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Monday, May 14, 2012


roger stamper

mark handy

the mountain park old-time string band

the dancers

more dancers

Saturday night in Sparta the only cars you see on Main Street are parked along the street in front of the Jubilee. You don't even see cars moving on Main Street on a Saturday night in Sparta. Sparta is as dead a town as there ever was when the after-work traffic has subsided by six. At seven the Jubilee band is hitting its first notes. Dancers run to the floor to get that extra second of dancing in. The Jubilee is a happy place where people who like happy music go to hear old-time music and dance if they like to dance. If they're not dancers, they sit and watch. It's always a good show. Everybody knows each other, just about, giving the place a sense of community where you have several different kinds of people, different personalities, different experience, a sliver of a pie slice of traditional American culture as it lives today. We tend to think, after half a century of television, that American culture is all inside the tv now, but American traditional culture continues to live in the working class.

What's left of people who have not entirely abandoned traditional American culture are looked down on for driving pickups and Detroit cars. Nobody pays them much mind, because no attempt is made by any of them to impress anyone who does not go to the Jubilee, or anyone who does. The Jubilee is no good for tourism, because it attracts the wrong class of people. It doesn't matter that the ONLY thing happening in Spartaritaville is the Jubilee and bowling. The wrong class of people is the wrong class of people on or off Main Street. They wouldn't have anything like the Jubilee in downtown Blowing Rock. Spartaritaville aint nor Blowing Rock, nor was it meant to be. Blowing Rock is where Baptists go to the liquor store. A Southern joke came to mind: Jews don't recognize Christians. The Pope doesn't recognize Protestants. Baptists don't recognize each other in the liquor store.

The Jubilee is where you go to see people who are themselves and they're not for sale. They don't go about with a plastic smile on their faces all the time like children in a Chinese child market. They're country people comfortable with silence, dancing with people they've known all their lives and people they only met in the dance. Their faces are animated and active in among the people they are at home with, their partners in good times at the Jubilee with good old-time dancing music, good fiddle, good banjo, good dancing rhythm, nobody putting on airs. These are the truly rich people in a society, the people who don't make efforts to appear to be something they're not. Their heads are clear of the confusion of living with a head totally involved in the made-up public persona that is as consciously manipulable as the words of a playwright. At the Jubilee you don't see a hierarchy of assets. Nobody can afford to parade their assets as something somebody else could look up to. It's a place where everybody is comfortable with each other as themselves.

By chance I sat at a small table with two chairs at the back of the audience seats and visited with Mark Handy's mother for quite awhile. What a beautiful-hearted woman she was. We talked briefly from time to time. I was sitting there feeling good for Mark having such a supportive mother, one who teaches and supports her kids. She was the kind of woman a child would want for a mother or a grandmother, a woman a man would want for a wife at any age. During the band's break, Mark came back to the concession stand for a bottle of water, looked surprised to see me talking with his mother. He didn't question it, but I did catch at glimpse of surprise. I had the good fortune to receive a dose of her support before my interview. Ernest Joines tapped me on the shoulder and said my interview would be ready to go in a minute. A case of nervous jitters ran over my entire body like a match thrown on gasoline. I noticed it and said to my nervousness, don't get carried away. Everybody is friendly. I'm at home among friends.

A tv crew was there from what I've become convinced was PBS. At first I was told it would be BBC International. Then I heard CBS. Then it came to PBS. I didn't think to ask one of them. I figured CBS would have a big van with logo on the sides, front and back. A satellite dish on top. Didn't see one of them. BBC would have done a big corporate advertising job for itself, too. These people were not talking heads in tv anchor outfits. All were dressed casually. The camera looked like the Hubble telescope. One guy worked it. Another guy carried a mic on a pole. Both looked like they were good at what they were doing. I'd seen them earlier walking among the dancers getting closesups, the dancing feet, and make video of the band. Two women were about the interviewing. They had their organizational work to do. Agnes and Ernest had asked me to bring some paintings and be available for an interview. By the time it was my turn before the camera, I'd come to appreciate the skills of these people involved. I had respect for the camera and sound operators just from seeing the flow of their work together, seeing where they focused their attention. I'd talked with the two woman and had equal respect for their skill at what they were doing.

The very first thing I noted inside myself when I stepped before the camera and mic, I have made so many videos of bands making music, I had understanding for what they were doing. I knew they knew a million times more than I do about making video. While we were positioning ourselves, I remembered I had my hat on. Thought I'd give them a choice for the visual consideration, which I can't see, so I lifted my hat and said, "With or without?" Both agreed, without. I figured it to be the backlight from the front window behind where I was placed and a porch light overhead. That white top of the head might have glowed in that light. Because I had some insight into looking through the camera's eye, it relaxed me knowing what they were doing. It wasn't like I was before a camera to be seen all over the country like a big star or somebody on Big Loser.

I was cooperating with a couple of guys making a video. They knew what they wanted, because this was their career, so I stood where they said, paid attention to them so they didn't have to tell me something twice. Right away, I felt a flow with them. I know what it's like to make video of somebody. The people I make video of, I want them to be relaxed in who they are, which cued me to relax for these film makers, looking at it like they want me to be who I am. The who I am part was easy; it's what we do around here. The two women stood beside the camera, to my right of it, and they asked me questions that were in line with what I was talking about, not changing the subject. It felt like I knew what to say, because this was about old-time music, and I love old-time so much it's easy. In the middle of my time (5 min at most), I noticed this was awfully free-flowing, the interviewer had me relaxed before we started. I told her when it was over she made me feel comfortable at all times. The questions were so good that I relaxed into answering questions I felt were to the point, pertinent to the moment, making it an easy, relaxed conversation. They were as comfortable for me as the Jubilee itself.


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