Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mountain Music!

The father of my neighbor Patrick had a birthday yesterday.  He's lived here in Madison County pretty much his whole life.  And he's a musician.  Now, Madison County is home to a very old tradition of mountain music whose roots go back to Scotland and Ireland in the 1700's and beyond. The earliest settlers here brought their music over with them.  Over the centuries, it changed very slowly, since the mountain hollers were remote and somewhat isolated.  There was the introduction of the banjo, for instance, but otherwise the instruments were much the same as the early settlers.  And many of the songs sung now originated Back Then and Over There.

Don't confuse bluegrass with mountain music.  Bluegrass grew out of mountain music roughly after World War II, with Bill Monroe credited as its creator.  Bluegrass is generally a faster and flashier style, whereas mountain music has a different sound.

Anyway, Patrick's father is friends with all the mountain musicians here in Madison County.  He's been playing with them his whole life.  So when Patrick decided to throw a birthday party for his dad, it was natural that there was going to be a good bit of music being played.  And Patrick wanted to do one more thing to memorialize the event: he asked me to do an artwork at it.  He knew about my Asheville Event Paintings sideline and wanted to put it to good use.  I jumped at the chance - one, because he was my neighbor, and two, because it promised to be a helluva lot of fun.

I went over to Patrick's house around 6:30 last night.  I didn't set up immediately because I wanted to scope it out and see who was there and what was going on.  It was quite a crowd.  Everybody seemed to know everybody else very well.  I only knew a few people, but everybody made me feel perfectly at home.  If you're at Patrick's party, you're a friend of Patrick's, and therefore, you're a friend of mine.

Around about 8 pm, the guitars and banjos and fiddles started coming out.  I went back to the truck, grabbed my art stuff, and set up on the porch next to a one of several groups.  I decided to do this artwork in watercolor rather than my usual oils.  The reason was that mountain music is very lively, and people are always coming in and out of the group, and I wanted a way of working that was equally lively and very adaptable to changing circumstances.  Damn good thing I did it this way, too.  Daylight only lasted another half hour, with light coming from the overhead porch light after that, and everybody started packing up around 9 pm.  So there was much less working time available than I had hoped for.  Still, I got the basics of the drawing in place.  Today I did some refinement and additions in the studio, and here's how it looks on the easel right now:

There is still a ways to go.  Tomorrow I'm going to hit it with some ink to strengthen things up and follow with watercolor.  It's going to be fun.

Some people make fun of mountain music and the "hillbillies" who make it.  I'll confess, I had no appreciation of either the music or the culture when I was growing up and listening to Led Zeppelin.  But there's quite a lot to both.  You don't learn either by playing video games or reading books - you learn by interacting with other people.  When you're making music, you have to be attuned to what everybody else is doing and fit yourself in.  With this group, it's not about showing off your own special skills, it's about working as a team to make something beautiful.  And if you're honestly trying, you're going to be accepted.  Some on Patrick's porch are among the best in the world at this kind of music and others have barely gotten beyond basic lessons, but it didn't matter.  It was all about friendship, community, and making music together.  It was beautiful.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On Families

I just got back from a trip up to Baltimore for a family event.  My Aunt Bobbi turned 95 this year and we had a big family get-together to celebrate. This was the first time in about 25 years that we had all been together in one spot, and it was pretty cool.

Aunt Bobbi is in amazing shape.  To look at her, you'd think she was 20 years younger.  She's very sharp with a strong sense of humor.  She still drives herself around Baltimore, takes trips to Florida, cooks, and takes care of herself.  She works at the Maryland State Fair every year and does smocking so well that she wins blue ribbons for her work pretty much every year.  Wheelchairs and nursing homes are NOT in her vocabulary.  But then, she has always been a go-getter, and that mindset (plus a good set of genes) is keeping her going.  I'm impressed.  I want to be like her when I grow up.

So the family that got together this past weekend included her three daughters, their husbands and kids, their kids' spouses, THEIR kids, myself, and another cousin.  Plus the parents of one of the spouses.  Seventeen people - quite a menagerie.

I was struck by some of the family resemblences.  The 2-year-old was a tiny version of her grandmother.  One of my cousins looked just like her father - no, I mean JUST LIKE her father, down to the facial expressions.  Another cousin looked nothing like her mother but had her mother's sharp and quick wit.  Once I started noticing some of these likenesses, I looked for them even more and just kept finding them.

Families are different than friends.  You can choose your friends, but your family is for life.  These people have been in my life for almost 64 years now.  We don't get together very often - as I said earlier, some of these I hadn't seen in 25 years - but we are still connected.  There is both a depth to the relationships that is surprisingly deep, and also a shallowness, since we see various members of the clan only rarely.  So we get together, catch up on news, pick up old jokes and stories right where we left off, meet the new spouses or kids, and share some of what we've been doing.  And we read between the lines to try to understand what led up to this or that event, or notice what was not said.  It's all part of trying to understand who your family is, which helps you understand your place in the group.

So here's to my Aunt Bobbi, a wonderful lady who will be going strong for many more years.  And here's to my family, all of 'em.  I'm glad you're in my life.