When I tell people that my grandpa and uncle were loggers and ranchers and that I spent my childhood summers celebrating the end of “deer season” (celebrating because they had killed them) with my liquored-up relatives at our family cabins in the California mountains, they are usually surprised, having known me as a foodie, a goofball, a world traveler, a lover of pretty things and movies and literature. Strangley enough, my hillbilly background seems even to me as unlikely as my once dearly-held desire for Vans and weekends at the mall scoping out boys. And yet, I know that it is still a fundamental part of me: when I see mountains and trees and deer, I swoon. Cowboy hats and wranglers still whisper attraction to handsome ruggedness in my ear, and the combination of sausage and maple syrup makes my mouth water every time I think of it.
From that perspective, it really does make sense that I would get excited by “The Folk Show” and old country and bluegrass music at the ripe age of 26, when until recently, my playlists have been composed mainly of soul, jazz, alternative, and acoustic music, and my radio is tuned to “World Cafe” and “American Rythym” every week. Now I feel drawn to rootsy tunes and old-time instruments (give me harmonica, accordian, or twangy strings and I will love you forever) on a level much deeper than I ever thought appropriate. This could be what “they” mean by accepting one’s true self or living in a soulful way – in fact, for me that’s exactly what it is – but it does seem a little underwhelming that seeking out live bluegrass music is its chosen form.
Well, that’s what I’ve thought until my most recent adventure: hearing The Mighty Lonesomes perform at the Jefferson State Pub. Unsual because: 1) I gleefully paid a cover charge, 2) I went alone, and 3) I drank tea (that’s actually normal for me, but not for the circumstances). According to their MySpace page (and isn’t that the most accurate account of anyone nowadays?), The Mighty Lonesomes are “Just four guys drawn together by the love of bluegrass and face-melting vocal harmonies.” Sign me up!
The four guys (three of whom I recognize as employees of the Co-op, my second home) had an innocent, newbie sort of gleam to them up on stage, a charm that came through their music despite the less-than-perfect acoustics of the venue. Thad, the banjo player had a huge smile on his face 99.8% of the time (an unusual and beguiling phenonmenon for someone (me) who is used to the guarded scowl of John McCrea and Ray Lamontagne) and was, unsurprisingly, the one who did most of the talking. The mandolin was dwarfed by its tall, skilled player, Phil, while Peter, kept the upright bass (an excitingly imposing instrument) in its place. Guitar picking was executed by Pat, who gracefully exposed another side of his versatile instrument. The vocals of each Lonesome were very unique, ranging from husky to little-boy sweet, and yet they somehow blended together (harmonized!) in a beautiful way, a face-melting way, perhaps, though the only understanding I have of that description comes from the film Amelie when she sees her love in the cafe and (rightfully) melts into water and splashes on the floor. If we could have heard them better, the floor of the pub would have been moist indeed. Luckily, they were selling 6-song CDs at the foot of the stage at a bargain rate: Peter, the bass player, said they were only $3, or “fifty-cents a song.” After listening to it post-concert, I assure you it is a worthy investment and a much better quality of sound than the J-Pub offered.
For me, it was more than a local band at the local bar. It was a kiss blown to the part of my soul that is finally free to communicate its memories and desires to my conscious mind and set my feet a’tapping, my hands a’clapping, and my heart a’bursting. So thanks to the pickers and grinners who enjoy setting the woods on fire with their musical talents in order that a few of us can appreciate our pasts and embrace our own gifts, whatever they may be.