Only six months ago, on March 12, 2020, I thanked our sold-out crowd at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for joining us for another live broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. Though the show went off without a hitch, the crowd was enthusiastic, and our team delivered another top-notch show, we knew things were about to change. That would be the last show with an audience I would be involved in for many months to come.
Earlier that evening when speaking with that night’s performers – Miss Tess and Jim Lauderdale – we knew it was time to get ready for some big changes as COVID-19 was quickly spreading all over the country. Fear of an imminent nationwide shut down seemed to be closing in. In between sound checking, rehearsing my lines, and setting up, I witnessed Tess’s upcoming album release tour (kicking off with Farm and Fun Time) fall apart. In rapid succession she was getting cancellations throughout the evening. As a fellow musician it really hit home, knowing the countless hours of work and sacrifice that go into not only setting up a successful tour but also recording and releasing a new project – the work and achievements of a professional artist are really remarkable. I also knew that her experience was about to be commonplace for those within our industry. By the following week, musicians all over the country no longer had proper means of making a living. Tours were cancelled, festivals were dropping out of the schedule left and right, and venues nationally were closing their doors, including Radio Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
As we all know, the past six months have seen a complete shut down of many industries, and one of the hardest hit has been the music industry. We have all felt the reverberations of this loss and have had realizations as to what live music brings to our lives: the thrill of being up close and personal with artists, the energy exchange between performers and audience, the necessity of shared experiences in a community setting. So many aspects of live performance feed us and connect us as human beings.
With so much loss and grief over the past six months it’s difficult to find the silver linings, but it’s also been necessary. I’ve been grateful to have time at home (my first summer home in eight years), to grow a garden, and to spend a lot of time hiking, camping, and getting into better shape. I’m even learning some new instruments (piano and banjo)! Through this time, I’ve also realized the fundamental role music and performance plays in our lives in keeping us balanced and energized. Performance is a cathartic exchange. Transitioning from performing usually around 100 shows a year to 10 shows (maybe) for 2020 has been quite an adjustment to say the least.
For us at Radio Bristol there have been some silver linings as well. After six years of hard work and dedication, the fruits of our labor have really been paying off. Over the past six months we’ve watched our flagship show Farm and Fun Time evolve from a local radio show to a regional PBS syndicated television show! Thanks to our partners at Blue Ridge PBS, our host providers of the program, we have seen the Farm and Fun Time audience grow to over 18 million homes. With the help of Blue Ridge PBS we have grown our footprint not just in Southwest Virginia, but also in East Tennessee on East Tennessee PBS and throughout North Carolina on UNC-TV. We’ve also begun shooting for Farm and Fun Time Season 2. Last week we kicked off Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Virtual Festival with a great show featuring 49 Winchester, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Bill and the Belles!
We are excited to see more stations pick up the show, and we will have some more announcements about syndication soon. Until then you can visit our website to learn more about when and where to tune into Farm and Fun Time on PBS. And if Farm and Fun Time is NOT playing in your area, call your local provider and let them know what they are missing!
All of this being said, if you, like me, have felt the void that has been left with the loss of live music, please make sure to help support artists during this time by purchasing their music and merch, spreading the word about their work, and letting your representatives know the importance live music holds in our hearts and communities. We want to thank all of you for your overwhelming support through these difficult times and hope you are finding some silver linings in your own lives. Stay strong, stay safe, and thanks for being a part of our Radio Bristol community!
For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!
Hey y’all! Long time no see! Seriously. It’s been almost half a year since I’ve seen most of you in person, and that’s a LOOOONG time. As we’re drawing close to the six-month mark of social distancing, quarantine, and travel restrictions, you’re perhaps feeling the strain of isolation and missing the carefree interactions we once had.
While we understandably must continue to participate in social distancing and taking all necessary precautions to end the COVID-19 pandemic, we can acknowledge the importance of striving for the greater good while also acknowledging the emotions and feelings that come with this situation. Though it’s for a good cause, feeling lonesome is still feeling lonesome. On the bright side, there’s nothing like a bad situation to pave the way for beautiful art, and loneliness and isolation are some of the most prominent themes in country and many other forms of music as well. So, until we meet again, here are some empathetic songs to add to your quarantine playlist!
“Alone and Forsaken,” Hank Williams
Hopefully you’re not feeling THIS lonesome, but Hank Williams wrote a hauntingly beautiful piece of music – that really expresses this emotion – when he penned “Alone and Forsaken.”
“Lonely One in This Town,” Mississippi Sheiks
“Lonely One in This Town” is a real classic from the Mississippi Sheiks. Though it’s a lonesome song, you can’t help but smile and pat your foot to the Sheiks’ signature infectious beat. And while you’re at it, check out more music from the Sheiks catalogue – you’ll surely be a fan for life!
