Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nashville and IBMA

I moved to Nashville in 1986 and remember how I wished I could buy a place down on lower Broadway because it was so cool down there, despite all the winos in the gutter and street people. At the time people hardly ventured downtown unless they had to work there. So much has changed.

IBMA this year was a fun gathering of a bunch of great musicians and fans. I spent about a week at the "Business Conference" (whatever happened to the Trade Show?) and Fan Fest and had a jolly good time hearing a lot of fine music and even some bluegrass (if you know what I mean). I had to search pretty hard for bluegrass, but it was there if you paid attention. Seems like these days, though, I'm increasingly leaning toward the roots of bluegrass for my own personal inspiration - more toward the kind of stuff Ginny Hawker and Hazel Dickens and Dirk Powell and Tim O'Brien like to do. Okay, so I'm not really a fan of bluegrass banjo in particular or men who sing high and whiny (but then I love Danny Paisley's singing...)

Some random thoughts on IBMA...a few years ago I caught a LOT of flack when I stood up at an IBMA meeting held at SPBGMA and spoke at length about why all the IBMA stuff should be here in Nashville where they could more easily be covered by the media, where many of the "Masters" live and would easily be able to come by and do workshops and the like, etc. I was especially arguing about the importance of moving the MUSEUM here and I don't see that ever happening, but in some ways I still think that was the most important part of my argument, even though Owensboro KY surely is a very pretty little town indeed. ANYWAY, IBMA has arrived in Nashville, has already (against all the rants of the doomsayers who said it couldn't be done) acquired a fairly impressive presence in Music City, and looks to be gaining more and more attention. There were those who said that Nashville will ruin bluegrass music and I've got to say that I believe bluegrass music is being ruined but I'm not going to blame Nashville for it. We are all to blame. Our media are to blame and the tendency toward homogenization of all musics to the point where they all begin to blend in much the same way that one stirs eggs into a mixture of butter and sugar by the process of putting it all into a bowl and stirring it in one direction in a circular motion with a big wooden spoon.

But I digress. There are a few of us faithful ones left! And those of us who remain faithful (and maybe a few converts) had the great pleasure of hearing Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass do four heart-stopping BLUEGRASS showcases in the late night sessions at IBMA. All their showcases were packed to the point of spilling over with great bluegrass and crazed fans. At the end of their first (BBU) showcase, they received such an enthusiastic standing ovation that as the folks rocketed out of their chairs to stand and cheer I thought a few of them were going to fly through the ceiling as they put their hands together at an alarming velocity. It was like a clap of thunder and I knew where it came from. Made me grin.

I'll confess that I missed most of the FanFest and a whole lot of the other stuff at IBMA and was mainly seen in the after-dark hours crawling around from showcase to showcase, suite to suite in search of bluegrass. It was there, trust me, and like last year there was a WHOLE lot of other music, good and not, there, too - much of which I couldn't call bluegrass by any stretch of my imagination. I didn't try to put on my Bluegrass Police badge this time, I'm growing too old for that. I just moved on to something that pleased my ears, my heart or whatever. A lot of what I found pleasing truly wasn't bluegrass but more in the old time mountain music vein of things and some of it was even, shudder shudder old time COUNTRY music. There were lots of talented singer-songwriter types in the crowd (I'll admit that with the exception of Harley Allen, Mark Simos, Tim Stafford, Hazel Dickens, Chris Stuart and a few others that was SURELY a direct result of being in Nashville; it wasn't necessarily a bad thing though it did much to water down what was already pretty weak bluegrass in many instances.

