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Saturday, August 1, 2009



This morning's radio show felt good all the way through. Played 4 songs by Alice Gerrard. I play her among the locals because she lived in Galax for a few years, and around here is where she learned mountain music, the sound of the Central Blue Ridge. She started the Old-Time Herald, the magazine about old-time music now based in Durham, then in Galax in the basement of Bobby Patterson's Heritage Records, and just a few pages.

Alice Gerrard's album, Songs of Love and Loss, new 4-5 years ago, is a beauty from start to finish. I could have played from it the whole hour, did when it was new. But today I wanted to play several women, an hour of feminine voices singing beautiful songs. I felt I needed it for myself, the nurturing sound of a woman's voice, positive feminine energy, and felt it would be a good energy to send out over the county this morning to the people listening who love these mountains.

Katy Taylor from W Jefferson started the show with her rendering of Single Girl, Married Girl with the band Alternate Roots, a bluegrass band that made four albums, each one a gem. As a bluegrass singer, Katy's voice and talent equal any woman on the bluegrass charts and is better than most. The only difference, to my ear, between Katy's voice and Rhonda Vincent's, Allison Krauss's, and Cherryholmes's voices would be the experience on the road singing every night for years that makes a more "professional" sound. Katy never wanted that world of living on a bus months at a time an the struggle to make it big. She likes it here. Played 4 songs by Katy, ending with Killing the Blues, a beauty.

I'm remembering a time about 5 years ago when I had been having a drink with Jr in the evening on the way home from work. We always listened to bluegrass on WBRF when a Wake Forest game or NAASCAR race wasn't on. Driving down the driveway a song started that was familiar, but it left my mind what band it was and whose voice it was. The song was Out of the Blue by Alternate Roots, a song Scott Freeman wrote. I know Alternate Roots songs inside out, and was puzzled, trying to figure out whose that familiar feminine voice was. it was like hearing it the first time, though the song was intimately familiar. I couldn't even make out that it was Alternate Roots, primarily, I think, because I wasn't expecting Alternate Roots on the radio, though WBRF plays them quite a lot. I heard the song all the way through and still didn't get it until the dj said it was Alternate Roots. I raised my right hand from the steering wheel and bopped myself on the forehead with the heel of my hand in a body language way of saying duh. I have to add that Katy is a fine human being too. She lives by real values.

Played 4 songs by Appalachian Mountain Girls. I don't believe any of the girls in the band have an inkling of an idea how good their album is, even now that it's been sold out for years. Everybody in the band is an excellent musician and they all play old-time right. It was a blow when Amy Michaels had to leave the band. She did the vocals and has a hillbilly voice to rival Hazel Dickens. Today I played Amy and everybody in the band singing Chew Tobacco Rag, Grandpa Jones's Old Rattler, made it their own, and Sixteen Chickens and a Tambourine, which I love all-out every time I hear it. It always brings to mind William Carlos Williams' poem of the white chicken and the red wheelbarrow. Amy the banjo picker and lead singer of the band left the mic to Lynn Worth to pick banjo and do the singing. Lynn can't be beat at old-time banjo---obviously she can as she doesn't win Galax every year---but that's not what I meant. When Lynn is on the banjo, it's some good old-time pickin a-goin on.

After Alice Gerrard was the Carter Falmily. I believe 5 songs by them. Down by the River of Jordan, Wildwood Flower, Can the Circle Be Unbroken and 2 others. I like to play the Carter Family in among other singers of our mountains. Played all by themselves, outside context, they sound from way back when, even kind of slow and draggy, like a history lesson. Played in among other old-time music and singing, I hear how the music is moving along such that it can be flatfooted to. When I think about the Carter Family, I tend to think of singing only and the words to the songs. But when I hear them, I'm always moved by the music they're making too. Maybelle's guitar and Sara's autoharp made a complete band.

On the way to the station this morning, I left a little early to stop at the bank and Betty's Dollar Mart on the way in. I stopped by Backwoods Bean to get a big cup of chocolate coffee to take to the radio station to sip over the course of the hour. Finished it at end of show. In the Bean I met Cynthia Grant, the new director of the Teapot Museum. We talked about the present show going up of the various instrument makers here and nearby. I have to say I like the new turn the little museum is taking. It's not big, but we can't afford big. We can afford small, and small is better than none. I like the name Teapot Museum now that it has nothing to do with teapots. That makes it fun. I'm not making suggestions. Just an amusing thought. Being condescended to by representatives of Los Angeles ruling class society doesn't seem to me like it would be much good for Sparta's self-esteem.

It seems like Cynthia is doing something wonderful with that space. The Penland show was top notch, and now the makers of musical instruments is making such a good show it's making home look richly unique, which it is. I'm getting a feeling that in this time when Sparta is groping about in the dark to find it's identity, direction, its own life, Cynthia is tapping into a genuine art form in these mountains. She might be onto something. I hope so.

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