Friday, July 11, 2008 ... 1:55 PM

A new Gillian Welch album, a Fiddler's Convention, some reductive rumination ... It's the Tent Revue's greatest hits!

I'm here in blog limbo (where all the blogs that died before their first post go). We canceled internet at home, downscaling the budget like everyone else who isn't Myspace friends with Dick Cheney, so until the WPA starts hiring music bloggers, I'm posting less often, and when I do it's on another man's dime.

Firstly, a very big thanks to G√ľnter at the blog It Was Colonel Mustard for the very nice thing he's done for the Tent Revue. I gotta think on't before I get more specific, and I will soon.


Last month we visited the Mt Airy Fiddler's Convention, and were disappointed to find not much going on. Maybe four vendors had come out to pitch their tents and hawk their wares, and two of them were selling food. Last year a variety of instrument vendors hosted all sorts of pick-up jams all round the periphery of the mainstage, where the pretty monotonous instrument competitions proceeded throughout the day, until the sun set and the main event -- band competitions -- launched. This year the midway was bare and quiet.

Also low in attendance: Bluegrass bands. Fewer than ten appeared, compared to last year's many, many competitors. Maybe a couple dozen Old-Time bands turned out this year to compete, which is what we came to hear, and I loved to listen to them ... but while I'm not a big fan of Bluegrass music, it's still sad to me that those pickers couldn't round up the gas-money to travel to the convention. I'm sure it's a result of fuel prices, in cooperation with food costs, healthcare costs, and so forth, and suggests to me a rift between the essential Bluecollarness of Bluegrass musicians and what's perhaps a more middle-class/information-worker tendency among the new Old-Timey set.

Of course, I'm an Old-Time youngster myself, and there's no room in my budget for an M.F.A., a Plasma TV, a hybrid car, or even broadband -- so what do I know. On the other hand again, I do have a bachelor's degree, work in a cubicle and there's no mud on the soles of my shoes. My high school friends are all buying big suburban houses and shop at Whole Foods, so maybe the difference is milieu and not income bracket. Old-Time music is more romantic (by way of Gothic) and less sentimental about rural living and manual labor than Bluegrass is. Old-Time music -- even reanimated by the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show, the Crooked Jades, the Mammals -- is a ghost genre, like silent film. It continues to wow and influence and some artists can still specialize in its techniques. But Bluegrass lives and breathes and breeds and continues to mutate and evolve like, say, Film Noir. If Bluegrass is meat-and-potatoes, Old-Time provides smoke and mirrors for those of us who need a little spooky reflection in our cube-shaped lives.

Which maybe makes ironic the paucity of Bluegrass at this year's Fiddler's Convention, and the surplus of Old-Time acts. But if you consider that as life everywhere grows more and more expensive for the people already less able to afford it, small-time musical acts will tour less and live music will by necessity become, as it was until recently in human history, a largely local affair. Parlors, front porches, and town square bandstands, with internet lyric sites substituting for broadsheet ballads -- while recorded music becomes more and more global. It'll be interesting to watch the diverging, changing tunes of the studio fiddler and the town-square fiddler, as Rome, or Constitutional democracy, burns.


Before I duck back into the tent I also wanted to point out news from a few of the Revue's favorite artists. Jolie Holland's new record, the excitingly characteristically morbidly titled The Living And the Dead will emerge from the dank basements of the collective unconscious on October 7th. Prepare yourself: the label's press release points out the presence of Moog synth. Which I think is awesome.

One of Eilen Jewell's side projects, trad-gospel act The Sacred Shakers, will release their first record August 16th ("Much sooner" on the label's website), but word on the Google alerts is that Eilen, whose band is on tour right now, is selling advanced copies at her shows. Eilen's getting more popular by the hour, folks, so catch her while you can.

Lastly: Ginger Kowal, co-founder of the Dave Rawlings Machine fan-club and friend of the Tent Revue, had a chance to chat with Gillian and Dave when they stopped in Asheville last month, and she learned first-hand from Gillian that the new Gillian Welch album -- and there is one coming -- will probably not land on your iPod until 2009, thanks to record label red tape. I don't have any more details for you, but you should go join the DRM fan club on Facebook and get the full scoop from Ginger.



I'm glad you're excited about the moog bass--its only in for half a song, but its perfectly utilized, in my humble opinion, by my shahzad ismaily. Love, jolie holland

By Blogger Jolie, at 7/12/2008 8:27 AM  

I've been thinking related ideas, here in Minneapolis.

It occured to me recently that jug band music is just polka for cool people. Local devotees of old-time music and jug band music frequently travel down to your neck of the woods to hear and play southern Appalachian fiddle and banjo, but have little interest in the 19th-century European dance music that's more "native" here.

But that's exactly why oldtime (and creole, etc.) nearly died out in the middle of the previous century -- who cares about the corny old music your grandparents played at their wedding?

As R. Crumb wrote: ""Where has it gone, all the beautiful music of our grandparents? It died with them, that's where it went."

Maybe, given inflation and the urgency of lowering ye olde fashioned carbon footprint, we should eat local and cultivate a more local aesthetic.

Everybody polka!

By Blogger The Celestial Monochord, at 7/14/2008 11:29 AM  

Jolie! Thanks for the comment. I'm looking forward to the whole album, probably more than any other this year.

Kurt -- that's interesting, the added dimension of geography (and does this road lead back to authenticity?). But I imagine Old-Time music must have had some presence in the Twin Cities early in the 20th Century, with the Opry on the air and northern migration up the big river. Wouldn't the European dance music also have been concurrently popular down in Southern cities among a certain class of people? Who were the primary audience for the polka? And does the primary audience even figure in the development or influence or continuance of the music if a secondary or incidental audience is All Musicians? -- Meaning that musicians are a class apart from the dance-halls and the barn dances, and their cross-training, mingling and broad genre interests create musical hybrids and traditions independent of popular taste. Or something.

Anyway -- I'm all for the local aesthetic. Be where you are! Learn about it, look around at it, live in it. Down with national chains and faux-industrial condos! Seriously.

By Blogger Brendan, at 7/16/2008 8:40 AM  

Hey, Brenden.

For the last couple years, while trying to explain my interest in The Moonshiners Dance by Frank Cloutier and the Victoria Cafe Orchestra, I've been waving my hands in the air describing a hypothetical Google map of the Anthology of American Folk Music. It would explain a lot.

Well, our little exchange here got me wondering "Why hypothetical?" So, if the technology permits me, I give you A Geography of the Anthology.

THAT'S why I'm interested in The Moonshiners Dance. And it relates to our discussion here as well.

I'll try to write something about it at The Celestial Monochord soon, but until then, I preview it here on the Hilltop.

By Blogger The Celestial Monochord, at 8/05/2008 12:57 PM  

It really does illustrate just how singular the Moonshiner's Dance is among the Anthology's other entries. I wonder what did old Harry hear in that northern urban record that convinced him to include it in a collection of popular rural Southern records? Why include Cloutier and not, say, Gene Autry or Lydia Mendoza?

Thanks for sharing that fascinating map. It's based on the bio blurbs in the Anthology liner notes, isn't it? There are maybe other more complicated layers there to explore. Poor Omie Wise lived and died in Randleman, NC, though her story has been claimed by some Tennesseans and West Virginians. Charles Guiteau came from Illinois, but hung round the Oneidas in New York and shot the president in D.C.

By Blogger Brendan, at 8/06/2008 12:19 PM  

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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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