Friends, we’ve launched our first-ever fund-raiser to help cover the production costs of Music City Roots. Our sponsors are awesome but we need to bridge a gap to maintain our commitment to the weekly live webcast and syndicated distribution around the country. Here’s our official art for the “Buy A Ticket” campaign. We’re asking y’all who enjoy the show online or on the radio to buy a virtual $10 ticket! Easy. GO HERE TO GIVE. Please share this message. See the blog below for the full appeal.
This was, quite simply, a triumph of courage over caution, which is too often the default position when it comes to selling and expanding bluegrass.
I have a new essay at The Bluegrass Situation explaining from the perspective of a board member and bluegrass evangelist why IBMA moved its annual convention to Raleigh.
Noam Pikelny gives the keynote address at World of Bluegrass 2013, Raleigh, NC. 9.24.2013
IBMA World of Bluegrass is truly underway, and as the first wave of attendees gathered yesterday in the Raleigh Convention Center, on a vast elevated balcony, surrounded by massive glass walls and bathed in holy late afternoon light, I got me some chills.
Maybe, I don’t know, 500 folks, including many of my favorite people and musicians in the world, tried to silence their social selves in the reverberant space, as the Mayor of Raleigh and newly elected IBMA Chairman Jon Weisberger welcomed the throng. (The city has rolled out every color of carpet, and as of mid-day Wednesday, there’s a palpable awsomeness in the air here. It’s early still, but this high-risk move seems to have worked.)
For me, yesterday featured two special news items.
Scenes from a happy happy joy joy night of music and even dancing at the Loveless Barn on Sept. 11, 2013. The amp belongs to Jeb Puryear of Donna The Buffalo, which is celebrating 25 years as a band. To which the amp replied, “that’s not old.” Jim Lauderdale offered up a new song. Peter Cooper brought a crack band including Sierra Hull. River Whyless was fascinating; you gotta see them. Korby Lenker brought a harpist, which led to one of the best images. Donna The Buffalo closed the show with groove. More pictures at our Facebook. Photos by Scarlati.
World of Bluegrass: This Time It’s Personal
It’s getting really close now. The re-invented, re-located World of Bluegrass begins on Sept. 24, and I’m about to get that little email reminder from Southwest to check in for my flight. I can’t believe it’s almost here actually. It seems like a LONG time ago that we (the IBMA board of directors) heard Raleigh’s pitch for hosting our annual convention and voted to approve the idea. For an organization bound to tradition in important and useful ways, it was rather radical change. The conference and indoor bluegrass festival known as Fan Fest had been in Nashville for I think seven years, and while everyone knew the location had massive drawbacks, it was convenient for many bluegrass business people and some in the community had just gotten used to it. So the announcement of a move to Raleigh in 2013 was a big deal that didn’t make everybody happy. But I am 100 percent convinced, given all that was on the table, that it was the right call.
Nor was it the only change afoot.
a home town shrine for earl scruggs
It’s official at last. The Earl Scruggs Center will open its doors on the public square in Shelby, NC on January 11, 2014, marking one of the most ambitious cultural projects connected to bluegrass in the past decade. (Here’s the first local story on the subject. See the full press release at the end of this post.) I’m personally excited and involved because since 2009 I’ve been working on the films that will play in the museum galleries. They’re done and going to post production next week. It’s been quite a journey.
Earl Scruggs, soon after joining Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, circa 1946. Courtesy Elam Scruggs.
As a lover of bluegrass since college, I knew and admired Earl’s music before this project, but I really didn’t appreciate the enormity of his artistry and influence.
a song of the man on the moon
Popular music will always be there to teach us about love, hopes, dreams and fears, but it truly rises to its potential when it’s in a dialogue with human events. Songs can act like journalism or sociology and did so famously well in the 60s. It’s pretty rare, however that songwriters tackle historic subjects – big events that were headlines then and books now. It’s not easy to plum the past for story, meaning and catchy lyrics.
One guy who did it successfully however is my pal Eric Brace, East Nashville artist, label owner (Red Beet Records) and songwriter. Around 2009, he wrote “Tranquility Base” about Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon, coincident to the 40th anniversary of that epochal event. And I’m not talking about a song with oblique allusions or allegory. Eric basically sings what happened, largely in the form of wide-eyed, shouldn’t-be-rhetorical questions.
“When you stepped off the ladder did you think of Ohio
Your children, your parents, your wife
Your Panther jet brought down in Korea
Did you ask ‘Who am I to live such a life?’”
Eric is a former music journalist, so the questions come easily, though clicking them together coherently took real craft. It’s a lovely piece of writing with an inspiring melody.
At the time, the tune was released only on an East Nashville anthology, and it got some nice notice at the time. Here’s Eric at American Songwriter with the back story. But in a rebuke to the idea that a single is only relevant for the lifespan of a moth, the song found new life this week when NASA posted the song and its video to its Neil Armstrong memorial page. The taciturn hero died one year ago, leaving many questions unanswered about how he felt about his “giant leap.” It is altogether appropriate that we celebrate his legacy and achievement by hanging the questions out there again.
Eric sent along this narrative of how this came to pass:
"I played it in Annapolis at the Ram’s Head one time and there was a guy from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland there. He’s been coming to Last Train Home and Eric Brace/Peter Cooper gigs ever since, and then last month we played up in Vienna VA, and he brought a pal from NASA who works in their communications department. After the show he came up to me and said nice things about the song and said: ‘I’d like to ask my A/V department to come up with a video to accompany your song, using all our archival footage.’ Two weeks later he sent me the video and i loved it. He said: ‘So you wouldn’t be averse to us posting it, along with your song, on a special tribute page to Neil on the first anniversary of his death?’
"Ummmmm nope. I was not averse at all…It’s just amazing where music can take you."
Here’s a new interview I’ve just posted with the amazing Aoife O’Donovan, one of the most celebrated voices in folk and roots music of the past decade. Her debut solo album Fossils will certainly be among my favorites of the year.
Source: SoundCloud / Music City Roots
There’s Nothing “Backup” About Them
Be sure to see 20 Feet From Stardom on the big screen while it’s still playing at The Belcourt Theater here in Nashville. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s an emotional and cathartic film about the poorly named art and business of “backup singing.” (Funny, they don’t call them “backup drummers” or “backup guitarists” do they?)
It focuses on a group of African American women who enlivened and enriched some of the best-loved rock and pop records ever, chiefly Merry Clayton (who worked with Ray Charles and sang the famous female part on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”) and Darlene Love (from most of the Phil Spector “wall of sound” hit recordings of the 60s). A younger cohort – Lisa Fisher (Sting, Tina Turner) and Judith Hill (Michael Jackson) – are in the heart of their careers.
Elevated at Telluride
This is the last of a series of posts that came out of my trip to the 40th anniversary edition of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Following some daily dispatches and a big review for The Bluegrass Situation, this piece just popped out as I reflected on the spiritual component of T’ride, which is considerable.
Why do I drive out of Telluride wanting to talk about God?
It’s not like me. I believe that God can not be spoken of without laughable shortcomings, described without error or claimed without unforgivable hubris. The first line of the Tao Te Ching gets it right: The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
But I also believe, via intuition and logic, that wilderness and serious music are nearer to God’s grace than most other things, such as Coors Light, US Weekly or Sarah Palin. And besides, I need something to help me explain why so frequently during this recent Telluride Bluegrass Festival I found myself staring at mountaintops, listening to music and, in all candor, weeping gently and blissfully behind my sunglasses.