Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Them Wolves Are Howlin'--BOO!

The scariest thing about Halloween or any time of year, for that matter, are not goblins, ghosts, witches, lost souls, in-betweeners, black cats, or any other creature mythic or otherwise. Y'all know as well as I do that the scariest creatures on earth are people. And scary people are scary all year round. (Although, it is funny that election season is just right around the corner from Halloween, isn't it?)

In magic and in some mythologies, it's popular to align oneself with an animal "familiar." In the Harry Potter series these creature-alter-egos are summoned as a "Patronus", which wards off evil or acts as a counterspell. Each character wields a different Patronus; one young wizard is a rabbit, I think Ms. Granger is an otter, and Harry I believe is a unicorn or some other large hoofed animal.

Anyway it would be interesting to see what animals we might align ourselves with. Back several months there was an internet quiz rash among bloggers who wanted to find out what animal they were in a past life. Evidently, the highly scientific and foolproof method for determining this is simple: you enter your birth date and year, and voila, your secret self revealed.

I was a horse. "You can't be fenced in - you long to run free.You are good at overcoming obstacles and realizing your potential." Well, true enough, even for a gimmick.

Halloween brings to mind other animals, though, like wolves and howling things. Wolves are truly majestic beautiful animals -- at least to their own kind, and to the rest of us from a distance, on our Sierra Club calendars or favorite sweatshirts. It is sometimes easy to forget that by nature they are vicious killers along the food chain. That's their lot. They stop at nothing to destroy whatever they perceive to be in the way of "protecting" their "pack," and take whatever they need to survive. They have to be in charge of their domain. Lone wolves are often portrayed as unhappy campers; the term even refers to renegade personalities who can't seem to fit in anywhere despite their contributions (the rest of us might call some of these folks, "entrepreneurs".) Poor Professor Lupin comes to mind -- the despairing werewolf.

We are surrounded by wolves. You can hear them howling over gas prices as they load up their big honkin' SUVS, crooning as they buy up land to develop, circling the next small group of free thinkers, trading up, trading sideways, trading off. Greed, power, aggression, and narrow-mindedness (they might say, "singularity of purpose") are the hallmarks of these wolves.

They're everywhere, and their closing in.

I wish I could forget about them for a while by getting to the Bruce Molsky/Nickel Creek show tonight at the Renaissance in Mansfield, about an hour away. I'm guessing that he would play this tune since it's fitting for a spooky night. Maybe after I'm done tricking and treating any little goblins who come to my door, I'll open a Great Lakes Nosferatu ale and try this tune myself.

I especially like the high cry on the fiddle in the first half of the tune. I'm not likely going to be able to get that right anytime soon, but it will be fun to try.

So, enjoy your night, hope it brings more treats than tricks. Remember to beware the wolves...

One on the hill and two in the holler,
Their gonna get you, bet you a dollar

Wolves A Howlin'

**UPDATE #1: 8 p.m.: Hot diggity dog, I do believe it's in A! Yeeehaw! I can do that!**

**UPDATE #2: 8:35 p.m.: DAMMIT! It IS in G. Bastards....time for that beer...

**UPDATE: #3: 9:26 p.m.: Ok, it's not that bad. Then I learned an A tune called "Buckin Dun". I'm going to get my jams on, finish my beer, and read HP VII. The ministry just fell. Trouble is coming. Probably, wolves.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Who Needs A TV?

This is pretty much what it was like to sit around and play tunes. Except, there were girls. And no flutes. Or dobro. But we had a banjer player who was quite good. It sure is fun to watch Bruce Molsky here with friends. (I think the posting feature is officially gone from YouTube so click on one of those links and it should take you there.)

This tune is a favorite because of its name. I may have mentioned the story here before. I heard this tune first on the Cold Mountain soundtrack played by Stuart Duncan. It was, is, titled on the soundtrack, "Ruby with the Eyes that Sparkle." I thought, "What a sweet little tune. They must have written it for that movie."

A year or so later when I first got together with my good friend E, we were sitting around one afternoon playing tunes, and I heard this familiar lilting melody. I finally recognized it as "Ruby." But when I asked what it was, E said, "Oh, that's a tune called, 'Shove That Pig's Foot A Little Further Into the Fire.' " So much for the romance of civil war music!

