Bluegrass Women and Their Surprises

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It’s 9:30 A.M., and my windows are still open with a gentle breeze lightly lifting the sheers. This is a welcome relief to the Valley heat that has left the mind feverish and the body languid. I didn’t think it would ever cool down at all (a mere 96 degrees today) and this is a welcome surprise. It seems as though life has been full of little surprises lately…most of them related to women and bluegrass.

The first surprise harkens back to the Father’s Day Festival. When the CBA first booked Della Mae, I didn’t know what to expect. Were they a gimmick band? Old time influenced revival type group? What I didn’t expect to see from these new comers was some of the finest musicianship and songwriting I’ve seen in a long time. With these young ladies serving as inspiration, I expect we’ll see a huge up-tick in young women playing bluegrass. I hope so!The second surprise of the summer comes from my wife. She purely enjoys the FDF. As many of you know, the degree to which she enjoys the festival is proportional to the amount of hassle free time I get to spend on bluegrass. Nonetheless, she has been counted among the bluegrass widows by many. I think she feigns even a passing interest in bluegrass to amuse me. Now here’s the interesting thing: on a ride home from the mountains yesterday The Bluegrass Album Band came up on the iPod. Out of nowhere she comments, “This is really my favorite band. Tony Rice is the best singer ever. Did you hear what J.D. just played on the banjo in the background?” Della Mae is on playing constantly in her car now and she’s on a first name basis with J.D. Crowe! She has crossed the Rubicon. Our relationship has it critical mass. Our rmarriage has found new footing!

The third surprise came at a wedding we attended lately. My daughter’s best friend was getting hitched and Annie (my daughter) was asked to perform an Allison Krauss song. Now, Annie can sing, but her guitar playing had been suspect. She talked about this issue with Snap Jackson recently. He told her that one really can’t tell what one can or can’t do until you’ve practiced two hours a day. She took that to heart and really nailed down her strum and rhythm. If she keeps it up, she just might be kicking me and my guitar out of our own band soon…and that just might be a good thing.

The fourth and final surprise came as a result of a trip to the mountains recently. My brother-in-law invited us to the cabin they he was sharing with some friends. He asked me to bring some instruments; their friend’s nine year old was learning to play fiddle. I figured we’d pick the ubiquitous Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down and Angeline Baker, the standard beginning fiddle tunes. Well, some time that afternoon, after a day of horseplay at the lake, everyone lounged on the deck and Rebecca, the little girl, and I began to pick. She new about a dozen old time and fiddle tunes. At first she was reading her music. She had never played with a guitar or mandolin accompanist before. I encouraged her to close the books and use her ears. She did. I showed her how to emphasize certain beats to get that shuffle. She did. I showed her how to add some ornamentation. She did. I showed her new tunes. She played them immediately. Before I knew it, we were really picking…for two hours. She wanted to keep going, but my wife and I had to leave.

All I could think about during the ride home was how this little girl had stepped through the looking glass that afternoon into a whole new musical world. Her life will never be the same; she has the bug. That was perhaps the most satisfying picking session I’ve ever been in…what a surprise.

Summer has been good so far, musically speaking. This is normally where I would add one of my cynical “waiting for the other show to drop” comments, but that would be churlish considering the nature of the abundant surprises that have blessed graced my life lately. So uncharacteristically, I’ll say I can hardly wait to see what else this season has to bring.

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