“You know, history becomes personal,” Reggie Harris said to a silent auditorium last Sunday afternoon. “These are our stories, and our history — black and white — on this long road of broken dreams and possibilities.”
Sitting onstage at the Swain Arts Center in Bryson City, Harris was joined by Scott Ainslie during their “Black and White and Blues” program, which received support from the North Carolina Arts Council.
Within almost two decades together, Greensky Bluegrass has grown from a scrappy string band to one of the premier live stage acts currently touring the country.
They wanted to shake things up.
In 1971, a young Sam Bush aimed to create a new kind of bluegrass music. The legendary mandolinist was a teenager when he formed New Grass Revival. In the “classic lineup,” the group brought together the likes of Curtis Burch, Courtney Johnson and John Cowan (and later Bela Fleck).
Sitting in the back of his tour van in a Texas parking lot on a recent cold prairie night, Hayes Carll takes a sip of Jameson from a small plastic cup, leans back into the bench seat and kicks up his boots.
He’ll be the first to tell you the world today is an odd — and sometimes confusing — place, and he’ll also be sure to remind you that the sky ain’t falling. Sure, there’s an increasing divide between who we are and where we’re going as a society. But, real compassion and understanding comes from seeing the other side as a piece of some large pie of humanity, rather than a segment of the population that needs to be alienated, or worse — eliminated.
Popping the tailgate down in my truck, I jumped up, my eyes gazing straight ahead.
It was a 1963 station wagon with six musicians and their equipment.
When Tony Butala reminisces about the beginning of The Lettermen, a legendary vocal trio, he remembers crisscrossing America, playing upwards of 200 shows a year in the early 1960s. Starting the ensemble in 1957, Butala created one of the most successful acts of an era where vocal style and intricate songwriting reigned supreme.
They are the bridge.
In the bluegrass world these days, it seems there are two camps of thought and performance — neo-traditional and progressive. On one side, you have the “old school” of Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson and those who truly adhere to the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. On the other, are those who stretch out a little bit, where the lines between bluegrass, Americana and soul are blurred, acts likes The Steep Canyon Rangers, Greensky Bluegrass and Yonder Mountain String Band.
It ain’t dead.
Rock-n-roll. In an era when sugar-coated pop stars and polished country acts are atop the charts, one wonders if there is any shred of real rock swagger and attitude anymore. Where is that sound and tone that pushes sonic barriers and actually challenges you to think outside the box with lyrical content that isn’t about riverbanks and moonshine, but rather focuses on the raw elements of the human condition?
It’s about time.
It’s about time someone kicked us all in the ass when it comes to the power and swagger (and social responsibility) of rock music. It’s been awhile since I came across a melodic entity that truly made me immediately blurt out, “Who in the hell in this? And why am I just hearing about this right now?”
“You don’t know me but I’m your brother/I was raised here in this living hell/You don’t know my kind in your world/Fairly soon the time will tell/You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me/I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see/Takin’ it to the streets…”