Anyway, we did play this tune the other day, after I told my story about the incongruence of the names. Now I call this tune by its proper name first, and can almost play it on fiddle, mando, and certainly guitar.

When I finally woke up Sunday morning all recovered and needing to play through my blisters, I realized, this dog would not ever have hunted in my old life. Six or seven musicians showing up at my old house, each with two or three instruments, for a full 12-plus hours of making music, a sleepover, then more music before they hit the road? Right. It would have drowned out the game and I would have caught hell for it in subtle, passive aggressive ways until the next gathering (if I didn't get myself thrown out first).

So here's to the wonderful folks who let me in the circle, and to the hope that there will be many circles to come, at your house, my house, many houses. Playing music with other people, no matter how bad or good you think you are, is a beautiful thing to do on a cold rainy afternoon, or outdoors on a warm sunny day. It's what people did a hundred, two hundred years ago, before TV, before Wii, before we numbed ourselves with watching sports instead of playing them, before What Not To Wear. Come, wear whatever you want, bring your instruments and a covered dish (does Rachel Ray know what that is?) and sleeping bag and your long list of tunes. Bring your kids if you want, they can listen or play with my kids.

Let's just remember to write down what we played because trying to remember those tunes right now sure is kicking my e-string!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jenny On the Railroad/Running in the Mud/You Name It

I just got home a bit ago from playing tunes. For seven hours.

My good friend invited me to join a group of his old-time musicians today. These were wonderful people who put up with my playing (guitar and mando) as they breezed through dozens of tunes that they pulled from memory. As I write this, they are still at it. There are several tunes I have played in the past that have the name Jenny in them, but at the moment all the tunes are starting to blend together in my head.

These amazing musicians come from all walks of life and are spread out over the midwest/Great Lakes corridor. They have regular day jobs in things like consulting and computer programming. And then they pick up a fiddler or a banjo and they just let it all loose.

I'm really grateful for my friend including me. It was very generous of these folks to allow me to play along when on more than one tune I was regularly fumbling for the right chord in some of the more crooked fiddlin' spots.

If I had been smart, I would have taken a notebook and written down every single tune we played so that I could work on it later. But since I didn't I was hard pressed in my present state to pull up some of my favorites. This one was near the end of my evening and it was certainly near the top of my list. Enjoy Ithaca-region fiddler Bruce Molsky in one called Jeff Sturgeon.

FYI, Molsky will be opening for a Nickel Creek show here in Ohio, in Mansfield this Wednesday, Oct. 31. Yes, Halloween.

Jeff Sturgeon

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Joys of Parenthood

Does anyone else not relish being the only grown up in the room?

Let me ask it another way.

Has anyone had to explain to their seven year old daughter why they should not sleep with boys before they can afford to take care of babies? That just because they see grownups doing things that seem ok doesn’t make it ok for her until she has a degree, a job, and health care? All this before 7 a.m. yesterday. Whew. Parenting should be on the list of causes for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My sister recently recounted to me how her daughter told her that with my sister at her side, she was ready to be a mom. Of course this triggered a reaction similar to the one I had over my Grape Nuts yesterday morning. When she told me about it, we laughed until our sides hurt and hoped it was some sort of 7 year old thing. But it is kind of sad, in a way, to have to pull our kids back from the fantasy world of happily ever after at hearth and home. Actually it’s a wonder that this fantasy even persists in our daughters, given what they’ve each been through with their own biological fathers .

I’m sure my mother worried about the pitfalls of raising us daughters through the time of our own sexual discovery, although probably not when we were quite that young. And she had already survived raising three adolescent boys, complete with a Chevy Van and a motorcycle accident or two. But as she pressed on after my dad died, she had to leave my sister and I alone a lot of the time while she worked to sustain the family business. It can’t have been easy, even though she was only a three minute walk from our house. I know now that she had to have bit her tongue and crossed her fingers more times than not. A lot of the time, she just looked the other way. Suddenly I realize maybe it’s not the end of the world that my son’s bedroom floor is littered with Lego Bionicle pieces, or that he likes to hang out with me at astronomy lectures or bluegrass festivals. Things could be a whole lot worse right now, and they won’t stay like this forever, so I better enjoy it while it lasts. The calm before the storm.

