The Bluegrass Carol

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“Bah! Humbug!”, said Ebenezer Kludge as he plunked down the money for the self-tuning guitar. “I’m a busy, important musician! Surely I shouldn’t be bothered with trivialities like learning how to tune my instrument!” He took his instrument home to his chilly, dank house and began banging away on his new instrument. When he played too hard, and the instrument went out of tune, he just pushed the “autotune” button and the amazing guitar retuned itself. Ebenezer continued playing, unsmilingly and joylessly until he grew tired and went to bed.

As he prepared to retire for the night, his bed chamber suddenly became freezing cold, and a bitter wind whipped through the room. The compact fluorescent bulb flickered and an apparition appeared.

“I know you!”, Ebenezer exclaimed, pointing a shaky figure at the specter. “Y-y-you’re Christian Frederick Martin!”

“The very same”, said the spirit. “And I have come to save your soul, Ebenezer!”

“My soul’s fine!”, Ebenezer retorted. “Besides, I don’t believe in ghosts!”

The ghost of C.F. Martin let out such a horrible mournful wail that Ebenezer Kludge dropped to his knees. “Please don’t torment me so!” begged Ebenezer. “I play Bluegrass faithfully!” “You shall be visited by three spirits”, intoned the ghastly specter. And then he vanished! The room’s chill lessened, and Ebenezer rose from his knees and gathered his wits. “Bah! Humbug!” he said, and crawled into bed.

Presently, Ebenezer was awakened by the hall clock chiming. “Ebenezer! Ebenezer Kludge!”, a disembodied voice called. Ebenezer sat up with a start to face a curious figure who floated a few inches above the floor.

“Who are YOU?” gasped Ebenezer.

“I am the ghost of Bluegrass past”, said the spirit. “YOUR past, Ebenezer! Come with me.” Ebenezer touched the brim of the spirit’s ghostly Stetson and was transported to a place where people were jamming a round a Coleman lantern on a balmy summer night.

“Do you know this place?” asked the spirit.

“Yes!” exclaimed Ebenezer. “It’s Grass Valley! Look, there’s JD Rhynes – how young he looks! And Vern Williams! And Keith Little – with a mustache!” The festival was small, the stage was primitive. But the enthusiasm of the pickers was so real, so genuine, that it awakened feelings in Ebenezer he had forgotten he had lost.

“It is time for us to go”, said the spirit, and suddenly Ebenezer was back in his bed chamber, with the sounds of the mid-70’s Grass Valley jamming still ringing in his ears.

“Ebenezer Kludge!” bellowed a voice and Ebenezer saw a grey-bearded avuncular fellow in a tie-dye tank top, driving a golf cart. “I am the ghost of Bluegrass present! Come hither – we have much to see, and very little time!” Ebenezer got into the passenger seat and they drove into the mist.

Suddenly, they were back at Grass Valley. But this time it was a much bigger festival and there were many more people. They drove up to a large circle of people jamming. “Sheesh!”, said Ebenezer. “These people are awful! They’re playing out of tune, singing terrible harmonies – spirit, please, let’s get away from here at once!”

“Let’s listen a little longer, Ebenezer”, said the spirit. And eventually Ebenezer noticed that the jammers were having a wonderful time. They were clearly old acquaintances, and the joy they felt in playing together was infectious. Their voices were sometimes out of tune, true, but their heartfelt singing, mixed with their frequent laughter, made for a truly joyous noise. Ebenezer found himself smiling, in spite of himself.

“OK, Ebenezer!” bellowed the tie-dyed spirit. “It’s time to GO!” and he gunned the motor on the golf cart It careened off into the night, and Ebenezer was terrified. They took a corner at a high rate of speed and the cart tipped and Ebenezer flew out and he smacked into a picnic table, and knew no more. All was black.

Ebenezer slowly came to, after an unknown interval of time. His body ached, it was dark, and it was cold. He looked around and saw, coming through the mist, a dark figure, clad in a black Nudie suit with cold golden glitter highlights. The figure’s face was shrouded in the shadow cast by the big black cowboy hat. Ebenezer trembled.

“I assume you are the ghost of the Bluegrass yet to come?” Ebenezer asked in a tremulous voice. The figure nodded and beckoned Ebenezer to follow him into the mist.

They came to an encampment where a circle of people stood around jamming. They played “Soldier’s Joy” endlessly, and in perfect tune, for each instrument featured an autotuning system. In fact the instruments were capable of playing themselves, and the players often dozed off or wandered away during the jam, and the tune just kept playing.

Ebenezer and the black clad spirit wandered from camp to camp, and the scene was the same. At another camp, “Rocky Top” played in an eerie perfectly tuned endless loop by sad faced musicians who came and went without any effect on the music. Another camp, the song was “Long Black Veil”. At still another, it was “Old Home Place”. The pickers who were able to stay awake looked vacant eyed and joyless. Other snored loudly in ramshackle lawn chairs while their instruments played on.

Ebenezer and the dark spirit went to the stage area. Ebenezer gaped at the stage. “Where are the performers?” he demanded. The stage was covered with speakers and a video screen that showed the latest Bluegrass heroes, thanks to a direct video feed from Nashville. The audience was a mass of skeletons in lawnchairs, connected by cobwebs.

“Take me home, spirit!” shouted Ebenezer. “I DEMAND you take me home!” The eyes of the dark spirit glowed red as he laughed a horrible, soulless laugh.

“Take me home I say!” shrilled Ebenezer. “Take me HOME!” And he tried to beat the awful specter with his fists as he screamed.

And Ebenezer found himself in his bed, writhing and screaming. He stopped and gazed at the morning light coming in the window.

They say Ebenezer Kludge was a changed man after that night. He took his robot tuner back to the store and bought a guitar which he donated to the Darrell Johnson Instrument Lending Library. He helped the Kids on Bluegrass. And everyone said from that day on, Ebenezer Kludge was a man who kept the true spirit of Bluegrass in his heart. He still liked playing in tune, true – but you can’t fault a man for that. And he never let the mechanics of music get in the way of having a really REALLY good time picking!

God bless us, every one!

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