“When You’re Far from the Ones that Love You,” McMichen’s Melody Men
Here’s a sweet melody from the swingin’-est Georgia fiddle man, Pappy Clayton McMichen. Maybe you’re far from your family, missing your significant other in a long-distance relationship, or sad to not be spending time with friends who live far from your current home or through social distancing. Whatever the situation, “When You’re Far from the Ones that Love You, “ a beautifully crooned Tin Pan Alley piece, will hopefully bring you some comfort.
“On a Desert Isle,” C. W. Stoneking
Isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and C. W. Stoneking’s “On a Desert Isle” tells a lovely tale of living an isolated life in a tropical clime set to a dreamy melody. If one must be isolated, what better place than an island paradise?
“Call Me,” The Louvin Brothers
Though you can’t visit your friends and loved ones right now as much as you could before, we have a world of technology to keep us connected. Call or Facetime your friends, and it’s almost as good as being there in person. This classic – “Call Me” – from Ira and Charlie Louvin is about just this very thing.
This is the first time I have ever written a blog, so for me this is pretty exciting! We’re missing Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year, and to cheer up the staff, we thought it would fun to get them to make a playlist of their favorite songs from festivals past. I have many more than ten, but have narrowed it down to some sentimental favorites to share with you. These are mine in no particular order. You’ll find the entire staff playlist at the bottom of the page, so keep scrolling!
#1 “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show I chose this song because we had tried for so many years to bring Old Crow Medicine Show back to the festival, and to see how the crowd reacted when they performed that song put a gigantic smile on my face! I don’t get to listen to much music during festival weekends, but I made it my mission to see every minute of Old Crow’s set – and I did! Pure joy!
#2 “Whiskey Angel” by The Black Lillies If I didn’t choose a Black Lillies song, Cruz might never speak to me again! Actually, this is the one band that I know practically every word to their songs, though I sing them in my head because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! “Whiskey Angel” is probably one of my favorites, and when my grandson Will was four years old he told me it was his favorite song, too. A great memory!
#3 “Dead Ringer” by The Whiskey Gentry It’s hard not to choose a song by Whiskey Gentry. The band is no longer together, but fortunately lead singer Lauren is still performing with her husband Jason under the name Lauren Morrow. “Dead Ringer” is just a fun song, and Lauren’s voice is so awesome! The video for the song is also amazing. Our loyal Bristol Rhythm fans have come to love them as much as I do.
#4 “Jawbone Blues” by Folk Soul Revival Folk Soul: It would have been a shame not to pick a song from one of our own. I chose “Jawbone Blues” because I love Daniel’s voice on this particular song. Such a great band and a local treasure!
#5 “Take it All Back” by Judah & The Lion My granddaughter Mary Nell was so excited about Judah & The Lion coming to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion because it was her and her best friend Cassidy’s favorite band. The girls where so excited to get to meet them and get their picture taken with them. I don’t do much of this, but I just had to make that happen for the girls! It was an epic moment when they did “Take it All Back.” The crowd was so loud as they danced and sang with them. I knew we had hit a home run with this band!
#6 “Mercy Now” by Mike Farris What’s not to love about Mike Farris and his awesome voice? For this I’ll just say we all need a little mercy now!
#7 “Shady Grove” by Doc Watson Doc Watson was such a special man, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to host him at our festival. I’ve heard him sing “Shady Grove” most every time I was fortunate enough to see him. The reason I like it is because he always smiled and looked happy while singing it.
#8 “Heartache Boulevard” by Eilen Jewell She is an artist that I still listen to because I just love her voice. If you’ve never listened to her music, do yourself a favor and look her up.
#9 “Radio” by Hackensaw Boys When my grandchildren Will and Mary Nell were little, we would dance around the room on fake drums to “Radio.” They made me play it over and over! Will went up on stage with me one year at the festival to help introduce them. Wonderful memories!
#10 “Swingin'” by John Anderson What can I say? I wish we were all swingin’ together today!
To listen to the full playlist of the BCM team’s favorite Bristol Rhythm songs, including Leah’s picks, see below.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In other words, it finally gave American women the right to vote and be represented.
Congress ratified this amendment on June 4, 1919, but it still needed to be affirmed by 3/4 of the states in order to become law. Suffragettes and their supporters had been working for this day since 1832, and the very first amendment for women’s right to vote was introduced in 1878, taking 42 years to reach ratification. The road was long and hard with women fighting through words, negotiation and diplomacy, and acts of civil disobedience to gain the right to vote. American democracy has been a beacon to many outside our shores, but it makes one pause to think that women only gained this basic right 100 years ago.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is fortunate to have two poster exhibits that explore this complex history, the people who fought to be recognized, and the acts that brought them to victory on August 18, 1920. The first – Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence – comes to us from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. This exhibit traces the story of women’s suffrage, of inclusion in and exclusion from the franchise, and of our civic development as a nation while also examining the relevance of this history to Americans’ lives today. The second – To Make Our Voices Heard: Tennessee Women’s Fight for the Vote, created by the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Library and Archives – digs deep into the history of the woman’s suffrage movement, Tennessee’s dramatic vote to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, and the years that followed. Both of these exhibits will be on display by September 1 and are definitely worth a visit over the next few months!
