Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 4, Road Trip, April 27, 2012

Road Trip, Day 4, April 27, 2012

So I've told you a little about Merlefest and our first partial day at it. Now with landmarks deeply set in my head, and me the master of our mountain, so to speak, driving to and fro's a snap.  So we make a leisurely morning of it, grabbing a small complimentary breakfast in lodge, making some small talk with our lodge mates, a scaredy cat retired secretary and her software selling husband from the outskirts of Raleigh in North Carolina's "Triangle" consisting of Chapel Hill, and a couple of other towns., They were so unnerved by the prospect of driving at night they for $150.00 hired a limo service to take them and bring them back from Merlefest.. That never entered my mind so there was no need for a visit from my mother to the inside my head on that score.

Before hitting the festival we did a quick drive around Appalaichan State University, and we're again impressed by its expanse and the fine buildings harboring its wide offerings from a magnificent gymnasium to the fine arts and theatre building, with all sorts of diverse academic buildings in between. The campus again fortifies my sense of the amazing state by state college and university structure within the United States, from the humblest community college to the great American universities of world repute.  Sharon noticed how when we drive along how often we are met with so many signs proclaiming college or university  X or Y is just so many miles away. We have nothing like that in Canada and we both theorize it spells how inveterate universities and colleges are to American life, something quite different to how we take them in Canada. I think American collegiate sports play a big role in this. Canadian collegiate sporte are as nothing in comparison.

Merlefest we get around 11:30 am and take our reserved seats and set ourselves up. I'm not going to describe parking about 1/2 mile away and paying " taiyn" bucks a day for it because it's not that interesting including me parking beside the guy with the modest Volkswagen, who was so stressed out at the possibility of me banging my door into his when I opened it that that occasioned about 5' of my time reassuring him and calming him down (and that I'll never get back no matter how many lifetimes I live.)

Sharon tends to stay put and watch whoever comes on the main stage. I'm slightly more adventurous. I take in James Nash of the Waybacks giving a workshop on "Making the Acoustic Guitar Rock." He's a good looking kid in his thirties, I'd bet, who has trouble meeting women the way I have trouble drinking water. He does a lot of technical talking that's beyond me but he's engaging and a clean, fast picker and I enjoy the tunes he plays. 

Then it's back to the main stage to see Wylie and the Wild West, featuring the cowboy singer Wylie Gustafson who sangs, yeah sangs, and plays cowboy songs, a distinct genre, beautifully. He does a few songs that he wrote, trying in his words, "to capture his Montana lands and life in words and music." One of his songs, about how he needs to get away and just commune with the wild isolation of the land and how he gets intoxicated and high and stoned too on what he apprehends. Absolutely resonatingly beautiful.  And he's a yodeler to boot. It's rather wondrous the yearning and sadness he evokes, especially after explaining a bit different styles of yodeling and what each style intends to convey. 

Then we see Peter Rowan and The Free Mexican Airforce. How good a singer is he, you ask. Here's the answer: he was a lead singer with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. As they say here in the high country, "Well Sir, that ain't bubkes." He and his band sang and played beautifully. (The song I could've lived without, mind you, was the extremely long one lamenting the land stolen from the North American Indians, accompanied by a tom tom rhythm and some simulated Indian chanting.) I rather insistently and persistently recommended to Rowan after his show, "How about a song about  expropriating their asses, so they can fit into North American society and live equal to the rest of us schmucks." He said,   "I'll get back to you on that. Don't call me. I'll call you." Then I heard him talk to someone about how quickly could they get a restraining order. I wonder what that was about and who may have been bothering him.

I after that caught a little John Hammond who sang the blues and told stories in his inimitable way. He's a Hammond of the Hammond Organ Hammonds and isn't too worried about where his next meal is coming from, especially in his typical cashmere pants, multi thread soft Egyptian cotton shirts, alpaca sweaters, brown alligator skin loafers and hair, thick and gray, by Gucci. So you'd think it funny him singing and playing about the dirt poor country blues. But he absolutely pulls it off, with a passion that belies how wealthily dressed he is, really how wealthy he is. In a sense, he's the Mitt Romney of the living bluesmen: he's absolutely unashamed of how wealthy he is and believes that any concern over it is a distraction from his art. And he's both right and a snappy dresser.

Now Bela Fleck, I don't get. He was next on the main stage. He's playing with his original quartet including him. I'm tired of saying, with fake enthusiasm, "Yeah, he's really great." I'm sure it's me not him but all I hear, for the most part, is a bunch of weird sounds that have no melodic line I can make out, no perceptible rhythm, no hook, nothing lyrical, nothing emotional, nothing I can remember. I'll concede the chops, but to my ears it's essentially outside playing for the sake of novelty and sounding different, as if the only good road is an untrodden one. "Bela," I say to Bela, "tell me Bela, what's wrong with a little trodding?" Then I saw him and Peter Rowan exchanging knowing looks. "What's that about?" I wondered.

I will say there were two superb things about Bela Fleck's appearance. The first was the phenomenal playing of his returned to the fold harp player the world class Howard Levy, whose unmitigated blocking technique lets him on a small diatonic harmonica play in any key, what other players need a chromatic harmonica to do. What he can extract from what used to be called a "Mississippi Saxophone," beloved by bluesmen for its sound and its simplicity and cheapness--treat yourself and go tomYoutube and listen to anything by Sonny Boy Williamson--is jaw dropping. So that was a marvelous delight.  The second was a solo, finally, by Bela Fleck himself in tribute to the recently died Earl Scruggs. It was sensitive and lyrical and even impish with a little of the Beverly Hillbillies theme thrown in, which Scruggs was famous for having played for the show. It's to lament that Scruggs is far more widely known for that than for his high art and innovative banjo playing.

After the solo, I turned back to my overarching Fleckian question: why play all the emotionless outside playing, when a thing of such beauty is so right there to be played typically and not atypically? It was getting very cold. I could tell as Sharon only seldom turns blue. The deep, dark North Carolina mountain night was upon us.So we missed Sam Bush and then Los Lobos and I drove us back to our lodgings with nary a problem except for bouncing off a bear and making a baby deer so mad from almost hitting her she gave her baby deer's version of the finger. Where do these kids come up with these things when they're so very young? I'd  really like to know.

But so ended another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment