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Friday, October 1, 2010


l to r: Scott Freeman, Butch Robins, Willard Gayheart

The show tonight at the Front Porch Gallery included Butch Robins, who played banjo with Bill Monroe for some years, and he said a year and a half with NuGrass Revival playing bass. He has played with rock bands and several bluegrass bands. He's a good talker too. He talked a good bit about Bill Monroe, the evolution of bluegrass from beginning to present, Lulu Belle and Scotty, informative, interesting tales he told of the music from the inside. When I was in the store, sometimes somebody would ask me how to tell bluegrass from old-time. I'd say that bluegrass was jazzed old-time. Robins explained that Bill Monroe was in Chicago working in his early years and discovered jazz there. I recorded some of his talking and will post maybe 2 on YouTube with the music. He held my interest as much talking as he did making music.

There were 17 people tonight, about half a dozen new ones, everybody happy with the music. I've found my way to make the videos and get pictures without bothering anyone. I sit in the back and use the zoom, holding the camera steady as possible, yet sometimes it drifts. I think of Andy Warhol's film Lonesome Cowboys where the camera drifted quite a bit. Like there will be 2 guys talking and the camera drifts to the horse's bridle. Warhol's films were early YouTube movies using errors with the camera as a style. I like that style, so I do it too. I've come to find the perfectly still camera boring visually. I like the wiggle of hand-held and the occasional drift. For a long time I thought I wanted to get the perfect picture. Now I want the imperfect picture. I'm finding life in the flaws, the same as in our individual character. We're such far from perfect beings that it seems to me presumptuous to pursue perfection. Even spiritual perfection, whatever that is. It comes by grace only, so it's not something to strive toward.

Robins is a banjo picker who has a gift with the instrument and understands it inside out. Willard and Scott gave him such good accompaniment he spoke a bit of how good it feels to be making music with musicians who make it easy for him. He said Willard's rhythm was flawless. Scott's too. Scott played fiddle a few times and mandolin mostly. He played fiddle with Uncle Pen. It's a weekly amazement to me that I'm so privileged to have this music to hear weekly. Butch Robins is way high up in the bluegrass banjo world. He's part of bluegrass history and he knows bluegrass history. He makes it interesting to listen to. Everything he says is loaded with information, always information you want to hear. When he gets to editorializing he's good too. I couldn't say I enjoyed his banjo more than his talk or his talk more than the banjo. They seemed about even where holding my interest was concerned.

I've looked at a couple of the videos since coming home. They remind me of his fluid playing. Perhaps that's what I noticed most in his style of playing, it's fluid, flowing nature. He explained some of his discoveries of the nature of music itself. It actually sounded to my ear like he can play bluegrass, old-time, country, nugrass, rock with a feeling that whatever the form of music it's music itself he's playing. It gives his sound a kind of transcendental quality. It's not mystical in any way, but more like the varieties of music he knows well inform whatever form it is he's playing at the moment. If he only played bluegrass he would not have the dimension, the scope he has when he plays bluegrass. Scott Freeman's mandolin and fiddle playing have that dimension of freedom to draw from whatever other music he wishes when he's playing. With Willard's steady rhythm going, they made good music tonight, mostly bluegrassing old-time tunes to the satisfaction of everyone present.

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