So, last night I casually mentioned to my kids that I have no plans to raise my grandchildren. I will look forward to the visits, to baking and playing, to overnight campouts, garden surprises, and whatever wonderful things the future has in store. But rehashing my own years as Mom is not one of them. My job is to raise my children, and their job will be to raise theirs--preferably at least some 20 years down the road. Funny how an innocent little school paper can trigger visions of spending one’s retirement hanging diapers on the line before going off for a night shift in the canned goods section at the Greedy Eagle.

If my job as mothering came with a soundtrack, it would feature this tune. It's a Mammals track called "Go On Traveling" and one of my favorites. It's really beautiful, kind of a goofy song of love and letting go. Evidently the band had a MySpace Mishap and their old site, which had this track, is gone. So I'm afraid you'll have to settle for the Amazon clip. Or, head on over to iTunes and get the whole thing.

Go On Traveling
From The Mammals "Rock That Babe"

Praise whatever you praise and praise it proudly
Eat the apple of your eye gladly
Don't let money rule you honey
Go on traveling

Praise praise praise
Eat eat eat
Don't let money rule you honey
Go on traveling

You're alone you're alone you're alone alone
Singin' a song, singin' your first song madly
Findin' out for yourself what it means to be
Findin' out what it means to not mean to be
Alone alone singin' singin' a song
Findin out what it means
To go on traveling

Laugh at yourself for not laughing at yourself
Open your mouth widely
Open your mind as wide as the time
Go on traveling
Laugh Laugh laugh
Mouth mouth mouth
Open your mind as wide as the time

Go on traveling
Go on traveling
Go on traveling
Go on traveling

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Vulcan Thing To Do


Just for tonight, I'm going to take something Mr. Spock said and reverse it. Just this once, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Tonight Gruhn Guitars is sponsoring Band Together for Butch to help mandolinist Butch Baldassari and his family during this time of his battle with cancer. The event is happening right now at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music. A long list of bluegrass greats is slated to perform.

Since a lot of us can't get down to Music City for the event, the fine folks at Gruhn provided me with this information for those of you who might like to make a contribution:

Donations may be mailed to Blakemore United Methodist Church, 2021 21st Ave. South, Ste. 207, Nashville TN 37212, to the attention of Barnabas Ministry. On the check memo line, note "Baldassari family." All of that money goes directly to the family as a gift.

Butch Baldassari is very highly regarded not only for his playing but his compositions and teaching as well. Despite his place on the Blair School faculty he is not tenured, but he took his role there no less seriously. He has also contributed widely to compilations of all kinds both on his own and as a ringleader of the beloved Nashville Mandolin Ensemble.
Back in March, Butch noticed he was having unusual trouble with some fingerings along with a few other simple tasks. Doctors discovered a large brain tumor. Surgery was not likely to be an option when the long road to treatment began.
Consider a gift in thanks for all Butch has done and in support of and hope for the future. You'll be glad you boldly went.
Where No Mandolin Has Gone Before (especially for fans of Captain Kirk)
Performed by the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble on their cd, Plectrasonics.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Good Luck, Good Friend

After living in Cleveland for nearly 20 years, one of my dearest and most longtime friends is moving to Milwaukee. She got a fantastic opportunity and it is a beautiful thing. Change is not as easy for other people as it is for me, but she is taking advantage of this wonderful time in her life to go to "the next level" as they say. We will miss her but Milwaukee isn't all that far. And there are these new inventions like the telephone and email. But it won't be the same as being able to read her reaction to things or see her tell a story in the way only she can tell it.

My kids and I pulled some pictures out today so they could make little going-away cards for her. She's been around with us a long time. She helped X and I install a tile floor in our first house. She was there for the births of both my kids, and when my mother died and X's mother as well. She is as constant as the northern star, and fairer than anyone I know.

I'm actually planning to get out to Chicago in a few weeks and I'll see her then as part of a weekend-long birthday celebration that concludes with a great show at The Kent Stage (more on that next week). It turns out, Milwaukee also has a Bluegrass Music Association. Who knew!

Over the course of her time here, we went to a lot of concerts -- or I should say I kind of coaxed her to come along. But we always had a great time. The weekend after I buried my mother, we went to see Laurie Lewis for the first time. That show really helped us all heal a little bit. Whenever I hear this song, "Old Friend", I think of my friend L and how much she's meant to me over the years. Her friendship has been a treasure and I hope I can honor it now that she'll be far away.

Good luck old friend, and see you soon!