The women of the suffrage movement also lifted themselves up with song, highlighting the rights they were fighting for and inspiring them in that fight. The lyrics to these songs were often set to popular tunes or traditional hymns, thus making them easier to sing and remember. For instance, “Human Equality,” written in the 1870s by William Lloyd Garrison, was sung to the tune of another popular song used in support of labor reform and abolition. While not about women’s right to vote, the poem”Rights of Woman,” written by “A Lady” in 1795, declared women free and was later set to the tune of “My Country Tis of Thee.” “Daughters of Freedom” was published in 1871 and was composed by Edward Christie with lyrics by George Cooper, while a song by Frank Boylen from 1881 asked “Shall Women Vote?” America being the melting pot that it is, some songs also came from immigrant sources, such as “Damen Rechte (Suffragettes),” a popular Yiddish song that not only called for women’s right to vote but also extolled other freedoms and equality in society at large. Some songs were also written specifically for suffrage marches and meant to be played by brass bands, such as “Fall in Line.” Around 1880, D. Estabrook wrote “Keep Woman in Her Sphere,” which on first glance seems to be anti-women’s rights with various men declaring that women should stay in their traditional roles and not expect equal rights. However, the last verse turns this notion on its head with the assertion:
I asked him “What of woman’s cause?” The answer came sincere — “Her rights are just the same as mine, Let woman choose her sphere.“
Where there was a fight for women’s rights, however, came societal and political push back – also expressed through music. Songs that mocked the suffragettes’ struggle and emphasized women’s “proper” place abounded, such as “Since My Margaret Became a Suffragette,”“The Anti-Suffrage Rose,”“Mind the Baby, I Must Vote Today,” and “Your Mother’s Gone Away to Join the Army” both published in the early 1910s. Various songs also questioned the other changes women were embracing, often deemed as “unladylike.” This was especially true as women pushed for less restrictive clothes like the “Bloomer costume,” which was attacked in the 1851 song “The Bloomer’s Complaint.” Women riding bicycles were also seen as a sign of these times; indeed, Susan B. Anthony viewed bicycles as doing “more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world.” “Eliza Jane,” a song from 1895, brought all these horrors together – less restrictive clothing, bicycles, and the desire to vote!
Was there any connection between suffrage and the songs of early country music? I don’t know of any hillbilly songs that embrace the suffrage movement in song, but there are certainly a few songs that reflect the changes that were happening on this front and give hints to women moving beyond their stereotypical roles. For instance, The Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl,” recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions and sung only by Sara and Maybelle, contrasts the freedom of the singleton with the restrictions a married woman bears taking care of husband, babies, and home. And as with the anti-suffrage songs, there were also reactions from hillbilly musicians to the ways women’s roles were changing. Blind Alfred Reed, another 1927 Bristol Sessions singer, later recorded “Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?,” which declared that “every time you bob it, you’re breaking God’s command,” and “Woman’s Been After Man Ever Since,” which bemoaned the early days of Eve in the Garden of Eden and all the ways women were trying to be like men in contemporary society. More disapproval of women’s ways can be found in Ira and Eugene Yates recording “Powder and Paint” from the Johnson City Sessions in 1929.
Finally, it’s worth noting a couple of great songs that teach the history of the suffrage movement and celebrate its achievement. The first is from a much-loved slice of my childhood, Schoolhouse Rock – “Sufferin’ till Suffrage,” sung by the wonderful Etta James. And then, of course, there is Dolly Parton (it’s ALWAYS Dolly…). In 2018, she contributed to 27: The Most Perfect Album, “a collection of songs about the Constitutional amendments that have shaped our democracy, and yet are often at the center of fierce political debate.” Dolly’s song about the 19th amendment starts with a brief spoken introduction to the suffrage story, and soon transitions into a rousing song about the fight for the vote.
This is one of my favorite special exhibits that we’ve had on display at the museum – the images by photographers Pat Jarrett and Morgan Miller are stunning, the stories of the master artists and apprentices told by Virginia State Folklorist Jon Lohman are fascinating, and the range of crafts, trades, and traditions astounding.
Here are just a few of the interesting things I’ve learned from Real Folk:
A Virginia Town’s Salty Past
Saltville – found in the Southern Appalachians – is named for its unusually high number of salt marshes, or as locals call them, salt licks. Not only is the salt source extensive here, but the salt from Saltville is also especially salty – around 10 times saltier than ocean water! Saltville’s natural salt deposits have influenced the history of the region from the late Pleistocene period, when they attracted Ice Age mammals and Paleoamericans to the area, to early European traders to the Civil War when nearly two-thirds of the South’s salt was produced in Saltville and two bloody battles were fought here.
