scott freeman, edwin lacy, sandy mason grover, willard gayheart
Good music in the air above Woodlawn, Virginia, again. Skeeter and the Skidmarks played at the Fiddle and Plow show, now a Crooked Road venue. Pulling in to park, a car with a Texas tag parked beside me. The driver looked confused, uncertain. I'd never seen him before, so I assumed they were puzzled by the entrance to Willards gallery and frame shop. I spoke and asked if they needed help. He said he wasn't sure if this was the place. He and his wife had met Willard and Scott on Thursday and Willard and Bobby Patterson on Tuesday at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Turned out they were from Butte, Montana, and rented the car in Texas. He was wondering about the show at the Rex theater from 8 to 10, which one would be the better show, this one with Skeeter and the Skidmarks or the Rex. I didn't know what band was playing at the Rex. I told him whatever band is playing there, the best it could be would be the equal of Skeeter. I can't say Skeeter is the best around, but no matter what is at the Rex, I believe they will be totally satisfied hearing Skeeter. They came in and loved it. Steve was his name. At the end of the show I asked, "Are you satisfied you heard some music?" He was beaming. His wife was too.
Tonight's show was especially a good one. Every time Skeeter plays, we who go regularly know some good music will be made, the music is dynamic. Tonight's especially. Every time Skeeter plays, they've played differently from any time before. Scott told me during the intermission that a friend of his who works with audio equipment helped him set the mics and tune the amplifier to max advantage given the nature of the space, not a good one for good sound. I told Scott that for the first time I've heard Willard's guitar playing. Willard is a great rhythm guitar picker, and his guitar seldom comes through the sound system very well until tonight. Tonight I spent a lot of time listening to Willard's guitar. It looks simple what he's doing, but hearing it reveals quite a lot. I've known he was a fairly complex picker, and tonight heard it very well. Willard sang a song from an Alternate Roots album, A Million Miles To The City. He sings it just right. Speaking before the song he told of growing up in the eastern Kentucky mountains where the nearest city was the same as a million miles away. Every time he sings I Love You Nelly, about half the audience sings along, including me. I laugh at myself knowing the words to I Love You Nelly and really liking the song.
Edwin tore up his banjo tonight. It was like it was Edwin's night. He made that thing sing and cluck and all that a banjo does. His style of clawhammer picking, which is entirely his own, has such a good sound. It's a solid rhythm he keeps going and rings it all up and down the frets. Edwin picks banjo with soul, soul on the order of Ralph Stanley's got soul. Hillbilly soul. He has soul in the pulpit too, and he sings with soul. It's not Aretha Franklin soul, but old-time hillbilly soul. He sang Little Black Pony, one of his favorites. He sings it like he wrote it. He picked up Gentle On My Mind from John Hartford, who composed the tune for clawhammer. I've never been a Glen Campbell fan, so the song never said much to me. Until I heard Edwin play it and sing it. He picks and sings the song with the reverence he feels for John Hartford's picking, for Hartford's ear. Edwin took another song that never spoke to me, The Theme From Dr Zhivago, made a clawhammer tune of it. Willard introduces the song with a story of the first time he met Edwin when Willard was judging a fiddler's convention. The rule was only traditional Appalachian tunes. Edwin at age 17 played Theme From Dr Zhivago. Willard thought it was the best banjo he'd ever heard, wanted to give him first place, but had to disqualify him for not playing a traditional tune. He got the biggest laugh of the night. Edwin made it new.
Scott was all over his mandolin again and the fiddle. He and Edwin played together quite a lot. They have a sound together, throw in Willard's masterful rhythm guitar and Sandy's excellent bass using the bow at just the right times, and you have Skeeter and the Skidmarks. This may be the sixth or seventh time they've played at the Front Porch, Willard's gallery and frame shop. Every time is unique. They play the same collection of songs, but each time is with an energy of its own. One time they played folk style with everyone in the band sitting down. This time was a pretty hard driving sound, really going after it. The sound system was the best ever, so much better it makes me wonder why we were so satisfied before. It was good before. It just has an edge now of hearing each instrument a little bit more articulately. This is part of what tells me these people are master musicians, the way they can play a collection of songs different every time they play. It's not radically different. Some may not notice much difference, but I hear a different approach every Skeeter show. I have loved every show.
Something I hear Skeeter doing is jazzing old-time. Bill Monroe jazzed old-time, too. Monroe's style of jazzing old-time became bluegrass. Scott, Willard, Edwin and Sandy jazz old-time in their own style. It's not bluegrass they do, but their own jazz versions of old-time. When Skeeter takes an old song, like Whiskey Before Breakfast, they "Skeeterize" it. That is, they jazz it their own way. Scott told me some years ago a reviewer of early Skeeter music called it "Progressive old-time." I have to agree that's the closest one can get to naming what they do when they're making music. I take it that "progressive" means the same as what I call jazzing the old songs. It is a joy to all present when Skeeter and the Skidmarks play. They give off a joyous vibration. That is the vibration of mountain music. Joy. I see joy on faces in the place during the intermission, everybody lit up. Then at the end after 2 hours of the music, everyone is lighter than air. Big smiles on everyone's faces, the kind of big smiles that take over your face on their own. With that inner joy beaming forth a face can't do anything but smile big. It feels good to be in a place where everybody is happy.