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Friday, May 28, 2010


bobby patterson & willard gayheart 28may10

Another drive to Woodlawn to hear Bobby Patterson and Willard Gayheart make music together. I was one of 5 that showed up for the show. They still made good music. They have made music together for over 40 years. Not all the time. Both good singers and both master musicians. I never mind driving an hour to get to Woodlawn for the good music. It's a chance each Friday night to hear master musicians sit and jam a couple hours for a few people. I like the casual air of the place, the casual air of the musicians playing as they play. They don't put on the dog, just make good music and sing good songs.

Bobby Patterson was the featured guest tonight. Bobby is somebody almost only known by other musicians. He has a recording studio and a label, HERITAGE RECORDS, where he records bands of SW Virginia largely. Some of his bands have been early Whitetop Mountain Band, Shady Mountain Ramblers, Rock Mountain Ramblers, Otis Burris, New Ballards Branch Bog Trotters, Laurel Fork Travelers, Bell Spur String Band, and a lot more. I think Bobby is a state treasure in SW Virginia. He records the Galax fiddlers convention every year and puts selections on a cd for every year. Bobby has made recordings of and has been a living part of the music world in SW Virginia all his life. His dad was a fiddler. Bobby started playing guitar when he was 8. Later, he took up the banjo. He plays mandolin with the band The Highlanders. Willard plays rhythm guitar and sings with the band. Bobby plays rhythm guitar with Tommy Jarrell on fiddle, Kyle Creed banjo and Loraine Linebury playing bass, JUNE APPLE, the finest old-time album ever. Bell Spur String Band is right up there too.

Between songs, Bobby talked of his life in the music of these mountains. He knows this music inside out. I like hearing Bobby talk. I like talking with him at his store, the Heritage Record Shoppe. He loves mountain music. Back when Joan Baez was making hits of old songs and Bob Dylan was activated by the old music too. I was in Wichita, not long out of high school, reading or hearing someplace that they listened to the Carter Family, like the Carter Family was real authenticity whereas Baez was pretend authenticity. I'll bet I saw that in Playboy magazine. That's what comes to mind of my first awareness of the Carter Family, the taproot of roots, must be important. Never heard Carter Family. Heard the name not very often, curious about who and what they were, but not enough to commit to research or just plain search. Finally, when I did hear the Carter Family, I had lived in their culture, mountain culture, quite a long time. They were not folksy and different. Maybelle played a guitar you could flatfoot or square-dance to, and the autoharp is more audible as an enchanting enhancement of the guitar. The Carter Family has drive. They recorded the encyclopedia of mountain music.

At moments like tonight hearing Bobby and Willard I'm in awe of the Southern Appalachian tradition in music. I feel more fortunate than ever that my parachute landed me in the midst of such a rich culture. It strikes me funny that people coming into the mountains are dismayed by absence of culture. But down deep inside the world of the mountain people there is much culture. It may not be the same kind as "out there," but it's every bit as valid. The Arts Council in Sparta brings the NC Pops Symphony from Raleigh to play for the High Meadows women. Shit fire! Would they pay Whitetop Mountain Band to play for the same amount of time? 101 strings of Beatles hits strikes me as about the same where culture is concerned as the Wayne Newton show in Las Vegas. When Whitetop Mountain Band is playing one place and a pops symphony playing someplace else at the same time, it wouldn't even be a decision for me which one to go to. I have never liked pop tunes played by orchestras. Gershwin is right there at the line, sometimes over the line into pop. That's just my purist side, which I claim most of the time not to have. I like to hear myself say I am not a purist, but I fool myself. I know being a purist is lopsided, out of balance, but when it comes to bluegrass, I don't want nugrass rock musicians messing it up. It's just changes. Bluegrass, itself was a change, was new in its time.

I like the music the way Bobby and Willard make it. They're casual, but that doesn't mean their fingers aren't busy. Willard is a rhythm picker, not a strummer. Bobby has a loping Southern roll in his bluegass picking that is flawless and smooth. Whatever they do, music is what happens. They set the music in motion from the start. I love living in a place where every weekend and often during the week music is played for the fun of making music.

I stopped by the Jubilee in Sparta on the way back. I left Woodlawn an hour early to hear Lucas Pasley's band of school kids who learned their music through JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) called BORDERLINE. They were auctioning cakes, raising money for something to do with Rotary, to get money for polio to be matched by Bill Gates. Ah, Bill Gates, the man whose name means money. I listened to the band play 3 songs. And I went out the door. My friends, Lucas and Judy Carpenter were arriving here from Georgia ETA 9:30. I had too much to do at the same time in different places. I walked through all of it. It was handled comfortably. One flowed into the next. I lived through it all. I like the drive from here to Woodlawn and back. It's a good drive to go on with the car, like walking with a dog. Most of the time the radio is off. I'd rather pay attention to what's going on in my head than have distractions running all the time. The road is a good place to let the mind run free working out this and that. When I don't have a conundrum to chew on the road, then I'll play music. Sometimes, the mind is quiet and I don't want any noise, just want to let the mind enjoy some quiet for a few minutes.

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