This weekend, I managed to get in a couple of good jams. The first one was on the street in Floyd with Cheyenne and Wyatt Grantham who are 11 and 9 years old. Andy Buckman joined me to have some BBQ at an outside vendor and to meet the Grantham family who came from Franklin County to check out the Friday night scene in Floyd for the first time this summer. Friday nights in Floyd have been light on the usual summer music jams due to COVID.
While thinking about how things evolve and change I’ve turned my attention again to how much mountain music and dance traditions are influenced by black traditions of rhythmic dance and songs. Black lives and black creativity really matter in the sound of our music in the Blue Ridge. Blacks never got enough credit which is no surprise...
I have been thinking about another great person in our area who has passed away during what would have been another Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax Virginia, canceled because of the pandemic. Harold Mitchell (in his 80’s) was in poor health for some time. He was best known as the stylish Emcee on the Galax OLD Fiddler's Convention stage, so it is fitting that he check out during the time in August that was special to the local music scene as well as the world.
So the summer drags on without the festivals that usually are milestones of time in a normal summer. Staying home is routine now and is making for long weeks and long months here in 2020. Receiving news of another friend’s departure from this world seems to be routine too, unfortunately. This time it is Eddie Ogle, a left-handed musician and everybody’s friend who ever met him.
I thought a banjo tune would be a good lift for this week. A while back I traveled to a picnic shelter near Boone's Mill in neighboring Franklin County to meet up for a face to face fiddle lesson with young Cheyenne Grantham as we have done a couple of times before...
I know June is past, but this week I want to feature the tune June Apple. Thanks to Andy Buckman for inspiring me to study this tune in the past few days. It is one of the first old-time tune titles that I heard back in the early 1970s when I was beginning to get on a deeper track beyond Americana and bluegrass. I was intent on discovering the older music. I think I wanted to connect with the distant past through my music and lifestyle and figure how to get a ‘sound’ that wasn’t so generic. Instead of playing more tunes I desired to play fewer tunes better.
The pandemic has gotten me exploring more ‘hardcore’ banjo based old-time music. Maybe its a yearn to show how alike our mountain music heritage is with that of the oldest black traditions when it comes to the banjo’s transition into rural white culture. It’s a process that took at least 200 years I guess.
Last week was special as I was able to spend a chunk of Thursday afternoon doing in-person lessons in a socially distanced way with two sets of kids. These young folks hold the most promise for carrying on the traditional style of old-time music that I have long been promoting. William and Ola Moeckel are twins who have livened up the youth scene around here for the past three years with their dancing and playing on fiddle and banjo.
I was saddened by the news that my friend Greg Lam had passed away. He was in his mid 60’s. His health had not been so good when I spoke to him last at the Galax Fiddler’s convention in August 2019. Before I heard the news that same day I was trying to memorize the words to this song, Little Maude, and thinking of Greg. I guess I sensed something in the universe as he passed to think of him and this song.
Today was sad as I lost yet another friend to a non-COVID death. This time kidney failure. Janet Turner was a local singer who had a unique youthful sounding voice and an immense personality. Born and raised in Floyd County, she was a mainstay of the Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree often heard singing old-time, bluegrass, classic country, and gospel songs both in jams on the street and on stage.
With all the awful videos of senseless things happening to young black men resulting in their death lately, I thought of this banjo tune from Hobart Smith of Smyth County. He likely learned from a black banjo player near his home in Saltville. This stuff as we know has been happening for 400 plus years.
It is still hard to believe that Mt Airy Fiddler’s convention didn’t happen on the first weekend of June 2020. I have been to that convention more than any others over the years. I can’t remember if I have missed it since the late 1970s. So why not have a tune from that part of the region!