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Saturday, August 11, 2012


the crooked road ramblers at albert hash memorial fest 2011

In today's mail was the new issue of Old-Time Herald, a glossy magazine for old-time music all over the country, from Maine to California. It's published in Durham, North Carolina, edited by the very able editor, Sarah Bryan, the layout done by Steve Terrill, an artist of the visual who picks banjo with the Durham old-time band, The Hush Puppies. Steve always makes a beautiful magazine cover. This month the cover is a black and white portrait of a Missouri fiddler, RP Christeson. I've been taking pictures of musicians regularly for the last three years, so my eye automatically notes a portrait of a musician, in this case a fiddler. He's not playing the fiddle, but holding it by the neck vertically with the bow between two fingers. Only the upper half of the fiddle and only half the bow in the frame. RP has his head turned to his right in just enough profile to show the roundness in the face. It is a beautifully conceived photograph. On the left side is the blur of a figure too close for the camera's focus, just the upper arm and hair above. It says inside that the photograph was made by Howard Marshall in 1987. He wrote the article that accompanies the photograph. To Howard Marshall, I say, Congratulations, a wonderfully unique portrait of a fiddler.

And congratulations to Steve Terrill for seeing the art in the photograph. I met Steve one time at the Sparta Fiddler's Convention for a few moments. He was there with his band, the Hushpuppies. Molly, one of the band's two fiddlers was with him when we talked. My friend Jean was living then. When I'm in the presence of musicians I respect as much as I do them, I feel a fullness of respect, because I appreciate their musicianship and the artists they are. It's the artist I think I appreciate in them first. The kind of respect I feel when I see a painting or sculpture by Will Hernandez, new to the county from Key West, who has such an imaginative eye that everything I've seen by him I've beheld in awe for the art in it. Will is truly an artist. Steve Terrill is truly an artist. He has several expressions for his art sensibilities; doing layout for Old-Time Herald, which he does beautifully, picking banjo with the Hush Puppies, beautifully, has a label for old-time music by bands,, designs the album covers and all that goes with it.

Sarah Bryan, the editor, has shown herself to me to be a first class editor, the kind of editor a writer can work with happily. We've become acquainted by email over the last few years, turns out we know quite a lot of people in common, I knew some of the teachers where she went to school growing up in Myrtle Beach. She told me her dad made the big sculptures of dinosaurs, the golden Buddha, all kinds of animals at the miniature golf courses. I have loved those things for a lot of years. Even wondered who made them. They're almost inconceivably outrageous. They are unmistakably Myrtle Beach. Sarah told me that while he was working on a new miniature golf course, he ended up with one creature too many. It was a rhinoceros. He kept it standing in the driveway at home for a year. Sarah said her mother was fine with it. I've wanted to meet them both ever since. If one of my neighbors were to do such a thing, I'd take them a couple bottles of wine to celebrate. The Sarah I've come to know by every-once-in-a-while email correspondence and facebook is sure enough their daughter. Sarah has a spirit of allowing about her. She doesn't seem to me a controller.

Sarah has a manner that is particular to her generation, a young woman with a fast and brilliant mind who followed her interest, worked with NC folklife center and came into the job at Old-Time Herald as editor. Not to say other women have not blazed their own trails. I'm thinking the post-women's liberation generation, the daughters of women's liberation. Girls raised with the convicted belief they can do what they want to do with their lives. Whoever made the decision to hire Sarah into the role of editor made the right decision. I don't have any idea what she's like at the office. I have only the finished product to go by, and every issue the magazine is a beautiful presentation of its content. The ads are even beautiful. She has a banjo picker doing the visual layout with as good an eye as he has an ear. I think Sarah plays fiddle. Together with their staff they make a good band. Looking at the magazine as the music they make putting it together, it works. The magazine is full of reverence for old-time music, though not corny. It's a reverence like the way Dale Jett sings Carter Family songs. It's not sappy. It's a tone of voice in deep respect. That says it pretty good for the magazine, too. It's full of respect, never corny. And it's full of good information.