Old Friend

Friday, October 19, 2007

Working on a Something

Sometimes there's just so much going on and coming at you at once that all you can do is have a tune or two and call it a night.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's All Front Row

I haven't really taken the time to download my 2007 IBMA experience. I still have a folder full of materials I need to read (I think there is a Martin 15 series guitar in our future). Meanwhile I thought I'd just share a few moments.

This is the door to the original Bluegrass Express sponsored by Martha White, a company now owned by Orrville, OH Smuckers. The Bluegrass Express served as the wheels for Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who made an appearance Friday night. I didn't go on the bus, which was open as a museum. I was kind of afraid it might drive off and I'd never see my children again.

Friday night was a first for me. I was thrilled to hear Emmylou Harris. She is quite a presence, and she had in tow some pretty venerable players, including one of my favorite mandolin players, Jimmy Gaudreau. He was a Country Gentleman back in the day. I think his Rhode Island accent is just peachy if a little un-bluegrass. Actually, that bass player was also an Original Country Gentleman but his name escapes me at the moment....

One of my favorite experiences this time around was a show on the Roots and Branches Stage on Saturday afternoon. It was fashioned after the Opry style Barn Dances, and featured IBMA folks from all over the world. Just every day bluegrass teachers, producers, presenters, advocates. It was a well done ton of cantankerous fun.

This was the first opportunity I've had to see Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver changed out with an all new lineup. Jamie Dailey and Terry Baucom are onto solo projects, and he's got a new fiddle and bass player too. All are shockingly talented and very young.

There's more to share, but it's gettin' late. It was a wonderful trip, punctuated throughout by real memorable times with my sister and her family, who are very special to me indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

You Never Know Until You Try

Last Thursday night I did a wonderful thing, something I am embarrassed to admit I had not done before.

I went rollerskating with my kids.

We had a blast. My daughter's school put the party together, but we quickly got my son onto the floor as well. We all agreed it was quite miraculous that I didn't fall, which is good news considering my next endeavor.

And so yesterday with a help of a friend I bought a pair of used ski boots, to go with the skis that now-NC resident SoUncreative willed to me on her way South.

I never have been athletic, but to enjoy these kinds of activities, you don't have to be. You just have to be willing to learn, take a few falls, and accept that some folks will make fun of you. Since I'm plenty used to all three it was high time I got moving and took the plunge.

My friend and I were perusing the ski equipment in the "used" tent. Some of the skis were marked as high as $6,000. It seems odd for something you only do a few months of the year, but I can see how someone might spend the money on skis when someone else might put that same amount into a new Gibson mandolin (or half a Collings mandolin).

I've tried a few new things in the last year, and it seems I'm in line to try a few more. It's really all about fear. Fear is a draining, useless trap. At worst, it's a lame excuse. I'm not looking forward to riding the ski lifts, but there's really only one way to get to the bottom of the mountain, and that's from the top.

I have a similar fear about playing tunes with folks. In a couple weeks a good friend is hosting a gathering of serious trad musicians, and I will be there, chili and guitar in hand and voice at the ready. These are seasoned musicians but he's generously extended the invitation and so I'll be there. I'm sure I will learn a lot, make a new friend or two, and have fun.

At IBMA this year, I felt horribly guilty sitting in on Pete Wernick's Flexigrass set on the Roots and Branches stage. He had offered to help me launch a slow jam; I put it out to the folks at IBMA and as the year rolled on I did not vigilantly follow up. That's all changed now. There's no reason we can't grab one of the suites off the second level for a couple guided slow-jams next year.

When I sat down at the computer this evening I was thinking about my day yesterday. The friend I was with had mentioned he'd forgotten his pentatonic scales, and so I picked up my mando and was playing through them. And instantly I was playing Darling Corey, which is about as simple an old tune as you can find. A fine gritty killing song, it's all on a pentatonic scale.

And really easy to learn, fast, like in a group you've never played with before, or just one other person you barely know.

Sometimes something you thought was so difficult to overcome is suddenly a little stone in the path, behind you.

