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.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


So the guy who mows the lawn plays in a "bluegrass" (they use the term lightly) band and they have this gig at a bar that's easy walking distance from where I'm staying at 5 o'clock this afternoon so I put on my orange All-Stars and walk over there and grab myself one of those tall barstools and get comfortably seated with a Rolling Rock (before sundown, mind!) before they even get tuned up. It's a bass, guitar, dobro and banjo and I'm starting to get nervous. I don't really know anybody in this town so I don't spend too much time looking around for familiar faces but it happens that a neighbor and a guy I saw at the neighbor's party the other day walk in and so I had a bit of a small chat with them.

The band starts and let's see, well, they were okay. And the lawnmowing guy is actually a good bass player...except for some reason most of the band are turned down so far you can't hear them at all, you can just see their hands and lips moving. I start frantically giving him the "turn it up" sign. They turn it up a bit.

Some people have all the luck. This band plays two longish sets and in the process manage to do many of the "taboo" songs in bluegrass, you know Rocky Top, etc. But anyway the folks in the bar were having a good time letting their hair down and it was Happy Hour and they were definitely getting happy and there was no cover charge and this band was, well, okay.

During the break the dobro player (who is probably around 70 at least) comes over and starts talking to me and we're talking about Brother Oswald and I point out how I hear some Oswaldisms in his style and he tells me about how he liked Os and I didn't tell him about how I got to do the cover shots on what I think might have been Os's last album...a fun day of shooting, winding up on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, but that's another story.

Anyway this dobro player, Tex, says he'll try to get the guys to let him do a Brother Oswald tune on the next set and durn if he doesn't do it first song on the set! It was really good and he points at me so I have to say "thanks, Tex."

Now I'd heard about a club in this town where they USED to have GREAT country music, you know cry-in-your-beer, sho'nuff belly-rubbin' two-steppin' shuffle beat honkytonkin' country music, the kind I REALLY REALLY like better than any music there is. And so I went on over to that bar after I left the first one (see above) and learned that they have live music six nights a week there. The girl didn't come out and say it but I think she was trying to let me down gently when she said they were going through a transition period and well they didn't really play old country anymore there.

So I go back there tonight at 9 pm and there's this band up there and they're playing some half-assed R&B song - an electric guitar, sawed-off funny electric bass, drums, a woman on piano (maybe it was electric but it sounded like a piano) and a pretty young girl with a really good voice who unfortunately acted more like she was at karaoke making hand motions and pointing....and having to read each and every word she sang off a page in a book. Do you know how much I hate that? Well, now you do.

Anyway, this girl did a pretty good job on "Crazy" which is not exactly hard-core country like I love it, but you really can't go wrong with Patsy Cline in a country bar (even if it's in a city). So I thought, well, maybe okay, if I close my eyes maybe I can bear this (but I can't bear to watch this girl reading off all the words no matter how pretty her voice is). Well. After a few pretty unconvincing country songs (the worst of which was "Stand By Your Man" and that does classify as a hard core country song, but not with this girl reading the words) the girl goes to giggle with a gaggle of her girlfriends at some corner table and the drummer starts singing Roy Orbison ("the Big O" as he called him) songs, not so bad except he sings like he plays the drums, square and not exactly in the right time (it was like out of four people playing instruments, three were playing in different time zones). Yikes, I am being too sweet here . Then the lead guitar player steps up to the microphone and sings 2 blues songs and it's like a magical transformation. I'm not sure about the old lady on the piano, but the other 3 (lead guitar, electric bass and drums) actually perk up and act alive and seem like they're paying attention and even enjoying playing! It was too miraculous for words. I realized how anesthetized they were being before (and here I thought I was just being a hyper-critical ex-Nashvillain.) Previously it had been clear that while this band were playing "country" music (some) in a country bar they would rather be playing anything else under the sun. Wow. So Mr. Lead Guitar actually shows his stuff and it's good! He plays some great blues and sings it just right and the bass player is on, too (whereas the entire rest of the set he was in la-la land somewhere mostly just snapping his gum and hardly playing and acting like he'd be anywhere but here). Geez, I mean why do people get up and play and not even try? So the best songs of the set were by far the two blues songs. I'm glad I heard them because otherwise it was a real waste of time to go to that "country" bar. I spoke with the owners who confided that this was only the second time this band had played together and I was wondering haven't they ever heard of getting together to practice? It wasn't like they were the best musicians in the world to why did this bar HIRE them? I think they should have paid ME for listening to an entire set of that. I am glad to be back at the house!

Geez, I'm starting to sound a bit like Andy Rooney but come on. Oh, the drummer did "Fox on the Run" just as out of time as possible and I thought how could he have possibly made my day more complete after hearing Rocky Top by that other band? To hear Fox On the Run done so poorly was just icing on the cake of my discontent.

Considering myself very lucky indeed I escaped this formerly terrific country bar (so "they" say) less than an hour after I'd gone in. Yikes, I think maybe I'll stay in from now on if that's what a Friday night is going to be like!

Tomorrow morning, the Farmer's Market. That's sure to please! And I'm not kidding. A delicious slice of Americana.


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