We have quite a few quilt connections in our museum – from the huge Birthplace of Country Music quilt hanging in our atrium to the quilt “tapestries” on sell in The Museum Store to the museum’s color scheme based on old quilts and flour sacks. Master Artist Sharon Tindall has conducted substantial research in support of the theory that African American quilts contained coded messages integral to the success of the Underground Railroad, codes that told enslaved people about what to expect next on their journey and how to find safe haven.
A Connection Between Music and Language
The đàn bâu – translated to mean “gourd lute” – is a monochord or one-stringed instrument, which plays a central role in Vietnamese music. Playing the đàn bâu can create microtones capable of imitating the six essential tones and variations of the Vietnamese language, nearly impossible to achieve with any other instrument. Traditionally, it is also used as an accompaniment to Vietnamese poetry readings.
From Everyday Object to Musical Instrument
Music has often been made from everyday objects – for instance, think of a washtub bass or the spoons. The steel drum, or “pan” as it is called in the Caribbean, was invented in Trinidad around World War II, when island locals resourcefully crafted these instruments from oil drums left behind by the U.S. Navy. Contemporary pans are created when a 55-gallon steel oil drum is hammered concave, a process known as sinking. The drum is then tempered and notes are carefully grooved into the steel, resulting in a melodic percussive instrument that can play three full octaves.
For the Love of Fonts
Prior to the advent of photocopiers, short-run quick print, email, and social media, the local letterpress was the primary producer of the vast majority of materials for mass communication – from church bulletins to wedding announcements to commercial advertisements, and so much more. My favorite elements of letterpress are the individual letters used in the printing process (and so many possible fonts!) and the wonderful act of rolling out the ink ready to print. We have our own letterpress studio here in Southwest Virginia at the Burke Print Shop in the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts.
When I used to think of a dulcimer, I thought of one particular type – an hourglass-shaped instrument – because we had one like that hanging in our home when I was a child. Since then, I’ve learned there are many types of dulcimers (all from the zither family) that are played in many places throughout the world – from the Appalachian or mountain dulcimer and the hammered dulcimer to the banjo dulcimer and the bowed dulcimer – with different shapes and different ways of being played. The dulcimer from my house – and the one most familiar around our area – is the mountain dulcimer, a fretted string instrument that first appeared in the 19th century among Scots-Irish communities. It is also known as the lap dulcimer.
An Unorthodox Route to Creativity
The late Pastor Mary Onley, known as “Mama-Girl,” was a self-taught artist who came from generations of farm laborers, working in the fields herself at the age of 12. Severe allergies resulted in several hospitalizations, and during one of these, she reported being visited by a spirit who instructed her to create art out of paper and found objects – something she had never done before. She went on to become one of the most celebrated folk artists on the East Coast, creating lyrical newspaper and glue sculptures that reflected her inner visions and unique creativity.
The emotional and financial devastation of the global COVID-19 crisis is TBD – like so many gigs that musicians and venues have cancelled until further notice. The lives and safety of humans is priority one, and social distancing has become the catchphrase for 2020. But with the sheer volume of full-time touring musicians out of work, the pandemic is forcing artists to get creative with new revenue streams now that touring – their numero uno source of income – has ceased.
The moguls who make up the big labels and agencies will likely be okay. It’s the little guys that are suffering most, the singer-songwriters and bands that pack up their used Econolines and hit the road singing for their supper in bars, breweries, and small venues. Many of them also lack health insurance because they can’t afford to pay the premiums, let alone the high cost of hospitalization if they become ill, in general or with the severe symptoms of COVID-19.
They say in Bristol you can’t swing a banjo without hitting a musician, and that about sums it up. A majority of them keep day jobs and gig on the weekends, while some depend on live performances to pay the rent. Growing up in Bristol’s music scene, I’ve been blessed to develop some very dear friendships among artists and agents, and I’m really feeling for them right now. I’ve reached out to a few locally to see how this massive industry lock down is affecting their livelihoods. Among those I spoke with, there was some fear, but an overwhelming amount of optimism. But they all agreed with one thing: social distancing is the right thing to do to keep their fans safe.
In mid-March, pre-lock down, I caught up with Amythyst Kiah, who spends part of the year touring internationally. Fresh from a Grammy nomination, her tour schedule was packed with gigs that included dates opening for Yola and an event on a cruise ship embarking from Canada. It all screeched to a halt when the pandemic hit. She’s now hunkering down at home with her dad Carl Phillips in Johnson City.
“We both got COVID tests just to see if we were asymptomatic carriers, and we are in the clear,” said Amythyst. “Doing what we can to stay informed and safe during this crazy time!”
“I think in some ways, you know, it’s a blessing and curse because it’s forcing musicians like myself to really delve into the internet-land and reach people online,” said Ella in a recent interview with WCYB News 5. “I’ve done several live streams and made enough to pay my rent, so that’s good!”
