The Road that Winds
Though I haven't gotten around to blogging since May 10 I've hardly been idle! First there was the trip (an annual pilgrimage, really) down to southwestern Virginia where I stayed with my friends Sam, Susan and J.D. for a couple of days near Bristol, Virginia. Sam's English and a fine Stanley-style banjo player; Susan is lovely...and well, trust me when I say you don't want to mess with her
A couple days after I arrived in Bristol a truckload of other friends came to Sam & Susan's; these are long-time friends from NY and Connecticut and we all had a really fun party at S&S's that Wednesday night before heading up to Ralph Stanley's to camp out, pick and sing day and night. Oh, 'twas fun. Like so many other things, we don't stay up as late or act as silly as we did just a few years ago. Still, it was a good time. Poor Ralph had just been released from the hospital (I think 60 plus years on the road - how many million miles has he traveled in a motor vehicle in his life???) so he looked peckish. He had more guests on his show than usual, but he brought the crowd to its feet every time when he played that clawhammer, Shout Lil' Luli. There's this guy who I think is from east Kentucky who is tall and bearded and always wears overalls and work boots who will dance all day and night like one of those limberjacks some folk artists make of wood and string (kind of like puppets). It doesn't matter how hot and dusty it is that man dances. I got to meet him one night around a campfire at Ralph's and he has pretty teeth, too, though I've managed to forget his name.
After Ralph's I headed over to see my friends Opal and Junior and we all went camping at Flanagan Dam after doing our usual Memorial Day thing of a visit to Hillard's grave followed by a picnic by the spillway. 'Twas fun to catch up with these good folk whom I've known for 25 years.
And soon I was back on the road...this time down to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, where I enjoyed playing day and night with lots of good friends who like to play old time mountain music. There was plenty of time for listening to other folks, too. At Mt. Airy I got to play guitar in the contest with my friends the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Bill and Janice Birchfield. We go back a long way. And Rebecca Weiler played her fine clawhammer banjo. The hours just fell away as we revisited tunes we've been playing for many years. The nice thing about Mt. Airy is that it's a friendly kind of place, really, and though I made a few journeys up hippie hill to pick with Matt Kinmon and some of his friends from the Old Time Serenaders (I think I got that right) I mostly stayed down on the flat ground not far from the stage. But one night Bill, Janice, Rebecca and I did travel up to jam with Matt and all his pals and didn't we have a time! I don't know how many hours we sat there lunging from one rollicking tune to the next, but it sure was a long time and a good one at that. The days were hot, hot, hot and everyone moved kind of slow like they do in the south on hot days. But the nights! The contest was always good and this year was no exception. One of the last days we got to jam with Justin from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I'd been wanting to see and hear those guys and when I did see them I realized that I'd met Justin before....two years ago at Mt. Airy....when he was this kind of shy, quiet kid (he still is quiet and shy, I think) who sidled up to our Roan Mt. Hilltopper jam with fiddle in hand and friendly Janice beckoned him to come in and play. He was good then and made us all smile a lot....and he's better now. I'm happy to say that the Chocolate Drops won the old time band contest at Mt. Airy this year and I'm sure glad. One fine band. Check them out whenever you can.
One of my last memories of Mt. Airy is late, late Saturday night...this is 3 or 4 a.m., when I was wandering around hoping to find Alice Gerrard, Ginny Hawker, Kay Justice, Sharon Sandomirsky (sp?) and people of that ilk singing somewhere under a tarp (I didn't)....I passed by the stage and it was just starting to rain....there were some of the Chocolate Drops and the great fiddler Dave Bass and several other wonderful pickers whose names I don't know playing as if their lives depended on it....and a whole crew of great dancers there on the dance board just raising the dust! It was a sight to behold and I stopped for a while, watching and listening, then slid off to the back of my Toyota for some much-needed rest.
The rain continued on Sunday when I headed out for Bill and Nancy's annual post-Mt. Airy party up in the hills outside that town. It's always a wonderful time to visit, meet folks and unwind. It was a rainy day but Bill and Nancy have what I'd call a party house, a house built with accommodating lots of friends and jam sessions in mind. And there was some great quiche and other nibbly food, too. I spent the day listening to a lot of good music and then got out to my truck at a reasonable hour for some sleep since the next day I was to drive 700 miles straight through to Illinois!
I've been in Illinois for most of a month working on organizing a big house that's slam full of stuff. It's an interesting - and challenging - job. Took about 9 days in June and headed down to Bean Blossom Illinois for their big bluegrass festival where I saw friends from many places. These festivals are such reunions. While bluegrass music in general has lost much of its lustre for me, the festivals continue to draw me because I love to see my old friends and relive past times and enjoy quiet talks around the campfire or a few Stanley Brothers songs and it's always good to catch up on their news. Bean Blossom is a lovely site for a festival with groves of trees and a small lake and I'm fortunate enough to stay with friends Leon and Judy in one of the big cabins there. The cabin is equipped with stove, refrigerator and even a shower! Maybe the best part of the cabin though is the back porch which overlooks the lake and features a very nice porch swing. This year there were others staying in the cabin, two noted folklorists and authors, so I was in the middle of some very intellectual company (not that any of it rubbed off on me). But one of the first nights we all decided to have a nice jam session on the front porch and I built a big campfire and we sat around for several hours picking - Neil, Terri and I - with Judy and Leon listening. 'Twas fun and I especially enjoyed some of the Canadian Maritime tunes that Neil and Terri played; 'course I'd never heard them before!
There are certain things I always do at Bean Blossom and one of them is to get myself over to the Peva campfire for a good visit with Jim, Ailene, and Cathy. This year Doug McHattie was over visiting from London (and there was Murdoch M from Glasgow there as well) and one night I stopped over there to find Jim and Ailene feeding the entire Cherryholmes clan, with mom and dad sitting in the swing near the big fire watching the thick slices bologna cooking on the cast iron tripod grill over huge burning logs.
The crowd at Bean Blossom this year was, I think, the biggest ever. Though I've heard some say that the attendance at festivals is down because of high prices at the pump, you couldn't prove that by standing onstage and looking out over the Bean Blossom crowd. And so many folks never come to the stage area! The woods and fields were full to capacity and even an overflow field had a surprising number of campers. I should write another blog just highlighting my favorite Bean Blossom moments but I must say one of the most uplifting big-smiley kind of things was watching the kids (maybe about 50 or 60?) at Kids Boot Camp preparing to sing and play onstage late Thursday afternoon. I went up and caught their final practice then followed them down to the big backstage where they assembled and received last-minute instructions. Then the performance was, as always, probably the highlight of the entire 8 days of the festival for me. And I'm not even a mom! It just gets all over (gives me "chicken skin" as Billy Rose likes to say) and I can't help but get all gooey when these kids sing and play their hearts out for us. It was the only time during the week when a big crowd gathered out in the heat of the day to listen to a show (mostly people stayed back further under the trees, but it was front and center for these kids!)
And when Bean Blossom drew to a close it was really good to leave that wonderful place. I'm getting too old, I think, for eight days of a music festival. But when next June rolls around I know where I'll most likely be headed.
And now I'd better get back to cleaning and organizing. I'll try to post some pictures later to this particular blog. I have thousands to choose from.