Welcome to my Blog. I write primarily about bluegrass music and the bluegrass experience. I also review books I read as well as offering road notes and travel entries. Come in and look around to see whether there's anything here for you. Be sure to check the archives and the labels. Please leave comments. I try to respond to all of them.
Donnie Swaim died unexpectedly last fall at the age of 51. In many ways he represented the spirit of local musicianship that has made Merlefest one of the great Americana festivals. He lived in Wilkesboro and played Dobro and guitar in several local bands. With his wife, Lynn, he spent a good deal of time caring for Tut Tayler and his wife Lee. During the three days preceding the opening of Merlefest, he could always be found near the tents the Wilkes County Acoustic Folk Society maintain for jammers throughout the festival. He was a very good picker with a pleasant baritone voice, but more important, he was a friendly, welcoming figure who brought strangers into the community and made them feel at home. He is missed by all who knew him and this post is dedicated to his memory.
Merlefest opens with three evenings of informal picking. By Wednesday, many of the musicians to be featured during the week have started to arrive, and some of them join the local pickers and visiting jammers at the folk society tents. On Thursday, the music begins and lasts for four solid days of joyful celebration. The following pictures make no effort to be comprehensive, but I hope they capture some of the spirit of the place. It's chilly now in Wilkesboro, but Merlefest is only four months away. I hope to see you there.
Today is the third anniversary of my blog. The first entry came on December 24, 2006. Since that time, I have posted 412 entries with the vast predominance being reports or analyses of bluegrass events. In the past year, Irene and I attended sixteen bluegrass festivals and twenty-five other events devoted to bluegrass music in some form or other. We went to fewer festivals, I think because the economy, especially through the winter, frightened us, and we left Florida earlier than we had the previous two years. Furthermore, dental emergencies for me put a huge hole in our budget and we have spent a good deal of time with Irene's mother, who at age 91 has moved further away to live with her youngest daughter. All told, we spent 216 nights on the road with 200 nights in our trailer. We're painfully aware that age is slowing us down; we don't drive as far or as hard, and it takes us longer to recover from a trip. Nevertheless, we spread out geographically and broadened both our circle of bluegrass friends while learning more and more about this world we've come to value and love so much.
During the year we attended about fifteen festivals and twenty other kinds of events from New Hampshire to Florida to western Kentucky, and Tennessee. We visited many new venues, including the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY and the Kentucky Opry in Benton, KY, both new venues for us. Our trip to Bill Monroe's childhood home on Jerusalem Ridge represents a real highlight as well as an important learning experience. We went to Randy Wood's Guitar Shop near Savannah as well as Guy and Tina's Pickin' Parlor in South Carolina. We met musicians, luthiers, promoters, curators, and people from all walks of life who love bluegrass. We almost always felt welcomed into this rich and varied community. I wrote seventeen book reviews, many about bluegrass related books, and reviewed ten CD's, the hardest part of doing this blog.
There are lots of people I want to thank for their help in making sure my blog is better than it would otherwise be. There's a group of bluegrass people who regularly chime in to correct errors I've made and even, occasionally, to chide me for rushing to judgment because I know too little. I especially want to thank, in no particular order, Jon Wiesberger, Ken Irwin, Cindy Baucom, and Pete Wernick for pointing out errors of omission and commission. Their help has consistently and significantly contributed to making the blog more accurate and more interesting. Many other people have chimed in, too. I want to thank Bob Cook for always pushing me to broaden my perspective and take on topics I might not otherwise have tackled. And always, my wife Irene...first critic, biggest helper, strongest supporter, and, now, direct contributor to the blog. While my name's on the front, everyone person I've mentioned and many more who've sent me notes or made comments along the way have helped make it a better and more thoughtful piece of work.
Writing this blog has opened many opportunities to us as it has become better known and more widely read. During the year, I had the pleasure of doing phone interviews with Claire Lynch, Dale Ann Bradley, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Sierra Hull and others. Other people have contributed to the process by participating in e-mail interviews. Among these have been Jesse Brock, Lorraine Jordan, Jim vanCleve, Jason Moore as well as other members of Mountain Heart. Many people contributed my review of Can't You Hear Me Callin'” the biography of Bill Monroe. Each time someone allows me into their thinking about something I'm writing about, my work gets better, and I can't adequately express my appreciation to all those people. I'm also very grateful to promoters who've provided us with increased access and arranged seating to make our photography work more easily. As well as to record producers and bands who gave us CD's to listen to and review. Producing this blog represents a major expense for us. We believe in giving back to the music, but the help provided from within is deeply and sincerely appreciated.
Let's look at some statistics. Each year since the beginning, this blog has grown. This year, including this post, I have posted 139 entries. That's an average of 2.6 entries a week. I use three different hit counters, and each counts in a different way. Amazing Counters counts page views and I think it totaled 99,306 this year. Google Analytics, which provides large and varied kinds of stats says I have had 87,394 page views on 57,189 visits from 30,890 different people. All the numbers represent significant increases from last year. The average visit was one minute and thirty seconds, down two seconds from last year. I've read numbers that range from ten seconds to 48 seconds for average time on site, so I think people actually come to read or look at the pictures. Visitors to my blog came from 102 countries and every state in the U.S. I was particularly happy to see readership increasing from Australia and Japan. Meeting people like Lily Pavlak from the Czech Republic and Marta Sala Valadoms from Catalonia in Spain, and Heather Robin Mandich from New Zealand were neat experiences, and Facebook has meshed well with my blog to increase the blog's visibility and our ability to communicate with readers and people we meet along the way. It's always a delight to meet and chat with readers on our travels.
Finally, we want to thank each of you who continue to return to read about our experiences and to look at our pictures. We'll see you all again throughout the coming year. Meanwhile, have a
It's nearly Christmas, and there isn't much bluegrass out there just now. I thought I'd comb through some of the events we attended in the winter of 2009 and send you some of the better pictures. Most of these are of performers, but there are also some ones we caught of people at bluegrass events. Irene's help in providing a second eye and an additonal camera at many venues is always a big help. Enjoy the show.
Bill Anderson - Singer, Luthier
Maggie Anderson - Singer, Vendor
Evan Carl - Emcee
Larry Gillis and Evan Rose - Larry Gillis Band
Gary Waldrep - Gary Waldrep Band
Donnie Dowdy - Bluegrass Brothers
Mike Andes - Nothin' Fancy
Junior Sisk - Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice
Tony Shorter - Nothin' Fancy
Barry Scott - Barry Scott and Second Wind
Sherry Boyd - Emcee
Steve Dowdy - Bluegrass Brothers
Victor Dowdy and Steve Dowdy - Bluegrass Brothers
Hunter Berry - Rhonda Vincent and the Rage
Rhonda and Friend
Rhonda and Friend
Cody Kilby - Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Judy and Norman Adams - Adams and Anderson Productions
Andy Leftwich - Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Mickey Harris and Ben Helson
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage
Jim Mills - Kentucky Thunder
Martha and Jay Sheperd
Randy Wood Mandolin
Barry Kratzer and Mark Gresham - Luthiers
Saturday Jam at Randy Wood's Guitar Shop
Dennis Saterlee - Biographer of Red Allen
Bertie Sullivan - Two Rivers Bluegrass Festival
Lorraine Jordan - Carolina Road
Mike Aldridge and Johnny Ridge
Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion
Danny Paisley and Bobby Lundy Danny Paisley and Southern Grass