I get the feeling that a lot of great music (and COVID babies!) will be born during the pandemic, like the song Ella and East Tennessee singer-songwriter Earleine collaborated on during the first couple weeks of the quarantine when their entire spring gig schedules got axed. Like so many great folk songs, the underlying tragedy described in “Coronavirus Blues” is only slightly elevated by a light and playful melody.
Kris Truelsen, producer at WBCM Radio Bristol and bandleader of the indie group Bill and the Belles, discussed some of the more creative ways artists are working to connect without the benefit of touring.
“Many artists are using their Patreon accounts to develop closer interaction with fans,” said Kris. “As artists are unable to travel, they want their fan base to know how crucial they are to them. Many are developing specialized content for their top fans which, in turn, is helping to generate some income and help them feel connected during this trying time. Some are teasing new songs, or even playing rough drafts of songs for fans, some are giving a behind-the-scenes look into the creative process. Others are hosting VIP concerts for only a few close fans.”
Kris continued, “Last week I sat in on the Barefoot Movement’s weekly online concert where viewers are encouraged to donate and to participate in the show through commenting. The band has been doing these since mid-March and has also been spotlighting a few artists a week to sit in, play a few songs, and chat. They also play fan favorites while each member is self-isolated in a different location, sing a weekly cover song as voted on by fans, and more. It was a really cool way to see how effective this format can be for artists that have a dedicated fan base.”
Kris hosts Radio Bristol’s monthly variety show Farm and Fun Time with Bill and the Belles (the show’s house band) live from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which has closed temporarily due to COVID-19. The trio went live from Kris’s front porch for a special Home Edition in April and are planning another from his home on May 14.
Kingsport-based singer-songwriter Beth Snapp works in healthcare but says she hasn’t concentrated much on selling her music during the quarantine.
“Nope,” Beth commented. “Honestly I’ve not been pushing hard for it because I’ve had a lot of illness and have been working at the hospital – at least for now, probably will lose hours there too. Stressful times. I do think, however, people have to focus on essential purchases right now and money for a new piece of merch is likely not in the budget. I know it’s not for me, so I’m certainly not judging anyone for the same. I [was] excited to do a live streaming show…(my first one!) not necessarily for the income, but to see who tunes in. I’ve missed playing for folks.” Beth performed for the online Border Bash Social Distancing Series on Thursday, April 30 on Facebook Live.
Kris Truelsen says he’s not pushing merch sales either, but Bill and the Belles have seen a spike in sales. “For my band, personally, we have seen merch sales go up from the onset of COVID-19, though we haven’t been pushing sales too hard for income. We all are lucky enough to have remained employed by our other jobs. I really feel for full-time artists right now as they are struggling.”
Small regional booking and artist management agencies are also among the casualties of COVID-19, including Middle Fork Records. Bristol resident and Southwest Virginia native Jon McGlocklin founded the agency in 2017 and it’s his full-time job. He manages and books gigs for the group Virginia Ground (of which he is a founding member) and handles booking for a number of regional concert series, festivals, and venues including The Pinnacle, Beech Mountain Resort, and 7 Dogs Brewpub, to name a few.
“When this pandemic set in, I spent my days canceling everything I had spent months on booking,” Jon revealed. “Middle Fork Records has helped raise money for artists and bands, but hasn’t made money since February. The online support started with a bang but seems to have slowed with the effects of prolonged quarantine and patrons facing layoffs and being furloughed from their jobs. What was thought to be a 2–3 week quarantine has turned into something entirely different. Different but necessary. Staying healthy and safe and flattening the curve is still priority #1 amongst the arts community from what I am seeing.”
Middle Fork Records has partnered with Beech Mountain Resort to produce a Virtual Watch Party Series featuring Jamen Denton, Morgan Wade, Josh Daniel, and others. The company is also working with ElextraLand Radio in Gainesville, Florida to produce an international series. And 100% of the virtual tips collected through these ventures will go to the artists.
At the end of the day, gigging musicians are running a small business, and without paying gigs the entire chain of artist management and booking agencies break down. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music pay mere pennies to indies unless they generate millions of plays. Online tip jars aren’t a replacement for contracted guarantees at venues. Additionally, artists must front the cash to order more merch before they can sell it to fans online, and online stores also take a cut of the profits. The trickle-down of business loss will affect CD suppliers, graphic designers who make tour posters, promotional product companies, etc. The long-term effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen, but many are hopeful these winds of change will wake up the existing music industry and that things will change for the better.
“This issue isn’t going to resolve once the stay at home order ceases,” Truelsen concluded. “This will be an ongoing issue for career development for a long time to come. I hope it can bring some positive change as the career of a full-time artist has gotten more and more difficult to navigate over the past few decades and the industry in many respects has taken advantage of artists. If anything, this crisis has shown that artists are incredibly resourceful and in many ways can generate sufficient income without the industry.”
“The struggle is real, but we’re going to come out of this and throw some of the most epic events in the region when everyone can start gathering again!” added McGlocklin.
Amen, brother. AMEN.