Later on I'll share some of my favorite "moments" of the week. The "Business Conference" (not sure when it graduated from the Trade Show it once was to a Business Conference, I suppose that's the new business speak language that's part of the move toward "Leadership Bluegrass," whatever that is). seemed to be a pretty big success though I'm told it's very expensive to set up there; hopefully those who did got their money's worth. Somehow the Convention Center doesn't quite give off the ambiance of say the exhibitor's hall in Louisville - the ceilings are high and everything is concrete and steel and there's a chilly kind of lighting in there that gives it all a cold and sterile feel. Still, if the business of bluegrass is being done there I'm all for it - I just found I didn't linger in that gloomy place any longer than need be. It is what it is and I don't see IBMA moving to any other venue, so live with it. I'll say all the booths looked very professional and one was even downright GORY - check out Dixie and Tom T Hall's booth .

The late night showcases this year were much better organized, I thought, and while one still was faced with which showcase to go to when you wanted to be 3 places at once, it was relatively easy to get from one to another with a minimal number of steps and stairs. Many of us sort of stood at the back and moved from one to another hearing just 2 or 3 songs each. Not ideal, but there were a lot of bands to check out. A lot of wonderful music and even some bluegrass (by my standards) was played throughout the week.

Of course many of the best moments of the week happened late late late at night for those of us who had the staying power (mine was aided by the privilege of sleeping late); I'll talk about those later.

All in all, IBMA was - as usual - very well-run and the staff (and volunteers!) deserve to be commended for all their efforts. Seems like everyone was having a good time and hearing lots of the music they love, whatever style it may be. It was very cool (and this ties in with the beginning of my post) to walk the streets of Nashville which are now clean and very interesting, loaded with clubs featuring really fine live bands and restaurants offering a wide variety of good food, shops for those who enjoy that sort of thing, and just a light a sights to behold. I went down to the Bluegrass Inn a couple of times to check out bands and sure enjoyed hearing Avery County, a new band featuring some really good traditional pickers, namely Jimmy Rollins, Travers Chandler, Paul Priest and uh-oh, my mind has drawn a blank. Anyway, those boys can do it and they played a lot of music honoring all their heroes - you know, Monroe, Stanley, F&S and people of that ilk. Good stuff. Check 'em out! It was cool walking on lower Broadway and 2nd Avenue at night - all the folks and great neon signs and music reaching out and grabbing you from places like the Ernest Tubb record store, Tootsie's, the Bluegrass Inn, Roberts Western Wear and others. On the way to hear Avery County on Saturday night I passed by a bunch of good music I surely would have stopped for under normal circumstances. While honky tonk was blaring in my left ear, my sight and attention were drawn across the street to a blank storefront where a trio of young ladies in very conservative (Pentecostal) dresses were singing into a line a microphones and a man was there singing with them and it was high and sweet and I wanted to run over and listen to them. Their praises were in such stark contrast to the smell of cigarettes and stale beer assaulting me from the honky tonk side of the street. Next I passed a middle-aged man hunched over his National triolian which shone and glittered under the streetlight where he was pouring out the blues with a steel bar and a husky voice. Yeah, that nearly stopped me, too, but I walked on by. Later on I got to hear the Legends accompanied by some soon-to-be Legends like the great Mike Compton playing the mandolin as ONLY he can, remembering the Legends who have gone on.

Lilly, Rad, Ginny, Tracy, Hazel and A Bunch More

You might think I can't spell, but really I can, mostly. So what about Lilly? Well, that's actually a pretty popular name down around Beckley and Clear Creek, West Virginia, and last week at IBMA I had the distinct pleasure of hearing some good music from none other than the Lillys of WV who'd come to be a part of the "Legends" segment of IBMA's Fan Fest.

But let me back up. At the Renaissance in Nashville, there are a few hospitality suites and I was honored with an invitation to a little gathering of folks like me who love that old time mountain style of singing - the kind practiced by Hazel Dickens, Ginny Hawker, Tracy Schwarz and people of their ilk. While the session didn't go quite as we'd hoped (at such a large convention with too many variables it's hard to get even 3 or 4 folks together at a certain time) but it all worked out nicely - a social drink or two, an occasional song, visits by various pickers and singers, a whole lot of good conversation and just the joy of being in a small room with a bunch of like-minded folks.

