the steve lewis trio, 17feb2012
Friday night the 7th was the induction celebration of the Fiddle & Plow series in Woodlawn becoming a venue of the Crooked Road traditional music of southern Virginia from Rocky Mount to the mountains. Crooked Road is another name for Highway 58. It really runs crooked over Mt Rogers and Whitetop. It used to be the highway from SW Virginia to Richmond in the days of Model A's. An older lawyer I once new, Lorne Campbell, whose practice was in Independence, Virginia, from 1932 until 1989, in the middle of the 1930s his dad came to visit from SanDiego. Lorne had him take the train to Abingdon. He picked him up in a Model A and drove him over back (unimproved) roads all the way to Independence. At the time he told me I took it that he was playing a prank on his dad to make him believe Lorne's circumstances were Xtreme rural. As I've grown older and more in love with these mountains the way Campbell was, I realize he was showing his city-slicker dad the beauty of the Blue Ridge from the inside. Highway 58 is a beautiful scenic highway through the southern part of Virginia, a beautiful state in all its regions.
The Crooked Road is a tourism idea to encourage attention to local music, featuring music venues along the length of the highway. The Piedmont has its own music tradition, like Charlie Poole. A book has been published with cds that play music from along the road. A venue needed to be in operation two years to become a part of the Crooked Road tour. A few months ago, the Fiddle & Plow show passed the two year mark; tonight Joe Wilson and Jack Hinschelwood, who is evidently director of the Crooked Road, presented us (audience too) a Crooked Road banner for display and talked a little bit about it. They brought with them Kenny Price, banjo picker from Mountain City, Tennessee, just across the state line. He is son of fiddler Fred Price who toured with Clint Howard, Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley in the early 1960s at universities all over the country, playing traditional music. It was Doc Watson's first recording. Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, a 2-lp set. On cd it is a 2-cd set called Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, 1960-1962. It's one of my very favorite old-time albums up there with Tommy Jarrell and Kyle Creed's June Apple and Whitetop Mountain Band's Bull Plus 10%. Can't leave out The Bell Spur String Band. Fred Price's fiddle on that album is up there among the very finest old-time fiddles.
The music was made by Scott Freeman, mandolin; Steve Lewis, bluegrass banjo and guitar; Josh Scott, bass; Willard Gayheart, guitar; Dori Freeman, guitar and vocal; Edwin Lacy, clawhammer banjo. They brought up Kenny Price to pick the bluegrass banjo a couple times. Quite a picker. I felt like it was an interesting connection with Fred Price, Kenny's fiddler papa, and all the people on that album with Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley. On the way to Woodlawn, I stopped at the Subway in Independence. Inside was a man about my age with a big gray beard and a rugged face. I saw in him the people of a century ago, not even that long ago. I had a flash of what it would be like if all the men looked like him, the way they looked in the old-time ways. A very different world. Yet it's the world of the music we listen to called old-time. We tend to look at somebody from the past and pat ourselves on the back for being advanced beyond that. But after some years of living among the people that used to look like rugged farmers, I doubt we're advanced the least little bit beyond them. There is an awful lot they have on us. And it's gone to the graves with them.
We have televisions and recliners, but that doesn't make us anything that can be called better than what they had. We think what we have is better, because we don't know what they had. Every peep I've had through the keyhole of culture into those days tells me we have nothing on them. What I see them losing as they conform to the new television culture is so substantial and of such value I feel sorrow that it is gone. I attempt to keep it alive in myself, and some other people do too, but there aren't many of us. Mountain culture is gone as a culture; even though I understand the changes we're going through that take centuries are about demolishing all traditional cultures, all traditions, and starting over with a new set of values, ethics, for the next period of time with electricity > computer > a whole new world. I'd like to see the next world be more in line with democracy than it is now. I'm seeing democracy evolving toward the ideal, constantly evolving toward the ideal. Like the hokey-pokey. Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, two steps back. The ideal being democracy. It's a big thing to undertake, considering it is happening to all the people living on the earth. It's like the next new thing.
The music tonight was all made by people with a lifetime respect from the heart for old-time mountain music. The tradition has gone away, but the music remains. The people making the music were, every one of them, people who embody the finer qualities of the old-time people. We don't gut hogs anymore and we don't carry grain in bags on our backs to the mill to be ground into flour to carry back home on our backs. From Air Bellows that's a three mile walk to the mill at Whitehead. We don't do that anymore. We have jobs and payments. We live in a world where the old-time values don't apply; yet for people who live by them they are very much alive. I know all the musicians on stage, the Steve Lewis Trio and friends. Every one of them is someone whose character I admire, people whose character I respect. That's how it is in people who know them. Down here on ground level, down from the mental sphere of television belief systems as reality, values continue to apply between individuals who don't figure because we're not rich or celebrities. We're the "ordinary" people. That's a good way to be considered. Brings to mind my friend Jr Maxwell whose daddy told him, "Stay away from important people." Let's stay among the ordinary people where we can find people of true character. The wise are among us too.
I go to Woodlawn on Friday nights to be among these people I believe to be of true character, whatever that means, people honest with themselves and others, people who are who they are without excuses or apologies. And I don't mean walk the "straight and narrow." I tend to think of them as the real people. I don't mean nobody else is real people. It's just that I see it in every one of the people making music tonight and every Friday night since first show. The twenty or so people who go almost-regularly as I've come to know them are people of character too, the kind of people I feel comfortable among. In a non-religious way it feels like a kind of "church" (fellowship) with them. Tonight there were over 60 people present. It took all the reserve chairs and half a dozen stood in the back. Minnie the white cat kept her seat throughout. I think she saw that she'd lose her pillow if she got up for a stroll among the feet of the people who take her space over on Friday nights. In the beginning she seemed to be out of sorts with the invasion of all these people in her home without being asked. By now she seems to like seeing all the people that come to her house to listen to music.
Steve and Scott knocked our sox off as usual. Josh too. The bass is as much a part of it as the banjo and mandolin. They brought different guests to the front to play a tune. Erryn Marshall from the Blue Ridge Music Center was invited to play fiddle, which she did. She is a very respectable fiddler. She is an awe-inspiring fiddler. Dori Freeman sang beautifully again. A couple years ago I thought Dori had promise. By now she has fulfilled that promise and is on her way to getting better all the time, which will be her path. Carl Jones was asked to pick banjo. Good musician. I like hearing Carl Jones. Edwin Lacy was there to pick some. He picked and sang Gentle On My Mind. Edwin really likes that song and he sings it right. Toward the second half of the second set, Scott, Steve and Josh were smokin. I meant to leave off the G. They were cutting loose making music the way they like when they get together. These three guys who go by The Steve Lewis Trio can tear the roof off the place with acoustic instruments. They played Angelina Baker, or Angeline the Baker, a Stephen Foster song, that makes a great fiddle tune, great banjo tune, great guitar tune. It's a favorite at fiddlers conventions and other competitions. They took Alabama Jubilee and revealed the music in it to such a degree that if I'd known Alabama Jubilee had what they found in it from the first time I heard the song, I'd have loved it all my life instead of just the last few years of hearing Scott, Steve and Josh play it.