Speaking of epic events, all of the folks I spoke with for this blog post are scheduled to perform at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this September. There are no plans to cancel or postpone the festival at this time, and it will be a great party if everyone to continues to practice social distancing and looks out for each other! Stay safe out there, franz!
Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Each month readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of the month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!
This month’s Radio Bristol Book Club pick is Allen St. John’s Clapton’s Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument, published in 2005. This book is the telling of the author’s journey to find the “world’s greatest guitar” and how he instead stumbled upon local luthier Wayne Henderson, the “world’s greatest guitar builder.” The author spent lots of time with the humble and quiet Henderson as he plied his trade, in the process learning about the traditions and craft of guitar building but also about community, history, and friendship. This book is sure to be a local favorite as Wayne Henderson is a luthier from our neck of the woods.
Allen St. John has written for a variety of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Salon, The Village Voice, The Washington Post Book World, and Men’s Journal. Much of his writing is focused on sports, and in 2003 he worked with radio personality Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to co-author The Mad Dog 100: The Greatest Sports Arguments of All Time. St. John has won several writing awards during his career. A self-professed “guitar geek,” St. John now owns his very own Henderson guitar.
Make plans to read Clapton’s Guitar and then join us on Thursday, May 28 at 11:00am as we discuss this wonderful book! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this deeply researched story about a craftsman beyond measure.
our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five
songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything
in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about
why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re
sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some
new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol! This month’s
“Pick 5” focuses on nature songs in honor of April’s Earth Day, chosen by Stu
April marks 50 years of Earth Day (April 22), and as a newcomer to WBCM, I was honoured to be asked to write a blog article in celebration of this anniversary. By way of introduction if you have not listened in to my show Hillbilly Boogie, my playlist is always varied and often contains a little “surprise.” I think that you will find that this is also reflected in my choice of five pieces of music for Earth Day!
When thinking about this post, there were
so many songs and pieces of music that I would associate with Earth Day. And so
I decided that I might take you through an imaginary day (no, no Pat Metheny
in this blog article, though he was nearly included!), sharing with you some of the music
that might actually be playing on my headphones or might just run through my
mind at different times of the day.
Light,” Brian Eno
I am often awake very early in the morning; though sometimes I wish that it were not so, one of the advantages is that I can go out with my camera while most people are still asleep and watch the daybreak. I have seen the sun rise over still-smoking fires at festivals and over hills as I have travelled on overnight coaches while all (but the driver) slept fitfully, but to be out in the open with my camera and my thoughts is the perfect way of starting a day. For me, watching the sun rise is an opportunity to think about what might be done, how to approach a problem, or just to clear the mind in readiness for whatever the new day might bring – and one piece of music typifies this for me: Brian Eno’s “First Light.”
Lark Ascending,” Vaughn Williams
One of my fondest memories from when I was a child was wandering off into the fields by myself. Before my family moved to Wales, I lived in a tiny hamlet and my father worked on one of the two farms there. While there were two other boys my age in the hamlet, I would sometimes just wander off – maybe because they had been taken shopping with their mother, maybe we had had a fight…it doesn’t matter. I would walk into the fields and lay on my back and watch the clouds drift by and listen to the birdsong. Such a simple thing to do, but something that youngsters now might not have the opportunity to do; those living in built-up areas (as I do now) might never know that pleasure – no traffic noise, no distractions from phones, just drifting clouds and birds singing, calling and feeding. Recalling those days now, one piece of music immediately comes to mind: Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.”
Stay ‘Way from My Door,”
After my family moved to Wales, one of my
greatest pleasures was to play the second-hand records that my father brought
back from auctions – probably bought for just (then) a few shillings. Perhaps
this is where Hillbilly Boogie came
from! I would go through the box and there might be some ragtime by Winifred
Atwell, opera – I remember trying to listen to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas…my ears needed a few more years before I
appreciated that!, I remember Indonesian music recorded in Covent Garden, and I
remember Paul Robeson.
It was not until years later that I learned more about Robeson (including from an older work colleague who showed me a picture of her sitting on his knee). One song that made a huge impression on me then – and is applicable now for this Earth Day selection – was “River Stay ‘Way from My Door.” I was in school in Wales when the Aberfan disaster occurred, a tragic event not dissimilar to the Buffalo Creek flood (the latter being described in song by Corey Lee McQuade). While, as a very young child, I watched the clouds floating by, all too soon I was made aware of the incredible power of Nature, and how despite it being so dramatic and beautiful, it can also be dangerous, particularly when warnings are not heeded or dangers ignored.
9SL,” Four Tet
Now…I hope that you’re still with me, as
here is (perhaps) the biggest surprise. While I predominantly listen to
acoustic music, I also enjoy listening to EDM – particularly trance and especially
when I am concentrating on a task.
I am not fond of cities – while I love to visit for concerts or exhibitions, I would rather be out of cities wherever possible. Perhaps this is a reaction to having worked in London for so many years, I don’t know…but when I do go into London, I will generally walk everywhere as I know my way around fairly well and I always leave time to wander, a great chance to watch everyone in their hurrying and scurrying as I just take my time.
