Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Perfect Storm may not be the appropriate title for Dan Crary and Thunderation's new CD. Perfect, yes. A storm, no.

A storm implies something chaotic, wild, and this CD has none of that. There is not a misplaced note anywhere. Everything is in perfect order, exactly where and when it should be.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dan at the Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield, KS, a couple of weeks ago. Dan performed with Thunderation which is Steve Spurgin (another legend in his own right and longtime musical partner of Crary's) and Martin Stevens (a new and impressive talent). He also did a guitar workshop with Pat Flynn and Kenny Smith. The audiences' response bears out the fact that quite simply, Dan Crary is a guitar hero. A legend.

He wears it well. In fact, he is like a well -- deep, resonating, full, crystal clear. This CD is like that. It quenches the thirst like a dipper of water from a deep, deep well.

Sail Away Ladies, the first cut on the CD, has a special place in my heart. In a Mayberry far, far away, Uncle Tommy Jarrell and I sat in his living room and he took out his fiddle and played this tune for me--just for me. There was no one else in the room. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of his long arms holding the fiddle and bow and his crackly voice singing those simple verses. When Gary and I were married a couple of years ago, we chose Sail Away Ladies as our exit song because it is a happy, hope-filled song. Dan Crary's interpretation of this standard has given it a new life.

Dan said that he and Steve came to making this CD with songs they had each wanted to do for years, in the case of Deep River Blues, nearly 50 years. Dan and Steve began as folk singers and when he heard Odetta's version of this traditional tune, he knew he wanted to do it. It just took a while.

Steve Spurgin, an acclaimed songwriter in addition to being a fine musician, has a couple of originals -- Muley Was A Railroad Man and Tumbleweed Town. As Dan commented, Steve has a feel for Americana and these songs are strong examples. They have the feel of timeless tunes; if you didn't know better, you'd think you heard them as a child or saw them included in your reading book along with the Erie Canal and Ole Susannah. Listen closely to the words of Tumbleweed Town. The almost haunting lyrics are nearly disguised by the upbeat tune.

Covers of Gordon Lightfoot's I'd Do It Again and Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country are really well done, with Dan and Steve trading lead vocals on these two.

The instrumentals, of course, are what you would expect from these guys -- perfect. Dan's Thunderation is sure to be a standard for generations to come and the interpretations of Shenandoah, Gold Rush, and Soldier's Joy will satisfy the most critical of listeners.

Dan commented that this group of musicians was perhaps the most satisfying of his career. In additon to Thunderation, performers are: Luke Dewhirst, Don Sternberg, John Reischman, and Keith Little.

This CD is going to be one that doesn't get put away. It's an added bonus that the CD cover features a stunning image of a prairie storm because it will be laying beside your CD player from now on. It's perfect, but it ain't no storm.

Check out localgrass.com, hosted by Kenneth Berrier and Linda Wright to listen to my full interview with Dan Crary, and watch for an interview with the grammy-nominated Steve Spurgin as well.

Dan Crary and Thunderation, Perfect Storm, Blue Night Records; www.dancrary.com

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Civil War Quote of the Day

posted by Tim Kent on Facebook:

"Fill your canteens, boys! Some of you will be in Hell before night and you'll need the water!"

Col. Isaac Pugh, 41st Ill. Inf. at Shiloh

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moonshine and Fiddles

Once again, the making of moonshine in the mountains has alerted the attention of the authorities.

When I get the chance, I peruse the papers back home -- The Mount Airy News, The Enterprise, The Galax Gazette, the Carroll News, the Roanoke Times, the Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel. As dependable as my relatives are, they are not always diligent in keeping me up-to-date. So this is what I learned tonight:

One Larry Shaw of Baywood (near Galax) was arrested, liquid was confiscated and sent to state labs for testing, and a still was rendered dysfunctional. Pretty much breaks my heart. Hmmm. . . . looks like there might be some brandy there.

Also saw that Spencer Strickland placed in the bluegrass fiddle competition at the Fries (pronounced freeze) Fiddlers' Convention. My Grandma Coalson grew up in Fries (Irontown, really), so I have a real affection for that place. I had the opportunity to listen to Spencer on mandolin with Kenny and Amanda Smith just last week at Winfield. What an amazing musician that boy from Lambsburg is!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cowboys and Such

Listening to Michael Martin Murphy's new CD, Tall Grass and Cool Water puts me in mind of the lives of a couple of my friends.

Jim Gray lives the cowboy life in addition to being a writer and historian. I'm sharing some of his photos from his recent cattle drive to Ellsworth. A fourth-generation rancher and inductee into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame, Jim is one of those rare people you meet not so rarely in Kansas. He is the real deal, probably born in the wrong century but I'm glad to share in his time on earth. His gracious wife is the iconic pioneer woman. Just quietly doing whatever needs to be done. I admire her very much.

