Oct 30, 2023 | Welcome Column

This is that time of year when people celebrate spooky things. Now is the time to carve your pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns and create that perfect trick or treating costume. My favorite costume of all time is a bright blue pile jacket which I still wear proudly because my daughter borrowed it, sewed chocolate chip cookies to the exterior and masqueraded as the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

The Cookie Monster is not a scary costume but bluegrass music has no shortage of very scary themes. Even Old Time music instrumentals get me in the Halloween mood with tunes like Spootiskery (The name actually refers to shellfish on the rocky coast of the Shetland Islands but it just sounds like a Halloween tune to me and I play it every year around this time of year).

She walks these hills in a long black veilShe visits my grave when the night winds wailNobody knows, nobody seesNobody knows but me

Ghosts populate so many tunes in Bluegrass music. Here’s another:

In the middle of the trial Polly Vaughn did appearCrying “Uncle oh Uncle Jimmy Randall must go clear”The lawyers and the judges stood around in a rowIn the middle Polly Vaughn like some fountian of snow

I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Carolinas. The Brown Mountain Lights was a ghost story I remember from childhood. In Scotty Stoneman’s Bluegrass song the mysterious lights ascending the mountain every night have to do with a ghost slave searching for his master but one of the versions I heard as a kid explained the weird light display as Cherokee ghosts circling to the top of the mountain as a ritual honoring their lost homeland.

Another Carolina ghost story I remember from childhood is a story made famous by the Country Gentlemen. A traveller picks up a ghostly girl from the side of the road and delivers the child to her home:

I asked about the little girl that I was looking forThen the lady gently smiled and brushed a tear awayShe said it sure was nice of you to go out of your wayBut thirteen years ago today in a wreck just down the roadOur darling Mary lost her life and we srill miss her soSo thank you for your trouble and the kindness you have shownYou’re the thirteenth one who’s been here bringing Mary home

Eli Renfro was a bluegrass ghost too:

In bluegrass music, often perpetrators of crime are haunted by their actions. Sometimes ghosts play a role as in this song:


Ghosts go far back in our musical traditions. Lady Margaret haunts a lover who chooses another:

Then, once he kissed her lily white handAnd twice he kissed her cheekThree times he kissed her cold, corpsy lipsThen he fell into her arms asleep

Ghosts can be useful. Casper was a friendly ghost but other ghosts might lead a cowboy to better things:

Then, cowboy, change your ways todayOr with us you will rideTrying to catch the devil’s herdAcross these endless skies
Yippie-yi-oYippie-yi-yayGhost riders in the sky

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