Yankee Picking

        Well folks, I’m off from doctoring for a couple days, and it is a busy music weekend in the County.  Friday night is the annual Habitat for Humanity gig, a worthy cause if there ever was one, and we have our office Christmas party on Saturday, which is just a big jam session.  Sunday it is on to the Nursing Home, and the Moose will sing “Christmas Time’s a Coming” just like Bill Munroe. 

        About ten years ago we had a World Tour T-shirt, which listed our venues at the Fair, the Ayden tractor pull, the Nursing Home, the School House, and other local favorites.  The shirt went over real big, and when Moose wore it at the beach, some young lady stopped him (this is always happening to the Moose) and asked him where she could hear Neuse River play, so for a while there we were world famous all throughout the County.

        I know ’bout our music pretty good, but it occurred to me I had stayed so busy as a doc and picking around here that my exposure to the music has been limited to our version, what I hear from the groups touring through, and from my good fortune to know Darrell, who is the only one in our crowd to turn pro.  As I get older, I hope I might travel more and broaden my perspective.  ‘Bout all I have been exposed to is Southern bluegrass, and it’s great, but I often wonder what the music is like in other parts of the country.
        I do know that guys like Peter Rowan, Gris, and Bill Keith were all from up north, and contributed mightily.  Behind the scenes, some folks grumbled about “Yankee picking” but I never understood that.  They sounded pretty good to me.  Bill Monroe was a southern guru, and he didn’t deride it one bit- he not only embraced it, he hired them all!
        Well, I want everyone to know that here in the County, the bluegrass brethren is always welcome, regardless of race, color, creed, social status, religious denomination or anything else.  All the have to do is want to pick some bluegrass music, and they’ll get along.  Heck, they don’t even have to do that, all they gotta do is give us the freedom to play.
        You see, here in the County, and I suspect everywhere else, based on  how the bluegrass folks from other parts of the country treat me, bluegrass is ’bout like that Lake Woebegone Mr. Keillor talks about, where ugly things like prejudice don’t exist.
        I mean, here in the County we are a bit isolated, and I admit folks can sometimes be wary of newcomers, but if they are good folks I’m proud to say they get treated like family.
        One day a new fellow came to town to look me up, and he wanted to pick some bluegrass music.  He stopped at the Gulf station, rolled down his window, and asked if anyone knew that Doctor who played bluegrass music, and the man at the gas station said, “You talking ’bout Dr. Bibey?  You sick?”
        “Oh, no.  Came down from the mountains and wanted to play some music.”
        The man at the service station looked at his watch.  “Better get on over to his office. He’ll be leaving pretty soon.  All dem Docs play golf on Wednesday, you know.”
        The gentleman arrived right about when I was getting ready to leave for the day, and explained he had come down from the mountains.  Only thing was he didn’t talk like Jake, the only mountain man I knew.  I believe he said he was from some Green Mountains we’d never heard of- some place far away like New Hampshire or something like that.  Well, it made no difference to me. 
        “Whatcha toting there?”
        “Martin.  Any jamming happening?”
        “Yeah, boy.  Going to the Bomb Shelter tonight.  Wanna go?”
        The man had never heard of the Bomb Shelter, but it turns out I had come highly recommended to him, and he trusted my judgment.  We went over to the County Line for lunch, and I called Darrell and the Moose to tell ’em to round up the usual suspects.  If company is in you try to show ’em a good time, you know.
        Well, when we got there, most of the boys didn’t know what to make of it, and a couple of ’em weren’t sure they wanted to pick with the man.  “Can he cut the gig?” one asked. Jake was in town that night, and he was extra worried.  He was a real mountain man,  and sometimes they take to strangers right slow.  
        Moose knew better.  “See that guitar, Doc? It’s bout half wore around the sound hole, and it’s got a lot of cigarette burns.  That man can play. We’d better take a chance on him.”
        Jake stood back in the corner to wait and see as the man strapped on his Martin.  Well, Moose was ‘xactly right- that old boy just wore that guitar out.  He hadn’t played but one bar, and Jake jumped right in the thick of it, and was a sawing away on the fiddle.  We played deep into the night, and it was extra good- the man could cut the gig.
        He was just like us.  Turned out he had done a stint with the Gibson Brothers, and I was shocked to find out they was from upstate New York.  I thought it was all pavement up there, but those boys sounded just like they’d grown up on the farm in Kentucky.
        Well, about 2:00 I had to split, ’cause I had to turn back into a doctor, but the boys stayed on to play a few last good’uns.  Moose told me later when me and the man left, Jake strung together more consecutive words than we’d ever heard him utter.  “Lawd have mercy boys, didja ever hear anything like that?  I’d don’t care if he does talk funny, we need to get him to pick more often.  I wonder if Doc knows any more of dem Yankee Pickers?”
        I figure I need to study up on those Yankee pickers, too. I’d been around a while and had never heard one, ‘cept on records, and I didn’t know they were that good either. 
        I hear a lot of talk about exactly what bluegrass is, and sometimes even some arguing on the subject.  Well, I don’t know about y’all, but to me I don’t care where a man is from.  If he sings an honest song about real people trying to live decent lives in a nonsensical world, then he’s welcome in my circle. 
        I’ve already heard from a fair number of folks from up North, so today I wanted to officially welcome you to this decidedly southern site.  To paraphrase the golf folks, if you know bluegrass you are my friend.  Part of my motivation for writing all this is to spread the bluegrass gospel.  It ain’t as important as the real Gospel, but is is important- if for no other reason when I go to Detroit I need to know who to pick with.  So, keep on picking, and I’ll see you out on the bluegrass road.

                                           -Dr. Bibey

Explore posts in the same categories: memorable gigs, Philosophy, places to play, short stories

2 Comments on “Yankee Picking”

  1. We very much enjoyed this piece. It is worth noting, however, that Vermont is French for Green Mountains. New Hampshire is home to the White Mountains. This time of year (or any other for that matter) color is not what really distinguishes them. The Green Mountains are a gentle range running down the spine of that lovely state where dairy farms still dominate the flatlands. New Hampshire is the most forested state in the union. The justly famed farmsteads where doughty farmers picked rocks for three hundred years have mostly returned to woodlands surrounded by tumbledown rock walls. The ones that poet Robert Frost touted so eloquently in his poem “Mending Wall.” While farming has diminished, Dr. Bibey is correct in asserting that this has become fertile territory where bluegrass music has grown deep roots. It has been aided and abetted by the young musicians sprouting in Harvard Square from the sixties onward. – The English Professor

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Come to think of it, the English Professor is exactly right- that man did say the White Mountains! That was a long time ago- back before the Gulf Station closed, and I had forgotten that. How did you know that? Are you from those parts? If you ever come to to the County look me up and we’ll go pick at the Bomb Shelter.
    -Dr. B

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