Here's a fairly traditional version of Darling Corey with a band Tara Nevins pulled together for her solo project some years ago. It's very very good, but I really was curious about Bruce Hornsby's version of the same old, old tune from his album, Intersections. But at least I know it's out there when I'm ready to give it a listen.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Back to Good

One thing I failed to mention all through the last few days is that the scenario that played out and the discussion that followed on this blog and everywhere else is that the experience really plays up to me why bluegrass to me is special. Bluegrass people are really unlike any other people I know. And they are all kinds of people, poor people, rich people, smart people, not as smart people, God people, nonbelievin' people. But I guarantee you will never feel anywhere else the way you will in a roomful of good bluegrass people.

So many times last weekend I wanted to walk up to a kid with a banjo or a fiddle and say, "You know you can do things that Zack Whatshisface can't do, right?"
One of the things I spent more time doing this trip was sitting in on the Grand Master Fiddler Championship. The Championship goes for two days and is judged by contemporary top fiddlers, many of whom were doing double and triple duty all week (hence the reason IBMA stands for "I've Been Mostly Awake"). Over the course of an hour or so I watched six or seven young fiddle players step onstage and with a group of rhythm guitarists play three tunes: a required tune, a waltz, and a tune of their choice. It was a fascinating process, because there weren't just children in the competition, but adults too. The funny thing is how painfully obvious it was that the adults lacked the same passion and determination of the under-18 set. Maybe they were awed by all that young shitfire, I know I was.

So I guess the thing is, for every bad kid we hear about there are lots of other good kids,kids like Sierra Hull who with her band Highway 111 entertained and embraced an audience of mostly grownups. The band in this video is actually a lot older than the band that played last weekend; if I'm not mistaken her current banjo player is 17.

So let's remember that there are good parents out there doing good things, and kids having fun getting high on playing music. Here's a nod to musical kids, and their parents, and all the kids who are doing what they love whatever it is with the support and admiration of their lucky parents.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ably Raising Cain

Today in Cleveland the world stopped at around 1 p.m. when word spread that a student had begun shooting at Success Tech High School on Lakeside Avenue. Three students and two teachers were injured, and it's been determined that the gunman, a 14 year old boy who had been suspended from the school days before, turned the gun on himself. The other five victims were all treated and released or in stable condition last I heard. The young gunman, Asa Coon, had been in trouble before; just last night police responded to a domestic violence call at his home, where officers were told the boy assaulted his mother.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Municipal School District Eugene Sanders, who's only been on the job about 18 months, have already been fielding comments from the media and angry parents about security. In fact Superintendent Sanders was quoted that they'll be talking to parents about security. But what they need to be talking about is what goes on inside the head of the adolescent American male.

Like so many of these young "trenchcoat mafia" (per Son of Mando) kids who wreak sudden and bloody violence on their peers and teachers before turning the gun on themselves, Asa Coon is dead, and we can't ask him why he did what he did. We can only guess that he was an unhappy kid, that somewhere in his troubled life he was left alone too much, schlepped around, felt abandoned, didn't fit in. Some reports are saying that he felt bullied and had a host of emotional problems, having been hospitalized last year for suicidal tendencies, and at one point was placed on home detention for his aggressive behavior. For sure, he was deeply angry. He was armed with two .38 caliber weapons and a duffel bag full of ammunition and knives. He had apparently threatened his schoolmates days earlier, hinting, "I got something for you all."

I've been reading a book called Raising Cain: The Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon. It's straightforward, powerful, enormously helpful, and sometimes heart wrenching. Our society has really managed to completely screw up almost everything for our children, and the pressures we place on boys and young men on into adulthood is particularly pathetic. I'm learning things in this book that I wish I had known during my marriage, or when my father was alive, or in conversations past I had with my brothers.

I'm not proud of the fact that I've contributed to our nations staggering divorce rate. But my children are fortunate that the custodial arrangement allows them the opportunity to spend time with their father on an almost equal basis. It may be that more mothers want full custody, but it seems by and large that the standard is still to side with the mother and award her full or primary custody. In a lot of cases, that may truly be for the best, but even I question the degree to which separating a child from his father is necessarily in his best interests. A male child who has no relationship with his biological father and no opportunity to reconcile and build one is a boy who is likely to grow up with a lot of deep pain and confusion. And sometimes he passes it on to others, either through his own failed relationships, or in extreme cases taking his own life after hurting or killing others.

I worry about my son, because we live in a community in which it is really not ok to be different. Our little town is predictable and well-pruned. For a lot of folks the biggest priority of the week is getting the grass cut and moving on down through the to-do list. Maybe that's all they can handle since they are so busy living vicariously through their children again and cloistering themselves with home entertainment systems. But it's a very limited place. And if you're the slightest bit different, it's a conservative and judgemental place.

