Bluegrass gospel wins another soul for Christ
I spent not-enough time a couple of weekends ago at the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. I saw Earl Scruggs and Emmylou Harris and the Barbary Coast Cloggers. My favorite act last year was Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. The year before that was a group called Mountain Heart.
Really, really a bummer that a really important meeting for worship with a concern for business should overlap with Iris DeMent, live and for free; not to mention The Del McCoury Band and Ricky Scaggs and ... [Sigh.]
This story begins in my hometown, where there were two radio stations: one played last year's bad pop and the other played old and current country music. Guess which one I listened to? Here's a hint: In college, one of my roommates was from eastern Montana - she still calls me when she's trying to remember the lyrics from some old country song.
When I moved to New York and started dating Chris M, I introduced him to the East Village's country music dive bars. The Village Idiot and later The Coyote Ugly. At the time, he was more interested in rap and African music, especially from Kenya. He used to say he liked all kinds of music except opera and country. But he was crazy enough about me to listen when I'd play Randy Travis's "My Love is Deeper Than The Holler" on the jukebox. As he heard more classic country, Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, in their native environment, he was a little more open to it. He even learned to like my Dwight Yoakam albums. Because he is always interested in where music comes from, he explored deeper than I had, into the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe. Chris introduced me to the music of Doc Watson. We learned to like bluegrass together.
Ten years or so later, he brought a tape home from the library, "O Sister Where Art Thou?", a compilation on Rounder Records of women in bluegrass. It opened new horizons for me. I loved it. I listened to it over and over. I started to listen to more recordings of women in bluegrass, and to appreciate bluegrass music more generally. A funny thing started to happen. I realized that the songs I liked best on these compilations were the gospel songs. To the point where I finally went out and bought a couple of compilations of just bluegrass gospel - some old and some contemporary. And I kept listening to them, over and over.
And in that period of about a year, my appreciation for them changed. Some of the language is really hard to listen to - songs about being washed in the blood of the lamb, for example. But it was easier with the banjo going full tilt along with the lyrics. I was able to sing along with some very old-fashioned Christian imagery just because I liked the harmonies. And through the repetition, some of it came to make more sense for me. And then Jesus started talking to me directly. I think I just had to be ready.
I really love fiddle tunes. Before I die, I would like to learn to play bluegrass fiddle.
P.S. On October 7, 2007, there WILL be a meeting for worship on the grounds of the festival, maybe around 9:30 a.m. Check this blog the week before for exact details. I'm not missing Hazel Dickens again.
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