Tag Archives: roots music

This Instant

27 May


I’ve just returned from Roosterwalk Music Festival 5 at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds outside Martinsville, Virginia. Attending this event was a first in many ways, as it was not only my first three-day music festival, but also my first solo camping experience. From mid-day Friday until this morning, I had access to cell service only if I walked the two miles to the highest hill near the festival site. The catalog of experiences which made their way into my tiny journal and cell phone voice recorder as well as the over 577 photographs I took in the last three days are a testament to the beauty of music and its power to bring people together in harmony and in fellowship.

Roosterwalk Festival was begun in memory of Edwin “the Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank who both unfortunately passed away in their 20’s. Friends created this memorial event, celebrating the two young men’s love of music and of the outdoors. Proceeds benefit the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship at Martinsville High School. One of the greatest gifts I received this weekend was the good fortune to camp beside some of Walker Shank’s immediate family who were so kind and gracious to me. The connections I made and all the experiences will take some days to sort and to write about fully, but I wanted to give a preview of some of the things I learned from my first music festival/ camping experience.  Most prominent was the highly unusual weather. All weekend the temperature dropped into the 40’s. Friday night’s low was 36 degrees.  The site had seen a torrential storm on Thursday and so the mud was nearly six inches thick…everywhere.  But the days were in the low 70’s and not a drop of rain in the sky. The full moon made for some incredible pictures and I will be posting them soon. Strangely enough, the music isn’t what moved me so much this weekend. It was the people and the connections made.IMG_8160Saturday night, walking back to my car and it’s tent appendage, I looked up to see a tiny light in the sky right by the checkpoint into the camping area. I asked one of the festival volunteers, a gentleman probably in his sixties. . .

“Oh, what’s that?!” my eyes opening wide.

“It’s a Chinese lantern”, he said. “You light this tiny candle in it and the air heats and it flies.”

“It’s so beautiful” I replied, looking upward.

“Yep, sure is…” he smiled.”There’s a lot a beautiful things to see out here at night…includin’ you.”  He chuckled a bit. “Be careful walking back…you got your light?”

I held up my tiny red Maglite.

“Okay then…be safe young lady.”

People are so amazing…they just are.  There is kindness in the Universe. You don’t really need to even look for it.

Things I learned from Roosterwalk 5:

1. No cell service can be a blessing…the sky is so blue…the moon so bright…Chinese Lanterns float at midnight.
2. Honeysuckle really does smell that good. Virginia is the most beautiful place.
3. Cows…they moo… at sunrise. And moo. And moo. And then. . . moo some more.
4. People are incredibly generous and kind… the high ones are groovy…the drunken ones, not so much sometimes.
5. There are children in adult bodies left in the world…the lost boys still exist. Ragtag clothes and dreadlocks and hula hoops and balloons from Neverland.
6. Peeing in a cup…got it.
7. Stuff doesn’t matter…people do. Listen to stories.
8. Belly dancing to bluegrass?…. who cares. Let it shake and roll!
9. Port-a-pottie and body functions…beer helps.
10. Head lamp…must acquire.
11. Coffee….Instant is still coffee and when the neighbors make it for you rather than walking a half mile for it, it’s better than Starbucks.
12. Earplugs or … how long I can survive without sleep?
13. Mud doesn’t hurt you, everybody smells bad after three days, and by then…you’re family or in love.
14. Those rubber garden clogs that you just threw in the car at the last minute? Priceless.
15. Prepare for weather ranging from snow to jungle heat all in one day…sometimes within the hour.
16. Sleeping while camping alone takes practice…relax.
17. People come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and stages of undress…be prepared to see it all bobbling around unabashedly.
18. Hot food is gold.
19. Musicians are just people …stars are in the sky.
20. Keep in mind one principle: “This instant is everything”

It is.