To help raise awareness of the Cowboy legacy and to keep folks informed of events, Jim founded the Kansas Cowboy, official publication of the Cockeyed Old West Band of Yahoos Society. It's one of those have-to subscriptions. Get that and a copy of Jim's book, Bad Seed, then rare back in your leather chair and listen to Murhpy and the boys singing and playing Blue Prairie. You're liable to be transported to a better, simpler time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Generosity--Tastes Good, Sounds Good

Basking in the morning sunshine and a week filled with great music and exceptional people. The 40th annual Walnut Valley Festival was a memorable reunion for musicians and fans.

Since my husband has spent decades at this Winfield event he and his mates have entrenched traditions and established camp spots. The Fugarwes and the Bucket Camp set up side-by-side each year with folks from different parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Since we were only there for three nights and Gary is just not able to set up that elaborate tent complex he used to do, we were guests of Jim Musick and Preston and Brenda Miller. I can't tell you how grateful I was to wake up to the sounds of driving rain and thunder Saturday morning and revel in the comfort of a dry, warm bed.

The Walnut Valley Festival, like all successful events, occurs in many places, on many levels, in many ways. The good folks from Nebraska treat the Bucket Camp to Cafe Luigi (right) each year and prepares a meal of spaghetti and wine, serving fellow campers and treating them like honored guests. The tables and campsite are decorated like a quaint bistro, the food is wonderful, and, of course, music. In this case, the High Falutin' String Band. Afterward, all gathered round the fire (above) and joined together in singing, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Those friends since gone were remembered; those friends still here were cherished. There was much laughter and a few tears.

Behind Stage

Stepping backstage at Winfield reminded me of why I wanted to be a reporter. You just get to meet the most interesting and incredible people. Because of my buds Kenneth Berrier and Linda Wright and their Local Grass Radio Show, I visited with some bluegrass superstars and did some great interviews. You'll hear more of them later. Here's a preview.

Pat Flynn (left, sharing his oatmeal cookies), bluegrass rock star, was such a gentleman and so generous with his insights. I think his picking is better than ever, and along with Kenny Smith and the legendary Dan Crary (above), Pat was outstanding during the guitar workshop as well as his appearances with Michael Martin Murphy.

Okay, I have to admit that Bryan Bowers (below) is someone I had always taken for granted. He was there, an ordinary, wonderful fixture in your life. To have the chance to sit with him and understand the man, and to listen to his music anew, was a very special gift. When I got home, I soaked in the tub and played Bryan's new CD, Crabby Old Man. As Gary said, the autoharp is a soothing instrument. It's good for the weary soul.

Like countless thousands, I've been a fan of Dan Crary's for years. This was the first chance I had had to visit with him. He's not only an impressive musician; he's an impressive man. You are going to LOVE listening to this interview!

When I was a young dj at WSYD Radio, I kept "The Bountyhunter" near the top of the record stack. (Remember records?) I played that song nearly every day and the listeners loved it! Mike Cross has been a hero of mine for a long time, and I have met him before, but the sit-down visit we had was a real treat. It's going to be a treat for you, too, when I get the chance to share the interview on LGR.

On the way to Winfield, my ailing husband napped and I played Michael Martin Murphy (below) on the MP3. I kept waking Gary with shouts and he had to tell me to stop keeping time on the gas pedal. This new CD, Tallgrass and Cool Water, is going to be your favorite. The outlaw trilogy -- songs about the James Boys and Cole Younger -- will be new standards among my many buds! The best pickers in the business perform here (including Pat Flynn) and the results are just incredible. Michael's son, Ryan, plays a mean mandolin and the Winfield audience response demonstrates how beloved Murhpy is!

Stay tuned to this blog and to Localgrass.com for more on these very talented and generous performers. (All photos by Gary Bisel)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Philadelphia and the Civil War--Get it!

I can't think of anyone more qualified to write the history of Philadelphia in the Civil War than my dear friend, Andy Waskie. In fact, I am fairly certain that no one who lived through those tumultuous times could have covered it more thoroughly or with greater enthusiasm.

A passion for history brought Andy and his wife Carol together years ago, and it brought all of us together in a lasting friendship. I've had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia many times and to host Andy and Carol in Topeka as well. This past spring, Andy spoke on Gen. Edwin Sumner to an exuberant Topeka crowd, then Carol gave a riveting presentation on the paranormal side of Philadelphia history at a conference in Missouri. Gary and I enjoyed showing them the sites, including Harry Truman's home and library in Independence.