Of course, cities are important and busy places and, consequently, the people living and working in cities often maintain a very different rhythm to my own. I will confess that after a concert, I will usually hail a taxi to take me back to the train station for my homeward journey. I will sit in the back of a cab, watching the frenzied life of London, watching the impatience of the drivers and pedestrians, the late-night shops, and the Underground stations with their constant flow of people ascending and descending. And at such times, Four Tet’s “SW9 9SL” will come to mind. (SW9 9SL is the post codeZip Code for the Brixton Academy, a famous music venue.)
of Home,” Trisha Gene Brady
And now, time for home…
As mentioned before, I am not fond of
cities and, while I live in a large town, I am fortunate enough to have a small
but peaceful garden and to have neighbours who care and are respectful.
If I were to imagine my ideal place on
Earth, it would be in the mountains. It would be where the pace of life was
slower. It would be where the wisdom of people who have lived on the land for
generations is respected and carried forward to the next generation. It would
be where the music that I love the most is sung, played, and heard such as the
beautiful “Hills of Home” by Trisha Gene Brady.
Wherever you live, I hope you will have
your own “Hills of Home”… Be safe, be well. And be kind to the Earth!
On March 6, the museum opened a special exhibit called Real Folk: Passing on Trades & Traditions Through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Two weeks later the museum closed its doors in accordance with the state mandate in response to the COVID-19 situation. Sadly that has meant we haven’t been able to share this wonderful exhibit with very many on-the-spot visitors, but happily we are able to share some of it with our virtual visitors! The curatorial team is hard at work on pulling together a virtual tour of Real Folk (so watch this space!), but in the meantime, we wanted to give you the chance to learn a little bit about the exhibit and the apprenticeship program right now.
Since 2002, the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program has drawn from a wide range of communities and traditional folkways to pair more than 150 experienced master artists with dedicated apprentices for one-on-one, nine-month learning experiences, in order to help ensure that particular art forms are passed on in ways that are conscious of history and faithful to tradition. The master artists are selected from applicants in all forms of traditional, expressive culture in Virginia – from decoy carving to fiddle making, from boat building to quilt making, from country ham curing to old-time banjo playing, from African American gospel singing to Mexican folk dancing. These crafts and traditions come from the Appalachian hills to the Chesapeake shore to new immigrant traditions brought to the state – and everywhere in between! The Folklife Apprenticeship Program helps to ensure that Virginia’s treasured folkways continue to receive new life and vibrancy, engage new learners, and reinvigorate master practitioners.
Out of these apprenticeship pairings, deep friendships and relationships have grown as the master artists pass on their knowledge, skills, and passion for the various crafts and traditions, along with the history and cultural importance that attaches to each. For instance, Sharon Tindall, who worked with gifted quilter Nancy Chilton in 2014, specializes in early African American quilt patters and in working with fabrics that aren’t typically used in quilting, such as Malian mud cloth. She is also a quilt historian and has conducted substantial research in support of the theory that African American quilts contained coded messages that were integral to the success of the Underground Railroad.
Several apprenticeships have focused on music, from music making to instrument building to the related art of dance. The variety of traditions on display within this realm is astounding, including African American gospel, Chickahominy dance, bluegrass fiddling, mandolin making, Sephardic ballad singing, steel drum making, and so much more. Because music is so central to the cultural heritage of southwest Virginia, numerous musicians, singers, and makers from this area have taken part in the program. Musician and luthier Gerald Anderson spent more than 30 years apprenticing in the shop of legendary instrument builder Wayne Henderson in Rugby, Virginia. Fellow musician Spencer Strickland recognized his mastery and skills, and asked if Gerald would take him on as an apprentice. Their time working together in 2005 turned into a deep friendship, musical partnership, and one of the longest running and most successful apprenticeships in the program’s history. Though barely out of his teens at the time, Spencer took to building instruments immediately, and the two soon opened their own shop in Gerald’s home in Troutdale. They also played and toured together as a duo and with the Virginia Luthiers. Gerald passed away unexpectedly in 2019, and Spencer has continued to build instruments and carry on Gerald’s memory.
Many of Virginia’s cultural traditions have been brought here by immigrant communities, and the state is all the richer from this. These immigrants have shared their heritage not only within their own communities, but also more widely through educational programs, touring and performances, the creation of larger cultural organizations, and partnerships with other groups. For instance, Nam Phuon Nguyen began playing the đàn bâu at 17, later touring throughout the United States with her family as the Nguyen Đinh Nghĩa Family and performing at prestigious concert halls and festivals. The đàn bâu – translated to mean “gourd lute” – is a monochord (one-stringed) instrument, which plays a central role in Vietnamese music. Guitarist Anh Dien Ky Nguyen met Nam Phuong while playing at a music club, and he asked her to teach him the đàn bâu, partnering with her in the apprenticeship program in 2011.
