Friday, September 14, 2007 ... 10:00 AM
What I did on my summer vacation
It's like a lawnmower, you know, blogging. You think you're going to use it again next weekend but then the weather turns unexpectedly, and suddenly a whole season has passed, and the gasoline you left in the tank has evaporated and gummed up the carburetor. So then when it's time to roll the thing out from under the muddy tarp, you can yank the chain until supper time boy but that engine ain't gonna turn.
That actually happened to our lawnmower last year, before we moved into an apartment. The lawnmower was a Honda, ten months old, and we'd intended to sell it to Betsy's friend, but when it wouldn't turn I ended up giving it away to a neighbor who was a mechanic.
I wonder if I have a neighbor who is a blogger.
So yeah -- as I was saying, the Mt. Airy Fiddler's Convention. We went. The whole family: my sweet Betsy and our cute kid and me. There we happily discovered that Old-Time Music is alive and thriving among our nation's youth. I really mean thriving. It's one thing to see a handful of shopping mall tweenies squealing over Ketch Secor -- but here were hundreds and hundreds of hairy kids in corduroy overalls bringing their experience into to these songs a hundred, two hundred years old, as though it were all brand new. They played alongside women and men from every living generation foregone, who have each given their blood -- their generational / geographical / racial DNA -- to the music. I've read here and there lately about folk music's conservative nature, mainly in its specious concern with authenticity and taxonomy, but I think the music lives, can only live beyond the microscope. It survives and grows by virtue of its progressiveness. The Darwinian advantage of folk music is its ability to remember its former shapes as it continually assimilates new forms -- from field hollers to minstrel shows, broadsides to Nick Cave, shellac 78's to death metal and Web 2.0. Maybe all that's really obvious, or really bullshit.
Anyway, Old-Time clearly reigned over Bluegrass at the convention. Open-backs outnumbered the resonators by about five-to-one, which is just as it should be if you ask me. Fiddlers and banjo pickers came from as far away as Japan and as near as down the street.
Next year we'll get there late in the day and spend the night. We did it backwards this year, Days-Inning the night before and arriving early enough at the empty field to plop down front and center. It took us a couple of hours sitting out in the morning sunshine to understand that the main stage competitions are pretty uniformly stultifying, but as campers came to around lunch time, the real music began to flower beneath the vendor tents and Winnebago awnings all around us. We missed most of what we had come to see, including the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing in ensemble, but we did enjoy each of the Drops in various fantastic pick-up jams, such as Rhiannon fiddling along with a ten-year-old guitar prodigy and a seventy-year-old farmer who played harmonica in spectacular Old-Time style as little kids danced around them. A couple songs and then they went their separate ways -- ephemeral little musical starbursts like that, everywhere, all day. We just wandered and watched.
We had planned, poorly, to drive the 3 hours home at the end of the show, expecting pretty naively for the competitions to run roughly on schedule. But the solo contests dragged on and on and fucking on, through afternoon into evening, and then the Bluegrass band competition lurched into motion, with dozens of same-sounding quintets registered, and the Old-Time Band competition that closed the convention, the main event as far as we were concerned, drifted further from sight. We finally gave up and staggered toward the parking lot around 9PM, weary and stoned off a day's worth of totally un-nourishing stall food. Driving toward the interstate in the country dark, we listened to the AM broadcast of the convention as it sank into the static like a ghost ship.
We're going there in about a week. Nice to hear the account of the experience! OT rules!
Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"
Flop Eared Mule
The Celestial Monochord
Dig and Be Dug in Return
Modern Acoustic Magazine / Blog
The Old, Weird America
Honey, Where You Been So Long?
The Greensboro Review
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Cat and Girl
Film Freak Central