When I'm hanging out with Son of Mando, he poses opening statements like he did just a week or two ago: "We're alone in the universe, or we're not alone. Either way, it's overwhelming." A few years ago he asked in all serious what my sister and I might do with a 600 foot robot. He is a force to be reckoned with, an intellect to be honored, and a sense of humor to be cherished. He has a huge heart and a capacity to connect with all kinds of people of all ages. He is a great gift. I just hope that the mediocrity and indifference that surrounds us doesn't kill him or drive him insane, or worst of all, make him decide it would be easier to be just like everybody else.

We all could do a better job of paying attention to, honoring, and helping to grow the people our sons are becoming. But overall as a society we're better at falling into gender roles that seem comfortable and unchallenging even if they are destructive, labeling and processing problems than raising good people who can make sound decisions. Better at boosting security to keep the bad kids out than finding a way to help the kids before they are lost.

I may not hit every item on my check list, have the neatest dining room table, or be the most up to date in the latest trends of online banking, but I'm as vigilant as I can be in celebrating and nurting the emotional inner life of my children. Their ability to stay strong and know who they really are in the face of absurdity and adversity may be all they have at times, so it's an investment worth making. If someone had made that investment in Asa Coon, in the boys at Columbine, and in the young man at Virginia Tech, we might never have known their names.

While at IBMA I had the good fortune to tell one son of a Bluegrass legend how very different, in a good way, his voice is. There was no sound all weekend the likes of Randy Waller, son of the original Country Gentleman's lead man Charlie Waller. Randy's beautiful tenor is one of the most distinctive voices in any genre today, with an honest balladeer ring to it. I wish I could share it here, but I will share instead a song Randy did with his new Gentlemen, here recorded by the original Gents led by Charlie. The story goes that the Country Gentleman had a chance to be on a late night TV show and turned it down, and the gig went to another folk act instead. If they had accepted and done this tune, Matterhorn, the Folk Scare might have been the Bluegrass Blitzkrieg instead. It's a tune that likewise shows how distinctive and ahead of their time the Country Gentlemen were themselves. Different.

Sometimes raising sons feels like climbing the Matterhorn. But we all have to do our best to make it to the top so that kids stop failing, giving up, or killing each other and themselves and instead start heading toward the future that's meant for them, even if it's something we don't understand, like what to do with a 600 foot robot. Me, I'd give it a banjo and see what happens.


Monday, October 08, 2007

We're All Dustbowl Children...Again

I had planned to get all worked up and do a big splash on IBMA tonight, but I'm having a hard time getting past the fact that it's October, I live in Ohio, and I'm not running the heat. I'm running the a/c.

On Saturday morning, I strolled across the lawn abutting the Hilton Nashville Downtown (best room for the buck, spacious and great for families) to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, an expansive piece of real estate with an impressive and surprisingly well curated collection of memorabilia and artifacts from the earliest roots of country music. I skipped along through the items and anecdotes about these early guys like Roy Acuff and Jimmie Rodgers and how tough it was during those years when Middle America farmland, the very soil, was gasping for life.

My God, I thought.

Dust bowl.

I stood there, realizing no one could see my mind racing. We're repeating, or about to repeat, a period in our history that was so noted, revered, reviled, sung about, poeticized, and despised that it's nearly impossible to imagine it could sneak up on us like it has. The drought. The economic roller coaster ride. The demise of farmland -- not just to the climate but to mindless and endless development. That's our goddamn food supply, you morons. It's 80-plus degrees on an October Monday night in Ohio, and you're putting a frickin' three-car garage, four-bedroom, three and a half bath piece-of-shit McMansion on a third-acre of America's food supply. Aren't we smarter than that?

Evidently, not.

While visiting family we talked about this disaster in the making. We're all so taken with the disaster in Iraq that we don't even see the disaster of food and water dwindling. We're spending tens of thousands of acres on soybeans to feed a few hundred cows we'll kill and send out for butchering so that some processor can pack burgers and sell them to Sam's club complete with e-coli, when we could probably use that same farmland to grow healthy disease-free food for humans at a higher nutritional quota and lower cost. If nothing else, we could grow half the damn soybeans to keep the cows happy, and feed a third world country with whatever the hell we grow on the other half.

