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Sunday, December 11, 2011


     vw boys: tim white, al blackburn, dave vaught

     vw boys

     vwboys with fiddler melvin roten and his wife

     tim white, melvin roten

      justin, landon, crystal, cheyanne

It was a dry, cold night in the mid 20s, no wind, the kind of cold that if you step outside for a moment without a coat it's like you're instantly freeze-dried. VW Boys playing at the Elkin National Guard Armory on N Bridge St. It was a giant cinder-block box with one end a huge garage door that rolls upward. The stage was a flatbed truck trailer for hauling tractors and round hay bales. This one would hold at least 22 packed right. It made a great stage. The speakers were placed on the stage. I wondered how the sound would do in a cinderblock box, conjecturing the place full of people might soften the echoes of the block walls. It was clear as soon as the music started that there need be no concern about the sound. It sounded good. Not far into the first song, some people started hollering to crank up the volume. They did, and it was just right. It was rock and roll kind of loud. The walls enhanced the music, gave it a raucous, crisp edge. It made the sound of a big auditorium that holds ten thousand.

I've heard VWBoys at shows in small places, like Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery, where 20 or so people go to hear the music. There, they need just slight amplification, so it's almost without speakers. Last night was a big auditorium rock concert by the VWBoys playing acoustic. I loved it. The occasion was an awards ceremony for drivers at Friendship Speedway, a dirt track, just outside Elkin.  Big trophies stood on a rack waiting to be delivered, one at a time. The VWBoys played first, and would play again after the giving out of awards. It became interesting right away to see that the drivers were all around in the audience. They'd go up, one at a time, recieve the trophy and talk about whatever dirt track drivers have to say. Tall trophies, 3-4 feet high stood in apparent random placing on the tables, glittering gold in the light like a city with skyscrapers going up. I felt good for everybody concerned. It was a great big room full of people interested in something besides television. It was refreshing in that way.

The sound was so bad for the talking that it didn't travel very well. You about had to know the drivers to understand the name spoken. That was ok. Just an acoustics problem, and only a problem for someone not associated with the racing crowd, me. And for me it was not a problem, because I didn't know any of them, their names or their car numbers. I had never imagined such a thing existed as dirt track racing awards ceremonies. Of course, there would be. I knew a dirt track was somewhere nearby, but had never seen it, never thought about it. Thought I'd like to go some time, but that kind of some time never happens. Curious, but not curious enough to crank up the car and go.

I became fascinated by this world I had no idea existed, an awards ceremony for people I have to confess to a great deal of respect for, race drivers. It's not the speed that turns me on about a race as much as what I call the actual racing, drivers that know how to get around somebody in front of them, giving it all they've got, operating with highly charged mental, emotional and physical skill, all three as one, with a passion for the race. Without knowing in advance who the drivers were in the audience, there was no telling among the men who was a driver and who was not. Everybody there was country people of the area. None stood out from another as somebody special. It was a good feeling community atmosphere in the place, felt like immediate and extended family everywhere, and just about everybody either knew everybody else or knew who they were. Through the whole evening I never saw a single face I'd ever seen before. I am never in that world below the mountain, because I stay on the mountain. Only the VWBoys had I seen before.

I doubted the mic on my video camera would pick up the sound in that echoing box very well. I made 2 videos, one of their Everly Brothers song, Dreamin, and Amy. I automatically assumed the sound would not be good. On the way home, I played a moment in the camera and the sound was horrid, like taping a rock band from the balcony area with a pocket cassette recorder. You can tell what song is playing, but that's about all. Home, I put the pictures into the computer and the sound is good. The sound is a little bit more exaggerated a version of the auditorium sound, like a recording made at a big city coliseum with a cell phone, the Cars playing full volume. I like the way the walls make it sound like a huge auditorium. It's a very different sound from without volume. Not lesser. Just another way to hear the band. I've heard the VWBoys live 4 times and like their show as much as their music.

The band has a new fan in Justin. I took him over to Woodlawn a few weeks ago to hear the VWBoys. He came away from the show a fan. Tim announced they'd be playing at the armory in Elkin and Justin put that in his memory. He wanted to take the kids. He wanted Crystal to hear the band. She has been working non-stop toward Christmas in her studio photography business, babies with Santa. Justin and I encouraged her to go and get her head out of her stress for a little while. In the picture above, she's so tired she's forcing herself to stay awake. Justin and I have been talking for some time, year maybe, of his interest in the kids learning to make music. I've given him what I've learned in the time of the music store, seeing kids take up the music. I suggested he start taking them to music shows of bluegrass and regional music now. By the time they're 5 or 6, they might voice an interest in learning to play something. They can get into the jam program at school when they're 8. If they want to learn before 8, then a good teacher can get them going. If they don't want to learn, don't force it. Though if they want to play, regular practice is the way.

One of the things we talk about concerning the kids is something major I have noticed, musicians are happy people, compared to the rest of us. They don't go around angry. They're fun at home, because they want to make music. They would rather make music, period. I've seen in the older people, women, married to fiddlers, banjo pickers and guitar pickers, appear to be happy people. Musicians know there's no money in making music without selling your soul. Mountain musicians may buy and sell instruments, but their souls have no price tag. Justin wants to be a good daddy and give his kids sound guidance toward growing up and making a go of it in the adult world, so often kept secret from the kids.

 By the time of the 7th or 8th trophy, and still a lot more to hand out, we saw the kids fading. Crystal, who belonged at home in bed, was fading. Justin and I were liking the idea of waiting for the VWBoys to return, but it was closing in on 10, kids were dropping off, Crystal needed to stop at Walmart. We made a collective decision to get on up the mountain. An hour to their place in Justin's 4-door pickup, and a half hour in my car to home. The kids put to bed, the three of us went to the basement, sat in lawn chairs beside the wood stove smoking cigarettes, and talked at length about whatever came up, feeling the concert still in us.


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