This issue, v13/#3, has the account I wrote of the experience of last year's Albert Hash Festival at Whitetop, Virginia. I had been curious how Steve Terrill would work his magic with it, automatically figuring he'd change the photographs to black and white, which was fine with me in full confidence that what Steve does will make a very respectable presentation. As I once heard an old feller say, I was knocked off the log. First, that it was in rich, brilliant color. They were my photographs and it took my breath when I saw Whitetop Mountain Band all the way across the top half of both pages in color that was so nice Steve must have passed his hand over it. Below it Kilby and Amanda Spencer, an intended portrait I took of them during the show. I wanted something of them that made a good portrait of them making music. I was happy he chose the picture of Slate Mountain Ramblers with the heads of the people sitting in front of me in the foreground and other audience heads, then the dancers in the middle ground in full sunlight, and beyond the dancers the band with just enough blur to indicate distance. I was seeing if I could get a picture with three levels of depth, the audience, the dancers, the band. Not trying to get more three-dimensional than a 2-D image allows, but to include the whole into one picture, one above the other, like in a medieval painting.

I like that picture for context. It shows the nature of the tent the audience is sitting under, the nature of the chairs they're sitting in. It shows that it is country people in the audience, dancers between audience and band, the bandstand, and in the distance upstaging the heads in the foreground, the Slate Mountain Ramblers. I love taking pictures of bands at music events. I like to get the pictures from behind the audience, using the zoom lens. I like the tops of heads in the audience. It's how we see when we go to a concert. That day, I was taking pictures for myself to include a few in the blog. I wanted to get pictures from the audience perspective. I don't like to get up close and be obnoxious trying to get an arty cliche picture. I'm not in anybody's way in the back. No sticking my camera up in the face of whoever is sitting behind me.

I was as glad to see that context photo included as the two of Whitetop Mountain Band and Crooked Road Ramblers. Most of all, I was floored by the inclusion of the photo of Thornton Spencer I'd forgotten I'd sent to Steve some time ago. It's my favorite of all photos I've taken. The camera has a half second delay from the time I push the button to the time the camera clicks. It was difficult to control a picture of people in motion, until I caught on to letting the blur define motion. I pushed the button as Thornton sawed the last note. The camera went off as the bow bounced off the string and he lowered the fiddle simultaneously. At first, I thought: Oh no! Then I loved it.

I had not intended or even thought to write something for OTH at the event. Took some pictures toward the blog and made some videos for YouTube. The channel: hobblealong1. You can find them by searching hobblealong1 or names of the bands. If you want to. Judy Carpenter was here and she went with me. We had a great time. The music was supreme all the way through. The audience was all country people, the kind of audience I'm most comfortable in, like at Fairview, Ruritan. I was at home every minute there. Even walking up to the place to pay admission I knew I'd come home. I have a lot of good associations with Whitetop Mountain. Later, after I'd written the blog entry it came to me to write something about it. I imagined somebody had been sent to write an article about it and better pictures than mine would be taken there.

I thought I'd write something from the perspective of somebody in the audience. Maybe it could be a companion piece for the main article with the inside scoop on the bands and the background of the event. I don't know that I've ever seen an article anywhere as seen from the audience. That doesn't mean anything because I've seen a minuscule number of articles in my lifetime to what there are in the world. I don't think I've ever seen any. I'm not a folklorist, so I felt it best to approach the article as an audience member, one of the people that pays to get in. Sarah's minimal editing made it better than I wrote it. She didn't change much, but what she changed made it tremendously better to read. She's as masterful at what she does as Steve is at his job. I feel powerful gratitude to both Sarah and Steve for taking that little ole thing I wrote and making it look awfully good. Thanks from the heart to the entire staff. I have to say I'm honored to have an article in this fine magazine I hold in high respect.     

the slate mountain ramblers at albert hash memorial fest 2011


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