This Instant

The 116th Dream

16 May

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One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. —Bob Marley

As the end of the academic year is nearing, the natives are restless in their anticipation of freedom. I’m restless too walking the floors of my tiny windowless classroom. I count minutes and graded essays, all the while trying to lose myself in the discussion of students until the bell that signals unlocked doors and … the sun. In the bleary mornings, hot coffee and the promise of acoustic on the airwaves propels me toward the car, their soaring edges framing the brightening sky once I am on the road. On these chilly spring morning commutes, roots and folk harmony send my spirit skyward nearly like a gospel witness. Songs these days seem to deliver messages to me in synchronous drifts. In both the high harmony and in lyric simplicity, the sharp edge of voices challenges the riddles of my soul. Insight then somehow appears like a cool cloth upon this sleep-deprived head of mine before I walk past the locks on my brick cell in English Literature.

Last week, I broke the rules. The road called on a Wednesday and I acquiesced. Usually I never heed the call when classes come so early in the morning. But these days, musical intercession is needed and so upon the camino I went to see Sam Wilson from the Sons of Bill and Vandaveer. As I strolled the downtown mall of Charlottesville, only a banjo busker’s tale paused my post dinner walk toward The Southern Cafe and Music Hall. The place is relatively small, the stage and audience area a dark protected cavern of quiet, almost confessional in mood. Seated in the front row, a local stout in hand, the night and the space curled around me while Sam Wilson began to sing.

This is the quiet music of the soul, I thought.

In listening, memories opened of nights from over a decade ago when local folk musician Brian Hall prompted the yearnings of my heart. In Wilson’s songs, almost instantaneously, the depth of lyric blended effortlessly into the dissonant strings, and the body of the guitar echoed the notes. Voice, physical body, and soul became one in the instrument, a trinity of sound. I thought of the troubadour. the wandering bard… a human song offered to the heavens.

Vandaveer quietly took the stage soon after, their understated stage presence revealing that this music isn’t really about “performance” but a relaying of the simple life of common folk. I began to understand that songs of this genre are about expression and artistic connection to an old body of art. Their newest collection includes traditional ballads which recreate and celebrate the richness of American life, romantic ideals in the truest sense. Mark Heidinger’s guitar and vocals reminded me of the old mountain singers I heard as little girl with a healthy dose of Dylan thrown in. Reminiscent of Patsy Cline, Rose Guerin’s low powerful tones intertwined to prompt some of the strongest inspiration I have felt at a live musical event. The tremendous emotional harmony in the lyrics had me sporadically scribbling away in my little book. Starting the set with Pretty Polly, one of my new favorite songs, cast an energy which never dissipated over the next hour and a half. Song after song became a quiet conversation between audience and artist, a sense of meditative reflection even in the merrier moments. Some of my favorites? Beat, Beat, My Heart; Concerning Past & Future Conquests and the tango-ish Spite.

The idea of the beauty in sorrow echoed in several songs especially in Everything is Spinning.  In the chorus, the dark sorrow of loss cut against the laughing melody. And in the chilling The Murder of the Lawson Family, the dissonance between the sing-a-long quality of the tune and the narrative of murder had me wondering about musical function and form within community.  I was reminded of common folk tunes like Ring Around the Rosy and Weelia Wallia, their sad subjects masked by cheerful repeating verse.

Near the end of the set, my heart was completely captured by the childlike Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream. I opened my book mid song and wrote —

Art is the highest form of consciousness …an expression of the energy of the spheres. Artists are conduits for the divine. When I die, I want to be as beautiful as a song. I want my passing to be a song to the Universe. How much more beautiful could that be?

The balm of note and verse comforts me. It has begun to accompany my walk like a second voice, a harmony to my own musings. Each morning, I wearily slide into my car and songs carry me to work. Each evening they carry me home. I write to music now seated at one of my new writer’s spots or on my screened back porch in the warm afternoon light. And I wonder how I could have lived without it for all this time. Because there was a long time where I simply couldn’t listen to it without pain, and not during this journey. Before it.

But each walk from my library to the kitchen forces a gaze at my grandmother’s piano, a family heirloom and iconic image from my childhood. She has played naturally, by ear, since she was four years old. It’s amazing to think what she would have done with lessons and the proper training. Her piano it a constant reminder of the connection music can bring. Comfort and home in each note.

grans piano

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