’s a still small voice
Only my heart knows
I hear it calling, calling me home
Down in the valley where the warm wind blows
Down in the valley where I call my home, sweet home

Down in the valley where the river flows

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

‘What Is Happening To Us?’

Coming off a fairly idyllic weekend and into the mess that is this world, it’s hard to swallow the shooting Monday at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Evidently, some nutjob put his own kids on their bus to school, loaded up his truck with weapons, toilet paper, and 600 rounds of ammo, backed it up to the remote school, and let loose years of rage and hatred on about a dozen little girls.

Some of these were girls my daughter’s age. My daughter’s size.

He lined them up, faces to the blackboard, bound their feet, and executed five of them before he took his own ugly life.

It’s impossible not to think of my own tiny daughter with her feet bound, and me so far away, not knowing what she’s going through, not able to comprehend her fear and pain, not able to help her at all, even in passing out of this life. I cannot begin to imagine the horror those children felt, or that of their parents, or the unimaginable grief at what those last moments must have been like for those children before they were lost.

Why do things like this happen? What is propelling these angry, deeply unhappy men toward such unthinkable acts of violence? Why can’t we prevent it?

Well, sometimes, we just can’t. There is an ugly side to the world, and this is a window in on that. Who could have stopped a guy with a truck and 600 rounds of ammo in Amish Country unless the Psychic SWAT Team was able to get to him before he got inside that schoolhouse? As a coworker said, a horse and buggy don’t go that fast.

So we grieve. I am grieving. I grieve for the way those children met death, I grieve for their parents and families, for that community – if it can happen there, well – and for the family of that man whose lives he also shattered. I grieve that anyone should walk around with whatever that guy carried inside, and never feel safe telling someone or asking for help before it drives them to commit a horrible atrocity.

And I grieve for all our children, and our selves, because we are reminded how frail everything really is, how little most things matter in the end, because all we have is one instant.

And living for that instant, and in it, is important. As hard as it is to do, we have to make peace, and move on. Don’t drag behind you the dead weight of those who can’t forgive or understand. Free yourself. Love, and allow yourself to be loved. Help other people. Let them help you.

Look your children in the eye every single day and say, “I love you.” Thank their teachers.

Recognize shadow. Most of us carry around a wounded something deep down and the best intentions can just fall into that black hole. Don’t take it personally. Continue to try.

In trying to understand this mess, I was scrolling through my library and bumped into one of my all time favorite performers. I love Vance Gilbert. No he’s not bluegrass. But he possesses one of the most beautiful, rich voices and one of the most penetrating songwriting styles I’ve ever encountered, and he will always remain on my I Love You list. This song stands out, sung alone without accompaniment, and begging the question why in a different way.

Love and peace to all those touched in recent weeks by losses to violence committed in American schools. If anyone figures out what is happening to us, let me know.

Let Me Know
from the album
One Thru Fourteen

Am I sheep or am I sheperd?

Let me know
Am I sheep or am I sheperd?
Let me know
Am I sheperd? Am I sheep?
And when these waters get too deep
Will you take me in my sleep?
Lord let me know

Am I walkin or am I flying?
Let me know
Am I walkin or am I flying?
Let me know Am I walking?
Am I flying?
Lord please dry these tears I'm crying
I don't understand Lord, but I'm trying
So let me know

Am I rock or am I water?
Let me know
Am I rock or am I water?
Let me know
Am I rock? Am I water?
And if my mamma's still you daughter
Will you teach me what you taught her?
Let me know

Monday, October 02, 2006

Real Nashville Cats -- ROWR, Baby

Where to start the IBMA FanFest report? How about at the very top?

Meet The Grascals.

It’s a great story. These six guys all made their living out of being sidemen for the greats. One day, they decided to take a chance and make their own music. Next thing they know, they’re the IBMA Entertainer of the Year.

Ok, it wasn’t quite that easy, but these cats were so doggone happy you’d think it was.

I’ve never seen such a generously grateful bunch of musicians. These guys have worked hard and played a long road, and it has paid off. Lead vocalist and six-string lefthander Jamie Johnson absolutely beamed through their entire Saturday night set. And they had come in from the Opry show, played their set, and had to be back out for more time on the Opry stage. But what a night for this band a long time coming.

Now, Nashville is a really great town. It’s not expensive to live there – well, except for that terrifically regressive food tax thing -- and if you love music, any kind of music, it’s hard to beat the musicians-per-capita ratio. But it’s also a terribly tough town, especially if you’re a musician in that musicians-per-capita ratio in a relatively small US city. It’s nothing if not the land of hard work, lucky breaks, and sponsors. A young mando player I know from Kent who used to live in Nashville with his parents and sister made a living working at a restaurant, and would bring home one plate of food for four people to share. The shine wears off pretty quick under those more usual conditions.

I thought about this as I strolled through the showcases at IBMA. This kid’s family explained that sure, you can get on the showcase stage, but you gotta foot your own bill and sleep in the bus. And so it was that I wised up. Sure, IBMA is a nonprofit organization and I don’t know nothing if I don’t know what that’s all about, but boy howdy.

So that’s the tip of the iceberg over which The Grascals scraped their darling bottoms to get to the top. And the top of the bluegrass heap is not saying a whole lot, if you know anybody who tries to make a living at it.

But it sure is fun. And that’s The Grascals.

Not convinced? Head on over to their Website and give them a listen. Even better, I see they're at the Station Inn this New Year's Eve. Now, that's enough to give a girl ideas right there. Who's with me? Rowr....

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I've Been Musically Adjusted

Ahhh. Well readers, I'm back, and actually for the first time, glad to be here in Ohio.

It was a marvelous weekend in Nashville at the International Bluegrass Music Association's Fan Fest, but it's even nicer to come home and see that today is a new record of 155 hits to this blog from all over the world, from folks looking up lyrics or information about a song or performer.

I do want to tip my hat (ok, I don't actually wear a hat because my head's pretty small so it looks funny) to all the readers in Europe, especially the UK and the Netherlands, and who from elsewhere are trolling the Web for bluegrass information. Welcome! And please take a moment when you visit to talk about the scene in your world, what instrument you play, what the hot bands are where you are. It was a real pleasure to meet a number of fans this weekend from halfway around the world or more. American fans can and should try to get across the pond to see what is happening over there in the other World of Bluegrass.

On the way home, I met a gentleman who plays dobro and who in the Northeast Ohio "bluegrass heyday" played frequently locally and also with bands nationally. I wonder what happened to that scene around here. Folks like Paul Kovachs and One Way Rider and a few others are trying to hold it up with one hand, it seems. Is there a way to get that back?

I guess what I mean is, it's nice to be in Nashville with like a thousand other pickers and all that, but for now, I live here, and it's my suspicion that there might be a few folks around Northeast Ohio who have dusty banjos or dobros or who knows what else hiding in their musical closets. Time to bring it all out, y'all!

Yeah, anyway, watch this space for a whole lotta bluegrass something. And you Netherlanders, write to me! Write an article, or drop me a line at

Lost Bob and the Ozone City Ramblers. Who were they? (Thanks to Captain Kidd for reminding me of this band's name.)