So, knowing Andy as I do, I would honestly endorse this book even if I had not read a word of it. I am that confident in his ability as a researcher and his passion for the subject, and that doesn't happen very often. Having read the book, however, I can say that I would highly recommend it even if I did not know the author.

We Southerners often think of the North, of northern cities, as untouched by the war. Richmonder Constance Cary visited Philadelphia not long after the surrender and was shocked by the normalcy and abundance, most of all, by how unmarked it was by the war. Only later did she realize that Philadelphians had their own scars, their own empty chairs, their own losses. (She would eventually become the wife of Burton Harrison, personal secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.) As a Southerner with ties to the City of Brotherly Love, Constance Cary was not alone.

Andy refers to it as a "border city," lying almost on the Mason-Dixon Line. "The city lay closest to Southern cities such as Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, which would ensure a pivotal yet grim importance as a center of any Northern war effort and destination for troop transportation," Andy wrote.

One of its sons, John Pemberton, became a general in the Confederate army and returned to Philadelphia after the war. There were many divided loyalties, but the majority supported the Union. In fact, Philadelphia contributed 100,000 soldiers including Generals George Meade and George McClellan to the Union Army. (Though Southerners may be more apt to appreciate McClellan's contributions than Yankess.)

As the second-most populous city in the North, Philadelphia bore a great financial burden in the war effort. It rose to the occasion and manufacturing reached new levels of productivity in the cause. Despite Constance Cary's observations, every corner of Philadelphia was involved in and touched by the war -- from the railroad and navy yards, to the arsenals, to the forts, prisons and training yards, and sadly, to the cemeteries.

For avid Civil War readers, Philadelphia and the Civil War is yet another vital piece of the puzzle, well-researched and well-told. Buy it. Then read it. After that, let Andy know how much you learned and how much you enjoyed learning it.

My indulgent husband Gary took this photo of Andy and me in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas, nearly two years ago. It was 0 and there was 18 inches of snow on the ground. It did not deter us from reveling in one of our greatest common passions -- dead people. My husband married me anyway.

* * * * * * * *
Philadelphia and the Civil War: Arsenal of the Union
Anthony Waskie, PhD
Foreword by Edwin C. Bearrs
The History Press, softcover, $24.99

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sammy Shelor for President

"God is great and so is Steve Martin!"

Amen to that one, Sammy!

Thanks to social media, word spread like a Texas wildfire that Patrick County's (Virginia) own Sammy Shelor is the second winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. The honor carries a cash award of $50,000, a bronze sculpture, and a guest appearance with Martin on the David Letterman Show November 3.

Martin told the New York Times that five or six "worthy names" were narrowed to a final two or three who were scrutinized on "anecdotal factors, and emotional factors, that are very hard to define and probably wouldn't bear up in a trial." Sammy won by unanimous vote.

The first time I recall hearing Sammy play we were in high school. I was a couple of years, or three or four, ahead of Sammy. I wrote and directed a play called "Our Heritage, Our Hero." It was to be performed in April or May of 1976, my senior year and the nation's bicentennial. Produced by my friend Karen Duncan Erickson, there was a cast of thousands, or dozens. Claudette Thompson Franklin said, "I know this banjo player from Meadows of Dan. . . . "

Leslie Shelor, Sammy's equally-talented-in-different-areas sister was already in the play and heavily involved with its production. So Sammy and his Grandpa came down off the mountain and provided the musical interludes between acts. It was perfect. I recall thinking, "this kid is really good!"

What an understatement.

Through the years, Sammy has racked up awards including Banjo Player of the Year from the IBMA more times than I can count. His Lonesome River Band is nominated for five awards later this month. Bandmates -- Brandon Rickman, guitar; Mike Hartgrove, fiddle; Barry Reed, upright bass; and Randy Jones, mandolin -- are equally talented and if you have never heard them, visit the website and order a CD.

I wasn't blowing smoke and neither was Sammy in saying that Steve Martin is great. He has used his celebrity and resources to bring the banjo and bluegrass to a larger audience. His passion has connected him to the best and he called upon the best in choosing the recipient for this award. The board members include Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Neil Rosenberg, Pete Wernick, Anne Stringfield, and Tony Trischka, in addition to Martin.

Martin, along with his band the Steep Canyon Rangers, are also nominated for several awards this year including entertainer of the year. ALSO nominated for that prestigious award is the incredibly talented group, The Boxcars -featuring another Patrick Countian -- John Bowman. (John, I bet your Mama is just beside herself! And your Granny, too!)