Dr. Don has said it before and I'm afraid he's right. Humans are mean, greedy, stupid creatures with an endless hunger. Endless. Frickin' endless.

Peter Rowan and IBMA 2007 Guitarist of the Year Tony Rice released an album last year called Quartet featuring the talents of bassist Bryn Davies (Hey Bryn, I nominated you, what happened?!) and mandolin maven Sharon Gilcrist. It featured a track titled Dustbowl Children, previously cut on an album of Rowan's from 1990. The tune has been on my mind, not only because of its relevancy, but because I can't help but wonder how people might have recorded this part of history without old time, country, or bluegrass music to set it to.

And the crops won't grow, and the dust just blows. And the green fields are gone, the green grass growin fields are gone.

If this tune doesn't give you a chill or at least make you pay attention...well, Mama always said, if you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled life...

It was a wonderful weekend at IBMA's World of Bluegrass FanFest. Late nights and long days, and I was on the wimpy end of the scale by far compared to those hearty bluegrass constituents who through the week stayed up later and later and picked longer and longer.

Lots of pictures and stories to share, thoughts to provoke, and new-to-me artists to gush about, and I'll get to that once I get my bearings. The sets were incredible, the Grand Master Fiddler Championship fairly mesmerizing, the workshops enlightening, the off-mainstage acts welcome break from the high-driving larger acts (you all have to check out Pete Wernick's Flexigrass gig, that was more fun than Christmas). In the meantime check out this list of IBMA 2007 Award Winners. Several of my top nominees made it to awardees.

It's never too early to plan....World of Bluegrass 2008 is scheduled for September 29-October 2, the Awards Show is October 2, and Fan Fest is October 3-5. Can't you hear me callin? There's no need to miss me when I'm gone.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Saffron Confusion

Life can be surreal. As I sit all cozy in my nice little home preparing with no small degree of excitement for my weekend in Nashville to enjoy IBMA's World of Bluegrass Fan Fest, half a world away there is no small amount of suffering going on in a country called Burma.

When a few years back I was reeling from confusion, the writings and teachings of Buddhist thinkers and leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and the 14th Dalai Lama were among the tools I used to guide myself toward a sort of intellectual and spiritual rebirth. The lessons, coupled with other readings and self-guided rediscovery of a greater purpose, focused on strengthening the mind and opening the heart. This is an interesting combination indeed. Earlier this week I reminded myself of a teaching by the monk Thich Nhat Hanh, "If we love our enemies, we begin to understand them, and they are no longer our enemies."

How then does the Saffron Army bring this to bear? I am riveted by the circumstances in Myanmar, in which monks have risen in a Saffron Revolution against the Junta that controls its people with fear and violence.

Monks rising, it's a concept. So these teachers and spiritual leaders are not in fact doormats with superior intellect and mere open hearts. They have the capacity for righteous anger and will use it. They are standing up for democracy. But why? Isn't democracy just another construct of ours that we need to let go? And yet I so wish that the Junta will get a swift and serious kick in its ugly ass.
And so it is that I'm confused.

Casey Driessen who by know you've figured out is one of my favorite performers and human beings, spent a lot of time in China last year. I want to reach out to performers like Driessen to find ways to help the people of Myanmar. Maybe I'll take a few temperatures this weekend. Here we'll all be sitting around and enjoying the Grascals with a nice cold beer followed by picking until 3 a.m. while in places like Burma, monks, Buddhist monks, are being shot, scythed, decapitated in their monasteries.

This tune by Casey is one that's appeared before here. It's called The Confusion Before Dreams. It's a lovely break from the noise that can play in one's head. Music is that way, music has the power to get me to stop and reassess my priorities, my circumstances, my options, my relationship to these things, and allows me to gain the perspective and strength I need to move forward. I wonder whether, and hope that, the Monks and the people of Myanmar have a kind of music that gives them strength, too. I do think they would enjoy this tune and I hope you do, too.
Learn how you can help Burma by visiting these links:

Monday, October 01, 2007

Speed Bump

...that's what I hit tonight when I learned it was going to be about 20 degrees warmer in Nashville this weekend than I planned. Hot weather, hot music, hot times at IBMA!

Enjoy this lightening speed tune from Casey Driessen, Noam Pikelny, and Rob Ickes. It's great soundtrack music for repackin' in a hurry!