As y’all know, my Miss Marie goes to Tobacco Triangle U. She heard about a new festival we needed to take in so we loaded up the wagon and set off for the weekend. Marie had a few meetings, so she had to come late, but she agreed to meet us there. That kid is busier than me these days.
As soon as we got there, I knew this was a good’un. Some fellow from Alabama who looked ’bout like a young Bill Munroe was center stage just a wailing out the blues on “In the Pines.” His banjo player was from Montgomery. When he took a break from three finger style and clawhammered “Old Rattler” I knew this was gonna be some hard core grass. You just don’t see that many Auburn graduates who are Grandpa Jones fans.
A point of clarification is in order here. Hard core refers to very traditional bluegrass music. Once a staff member at my office wasn’t sure they should attend an event like that ’cause she was afraid the term was in reference to some bad Internet sites. In bluegrass, hard core means everyone complains if there are drums or electric instruments.
A bluegrass joke here:
Q: How many bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light-bulb?
A: Five. One to change the bulb, and four to complain it is electrified.
Not only were the stage shows good, but the jam sessions were excellent too. When I walked in the jam tent, there were three boys warming up. They had everything covered but the mandolin, so I got mine out of the case to sit in.
The lead singer was a young guy from Virgina named Gill, and man did he have the pipes. He knew a bunch of old tear- jerkers and some kid was on the banjo sang the high tenor. I covered the baritone. We had never played a note together, but I fell right in with ‘em and it was a good blend.
Right about that time Miss Marie walked in and hugged me around the neck. Gill might look like a country boy, but one should never underestimate the intuitive intelligence of authentic bluegrass musicians. The boy had never met me, or her, and yet he sensed we were tight. (Maybe it was ’cause she came up from behind, threw her arms around my neck and said, “Hey Daddy. I love you!”) Whatever the reason, he immediately changed gears and called for an old Reno and Smiley number.
The chorus goes like this:
“I wouldn’t change you if I could, I love you as you are,
You’re all that I would wish for, if I wished upon a star.
An angel sent from heaven
You’re everything that’s good
You’re perfect just the way you are
I wouldn’t change you if I could.”
The tune was one of our special family songs over the years for both Miss Marie and Marfar. There is no way that boy coulda known that, but you can’t help but love bluegrass intuition. Maybe we are old fashioned (the boy called all females regardless of age “Sugar,” or “Shugawh,” in that wonderful East Virginian drawl) but no one will ever convince me that bluegrass musicians don’t have a special sixth sense as far as human emotions.
We went to get a bite at supper, and I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of old Honest Abe the promoter who wanted to name our band “Supper Break,” so we could be in every festival in the country at the same time. The restaurant was crowded, and rather than wait we got paired with two other couples. One was a minister and his wife who had been in the R.V. business for years and just retired. The other was a couple of newlyweds who were touring the country on an extended honeymoon before settling into the work routine. They figured they had the rest of their life to work, so they were gonna play first while they were still young.
And we thought we were living the dream. These kids were off for six months in a travel trailer following the bluegrass tour. Now I’m here to tell ya, age makes no difference, those young’uns are destined to be a great bluegrass couple. We enjoyed breaking bread with them.
We spend Friday night with Marie, and got up early Saturday to take in breakfast at Soul Shack Mama’s. It met our two requirements- great food and no smoking. (smoking is now banned campus wide at Tobacco Triangle U. anyway.) Marfar noticed the wormy chestnut bead board and Mason jars and egg basket decorations, but as for me all I could pay attention to was the catfish and eggs with biscuits and sop molasses. I’d better check my cholesterol next week.
Saturday morning the festival began with some workshops and I took ‘em all in. I only had a half hour for the banjo, but picked up on some Scruggs back-up licks I didn’t know. Then I scooted over to the mandolin session. I’m pretty far along on the instrument, and the kid teaching was just twenty-seven, but he was a real pro and had some neat tips on efficient use of practice time I think I’ll work into my routine. If I can get one thing out every session I sit in on, and it is something I didn’t know before I got there, that’s enough to satisfy me.
The guitar man accomplished that in the first minute with some cool tuning fork tips. I ain’t a guitar man, and he was way past my level of play, but in the bluegrass way, was not one bit conceited about it and kindly sat with us for an hour giving pointers. I did get to run through “I am a Pilgrim” with him. He sounded like Clarence White and I could only do Tom Bibey, but it was still fun.
The host band, Carolina Road, put on their usual fine performance, and the afternoon highlight for me was the mournful mountain ballads of Jr. Sisk. “Picture in a Tear” and “When the Mountain Dew Starts Falling” are favorites. That man is a bluegrass singer. Here is a tip on bluegrass festivals. When the other pickers and performers put their gear away and come to listen, that is the band you should not miss. Such is the case for Jr. Sisk. Real bluegrass, no doubt.
I think tonight I’ll get back into Doctor mode and read about idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis. (I just said that so y’all wouldn’t forget I’m a Doctor.) But, to let you know I’m just Tommy Bibey, I’ll tell you how I memorized it in medical school.
All you gotta do is sing it to the tune of super-cala-fraga-listic-expe-ala-docios. It works great.
Poor mrchili- another tune in the chili household for the day. Sorry friend!