Yep, it's a proud day for Patrick Countians everywhere. Our own Leon Pollard, retired teacher and musician extraordinaire, said about Sammy:

"Sammy is not only a great banjo picker, he is a great guy, both on and off stage, and he has never forgotten his roots here in the county. I was proud to pick with him when he was 10 years old and I am still proud to call him friend and pick with him whenever I get the chance. Congratulations to Sammy!"

This is such a great day I think everybody in Patrick County should get a free punkin. Can you hook us up, Sammy? This could be a great way to launch a campaign, Instead of the electoral college, how about a fiddling contest? Best banjo player is president, best fiddler is secretary of state, and so on. But that's a column for another day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday Readings

The neighbors weren't home so it was the perfect time to go over and pry their small, screened outbuilding off its foundation.

Gary had these five-foot-long, 2,000 pound pry bars (maybe they weighed a little less) and while he lifted the building I quickly stuffed a brick under the bottom. What had been an aviary for the neighbor (until the raccoons got his birds) will be a garden shed for the Bisels.

We had permission to lift the building, but would anyone have asked? Years ago, in a Mayberry far, far, away, Dewey and Verlie Hill were sitting on their front porch enjoying the summer breeze when a crew showed up at the log tobacco barn across the road and began to dismantle it. This is Mayberry, so everyone waved and the Hills watched as these hardworking boys loaded century-old logs onto their flatbed truck and drive away.

A couple of days later, the neighbors came knocking.
"Our barn is gone! Did you see where it went?"

"It went thataway," said Dewey, pointing away from town.

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One of my favorite ways to spend Sunday is in the cafe at Barnes and Noble with a cappuccino and a stack of magazines. Occasionally, I buy one.

Noel and I filled a basket with reading material and settled in by the window to watch the world go by and read particularly interesting excerpts to each other.

If a psychologist were examining my selections, I'm sure I'd be in a treatment program somewhere because they are always eclectic. I don't subscribe so much any more, because I can't afford to subscribe to all the magazines I love, but I also love going in and being surprised by the new issues and choosing which one deserves to come home with me. So between Veranda, Country Living, Military History Quarterly, Wild West, True West, Better Homes and Gardens, Mother Earth News, Grit, Country French, Armchair General, The Cowboy Way, American Cowboy, Cowboys and Indians, Cottage Living, Midwest Living, Southern Living, Country French, Southwest Art, a couple of books and poetry reviews--it sometimes takes two or three coffee refills.

To help narrow your own choices, here are a couple of gems I found yesterday:

The Cowboy Way--great article by Guy De Galard on the Artist Ride in which my friend Robert "Cowboy" Culbertson participated. Cowboy (above) posted on Facebook that it was good to do some hard riding, but he did some hard posing along the way. The photograph and subsequent painting of his iconic self are worth at least a thousand words. Maybe a thousand and one.

Also in The Cowboy Way, friend Dan Gagliasso (left) has a tremendous article, "Cowboy Cavalry Under Fire: Roosevelt's Rough Riders." Dan always delivers on solid writing with a compelling subject. My history buds are going to love this one.

Military History Quarterly--an exceptional issue. The United States has deployed the whole of its military might on eleven occasions, according to this article, to capture or kill ONE man. Among that elite and notorious group: Geronimo, Pancho Villa, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein. This is a fascinating article with some compelling images.

Cowboys and Indians -- Mark Harmon on the cover. Enough said.

Flea Market Style -- One of the most fun and imaginative issues ever. The cover image says it all with a theme combining things I love -- old stuff and travel.

Now that I am sufficiently inspired, down to creating something -- though I can't decide whether to rearrange the guest room or take over a third world country. . . .

Friday, September 2, 2011

Festivities at Lone Jack

The battle of Lone Jack, Missouri, was immortalized by Rooster Cogburn in the
movie True Grit. It's where he lost his eye. This little detail, legend has it, was added by John Wayne, not the author, Charles Portis. The Duke apparently visited this quaint battle site and changed the location of the marshal's wound from Gettysburg to Lone Jack and then dubbed his cat "Sterling Price" after the Confederate general.

When the Lone Jack Historical Society marked the 149th anniversary of the battle, they unveiled a wall of honor for all veterans from the area. It was a day of ceremony and celebration, and Gary and I, along with fellow Topekan Beth Meyer, had a great time visiting with Jim Beckner, Greg Higginbotham, John Mackie, Jay & Barbara Jackson, Dave Bears, Kathleen Quigley, Dave Bears, and of course, Dan Hadley. Dan (above, far left) is one of the most talented and gracious people I know and I was tickled to be a part of the event he had worked so hard on!

PS--The soldier below (Greg Higginbotham) "volunteered" to help Dixie Lee Jackson whip up breakfast for the crowd. See her blog for more images from Lone Jack. dixieleejackson.blogspot.com