These few images are just a taste of this fascinating and beautiful exhibit, and we hope that you will be able to visit it later in the year. In the meantime, you can engage with the exhibit in another way by listening in to Radio Bristol’s Toni Doman as she talks with Virginia Folklife photographer Pat Jarrett about his work with the apprenticeship program — check out Episode 60 on March 12, 2020 in the Mountain Song & Story archives here. And you can support the artists who are so important to Virginia’s cultural heritage by going to Virginia Folklife’s website and exploring TRAIN (Teachers of Remote Arts Instruction Network). Created in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the livelihoods of artists, TRAIN connects interested students of all skill levels with a diverse range of master musicians, craftspeople, and tradition bearers offering online instructional opportunities. Start your lessons today!
Finally, keep an eye on our website for a virtual tour of Real Folk coming soon!
Today is the anniversary of Johnny Cash’s birth date. He was born on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, the son of sharecroppers who were struggling through the Great Depression. Despite – and indeed, perhaps because of – this early hardship, Cash went on to become one of the most iconic and influential country musicians in the history of the genre.
So, what you ask, does this have to do with the naming of flora and fauna species, or binomial nomenclature as it’s known in the scientific community? Johnny Cash and his musical impact is rightly celebrated and recognized in a variety of different ways – through a US postage stamp with his image to a museum dedicated to his life and legacy in Nashville to numerous industry and national awards and honors to the many artists who have been inspired by Cash and his songs. I, of course, knew all about these honors, but then I found out that he had also been celebrated in a really interesting and relatively under-the-radar way: by having a spider named after him!
First, a little bit about
how binomial nomenclature works. This “two-term naming system” is a formal way
to name species of living things. Both names are based in Latin grammatical
forms, but they do different things: the first name is called the generic name,
identifying the genus that the species belongs to; the second name is called
the specific name, identifying the species within the genus. Therefore, scientific
names for flora and fauna can share the first name because the genus may cover
many species, but their second name will always be unique. And that second name
is where scientists get creative!
Johnny Cash isn’t the only musician who has had a species named after him. While the specific names within binomial nomenclature can be inspired by many things – such as the location where they were found, to commemorate a scientific mentor or teacher, inspired by another language or culture where the meaning matches the animal or plant in question, etc. – there are many species names after celebrities.
Here are just a few:
Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi, a species of trap door spider discovered in 2007 (the scientist loves Neil Young’s music)
Scaptia beyonceae, a species of horse fly with a shiny golden abdomen discovered in 2011 and named after Beyoncé
Synalpheus pinkfloydi, a type of shrimp discovered in 2017 (this shrimp stuns and kills its prey with small “sonic booms” made by its snapping claws – kind of like standing too near an amp during a Pink Floyd concert!)
Orectochilus orbisonorum, a species of whirligig beetle, black on top and white on the bottom, that was discovered in 2008 and named after Roy Orbison
Cirolana mercury, an East African isopod (crustacean); this species is found off the coast of Zanzibar (where Freddie Mercury was born)
Gaga germanotta and Gaga monstraparva, where both genus and species within a group of ferns honor Lady Gaga and her fans (due to the appearance of the fern being akin to some of Gaga’s costumes and her “paws up” salute; even more interesting is that the DNA for this potential new genus of ferns had GAGA spelled out in its base pairs!)
Macrocarpaea dies-viridis, a type of night-blooming flower discovered in Ecuador and named after the band Green Day (dies-viridis is Latin for green day)
Anillinus docwatsoni, a species of ground beetle discovered in 2004 and named after Doc Watson
Desis bobmarleyi, an Australian intertidal species of spider discovered in 2017 and inspired by Marley’s song “High Tide or Low Tide”
Japewiella dollypartoniana, a type of lichen so-named due to its abundant growth in the mountains of East Tennessee
Phialella zappai, a species of jellyfish discovered in 1987 (named in a ploy to meet Zappa after the musician said “There is nothing I’d like better than having a jellyfish named after me.”)
These are just a few of the MANY plants and animals with names inspired by musicians and other well-known people. And referring back to the great Dolly Parton, while it’s not related to binomial nomenclature, she has also been honored through naming in another scientific endeavor – the genetic cloning of Dolly the Sheep in Scotland in 1997. Dolly was named after Parton because part of her DNA came from a mammary gland cell of a Finn Dorset sheep. Knowing Dolly Parton’s self-deprecating humor and her graciousness, one imagines that she found this interesting honor both amusing and wonderful!
And so with that, we can marvel at the wide-ranging inspiration that comes to scientists as they go about their important work – and how it connects to our love of music. Sometimes a celebrity-inspired name is the perfect way to get people engaged and excited about the biodiversity of our planet. As Dr. Chris Hamilton, namer of our Cash-monikered spider, notes: “It’s a really important mechanism for reaching out to the public and getting them involved,” Hamilton said. “We want the public to love these new species, too.”