So finally Hazel and Ginny get in the same place and lean toward each other and start singing as only those two can and folks like Chris Sharp, George Buckner, Debbie Kaufman and Tracy Schwarz accompany them and things just get better. By now it's maybe 2 a.m. and Danny Paisley's supposed to show up (actually 4 hours earlier!) to add his strong voice to the mix but he doesn't materialize until about 4 a.m. But then the door opens and in comes a guy I recognize as a Lilly (Mark to be exact) and I remember how I first met him back in 1983 at a bluegrass festival in NH and how he was playing some great pedal steel back then - and how odd it was to hear that at a BG festival. Mark opens his mouth and begins talking and he has one of those thick baritone WV voices not unlike his daddy Everett's and I'm just captivated by his speech and want to hear more. Along with his is his friend Rad, a very quiet man with intense eyes and a real poker face and Rad is kind of checking us all out in a very intense kind of way like through a peephole in some wooden fence while Mark is just talking away in that great accent and charming the heck out of me at least. And then he starts to sing and buddy it gets serious as Hazel and Ginny join in. Yeah. Don't you wish you were there?

So a few songs later (by now Mark's playing my guitar) we take a break and Mark commences to telling stories and I swear it's some of the funniest stuff I've ever heard and in a matter of moments I am actually hurting from laughing so hard. Reckon I broke some ribs?

Suffice it to say that I never got into bed until something like 6 a.m. that morning because I couldn't tear myself away from this captivating company. About 4 a.m. those of us still stirring around headed down to the Grey Fox suite where we were treated to a few songs by Danny Paisley hisself. Yeah. After that it was time to chill and a few hours of fast sleeping was just the thing. There won't be pictures of this because it didn't seem to be the thing to do at the time. You know what I mean?

Anyway, it was great to hear Hazel and Ginny emoting those songs in their intense way and to spend the night in such good company. All that laughing was just a bonus to what would have been a very memorable evening.

Where Does It Go?

On a borrowed computer, so there won't be photos this time but I've been busy with my camera in recent weeks. It's amazing that my last post was over a month ago (y'all still out there listening?) but it seems like no time since I last wrote. Guess it happens to most of us, but time sure runs through my fingers at an alarming rate these days.

Since I last wrote I've enjoyed some time in Illinois, then a few days at cold and wet Bean Blossom Indiana, and then on to Nashville Tennessee for the IBMA and a bunch of other associated activities. In fact, I'm still in Music City and it seems greatly changed since I moved from here only 6 years ago.

You know I just might get political here on this blog before all my IBMA thoughts pass away for another year, but we'll see. Hey, have you heard the INCREDIBLE new CD by J.D. Crowe? WOWOWOWOWOWOW and more. I can't take it out of the CD player in the truck unless it's to put in the great new CD from Marty Raybon. I ain't lookin' at the title of that right now, but it has one of the most touching songs I've heard in forever - "Who Are You?" Buy it, listen...and prepare to weep. It hit me driving down 65 South to Nashville in some very heavy traffic in Louisville...I managed to keep it between the lines, but a look in the mirror later revealed a face not unlike that of Tammy Fay Baker (remember her?) after a good sobbing session. "Who Are You?" isn't the only wonderful song on Marty's new CD (a sort of country music-flavored project) but it's one of them! My other favorite is "Till the Sand Runs Out" and the message in that song is a good'un. Buy it.

Back to Crowe...his new one is titled "Lefty's Old Guitar" and while I love most of the material on that CD it's the title cut that I kept repeating over and over and over for a period of a few days! What a great song done by some of the finest singers and pickers in the business. For my money JD's current band suits his music better than any he's had. This CD was a long time in the making; already I'm looking forward to the next one! I don't want to wait any longer to hear more great Crowe. Crowe defines "cool." I sure don't mind a bit of a country feeling in my bluegrass, and Crowe'n'em puts it in there right good.

In the coming days I'll share with you some of my adventures from Bean Blossom to Nashville and then some. But for now, I need to catch up on a little sleep.