Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fifth Anniversary Post

On December 22, 2006 Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms made its debut. Today, therefore represents the fifth anniversary of its birth. As I have each year for the past several, I want to take a look backward as well as to use this entry as an opportunity to thank all those people who have contributed to its continuing success and growth. This blog represents my second effort to find a home on the Internet. I had a site devoted to accounts of our travels, visits to restaurants, book reviews, and a lengthy account of my experience in weight loss for several years. Sadly, the hosting site has chosen to remove it, and I have no way of resurrecting it myself. Meanwhile, between the time I was working on this early effort and the time when the blog made its debut, the cyber world exploded and blogs appeared. I had become a devotee of blogs during the 2004 presidential campaign, discovering a number of political blogs and then learning the vast world available to people who wanted to tell their own story in their own way. I spent a good deal of time exploring what I might want to write about in a blog as well as wondering whether I had much I wanted to say to the rest of the world through a device called a “blog” which is short for web log.

Meanwhile, our lives were in transition. We had moved to New Hampshire to live nearer our two sons and their families. And bluegrass was becoming an increasingly large part of our lives. The first few blog entries I wrote in late 2006 are instructive. The first two were a book review and an account of Christmas dinner at our son Rick's home where he cooked a turducken. Along the way, I wrote a brief piece I called “Why Bluegrass,” which tells the early part of our story in brief. Since I had included “Brainstorms” as part of my title, I soon wrote a piece examining the role of drums in the bluegrass world and then a brief review of an NPR radio show in which Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music (I reviewed the book itself a few months later) which has been influential in the development of my thinking about bluegrass music ever since. There have been 729 posts since the beginning. While each of the early posts seems na├»ve and relatively un-schooled from my present vantage point, I think they point the way in the directions I've continued to pursue. Now, five years later, as I look back on those early efforts, they seem slight. Together, Irene and I have traversed the eastern half of the country, visited places we never would otherwise have seen, met wonderful people who've become the delight of our later lives, and had a great time. Meanwhile, thousands of people seem to enjoy sharing our travels and experiences with us, and we're grateful for that, too.

Last year, Google Analytics showed a total number of 2010 page views at 118,453 while this year the number is 128,767, an increase of 9.1%. I also use a couple of other hit counters, and Amazing Counters says I've had 146,987 page views in the same period. The difference of nearly 20,000 in the count troubles me some, as I don't know which is more accurate. The newer Blogger Stats count is even higher, suggesting I have about 20,000 page views per month, although this metric doesn't allow an account for the year. Regardless, traffic has increased. This year also represents the greatest number of posts, which will top out at nearly 160 by the time the year ends. I suspect this number will be going down in the years to come. We're read in 128 countries, with the U.S. leading the way followed by Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. Not too surprisingly, Africa contributes the fewest visitors, while Europe has the most after North America. I also greatly value my readers and friends in Australia and Japan. The blog has readers in every state of the Union with North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee, the heart of bluegrass states, leading the way followed by New York and Massachusetts, the places where our efforts are focused in the summer, coming in next. Florida rounds out the top of the list. Wyoming, North and South Dakota continue bringing up the rear. This makes a good deal of sense considering population densities as well as those states' loyalty to cowboy and country music. It's always a kick for me to meet people at events who tell me they read the blog every week. You might want to consider subscribing so that it's delivered to your mailbox every time I post.

During the past year, although we were forced by the economy to eliminate Florida from our schedule, we still spent 148 nights on the road, 133 of them in our 26 foot travel trailer. We increased the number of state and city parks we stayed in, thus vastly improving the quality of our camping experience. We spent fifteen nights in motels or hotels when travel requirements or convenience suggested that would be a better alternative, always finishing such trips telling each other how much we preferred our little trailer. We attended seventeen bluegrass festivals, including five that were new to us. Joe Val in Boston, the two new festivals at Newell Lodge in Folkston, GA, RenoFest in Hartsdale, SC, and the Tennessee Fall Homecoming in Norris, TN were all new to us, and we'll re-visit most of them. We also returned to Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, TN, which has been re-imagined and resurrected with many improvements by Mike Wilson. We count that as a new festival for us, too. We also attended thirteen other bluegrass events in a variety of settings. From concerts at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA to a benefit at the Essex County Fairgrounds featuring the Gibson Brothers, we went where the music called. It shouldn't be surprising that many such events featured our friends The Gibson Brothers and/or Darin & Brooke Aldridge. For almost all these events I posted a preview and one or more accounts of the daily activities. This, in addition to the essays, book reviews, and other occasional pieces has resulted in about 159 total posts for the 2011 calendar year. The most previous posts for any year came in 2009 with 140. My guess is that things will slow down a little in coming years, as we both reached age 70 this year.

We've tried to keep the blog alive and changing without making major changes in the format, which many readers seem to like. Probably the most noticeable change has been the addition of video, the enhancement of its quality, and the integration of my blog with other social media. The KeeneValleyGuy You Tube channel is pretty highly integrated along with our FB Page “Ted and Irene's Most Exellent Bluegrass Adventure.” Interestingly, fewer than half my Facebook friends also “Like” our Fan Page, although the content doesn't overlap excessively. The YouTube Channel  (Google KeeneValleyGuy to find it) has been a particular surprise. The channel, in the year preceding this writing has had 119,213 views. By far the most played video has been Balsam Range singing “Trains I Missed” with The Steep Canyon Rangers in second place with “Yellow Back Fly.” The Gibson Brothers are the only performers with two songs in the top ten. Really, of more interest to me, though, is the popularity of Josh Williams singing “Mordecai” at The Doyle Lawson Festival to a bird which flew down from its nest and perched on his guitar. It's a classic. The clip is in fourth place on my YouTube hit parade. I've also started a Twitter page (@bluegrassTed) which has introduced me to a new, younger demographic.

Reading and writing reviews has always been a part of my life. The importance of books to me is shown in the title of my blog. This year I reviewed twenty-two books reflecting those interests. I read serious biography, fiction, and politics trying as much as possible to alternate between fiction and non-fiction as I progress. In February I connected with a group called TLC Book Tours, an organization which has tapped into the importance of blogs and the disappearance of newspapers and book stores as ways to inform readers. TLC functions as a link between a number of publishers and readers by arranging for book bloggers to receive and write about books. In the first review I wrote for TLC I panned the book and feared they wouldn't want to have me back. So far, this year I've posted ten reviews for them and look forward to writing many more. I've had the opportunity to read and think about a number of books I might not otherwise have read, broadened my horizons, and learned a lot. I appreciate the opportunity TLC has given me. I've also continued to purchase, usually in Kindle editions or from remaindered shelves, many books that interest me, and I write about them, too.

Finally, I have a lot of people I want to thank. First and foremost, Ted Lehmann's blog wouldn't happen if it weren't for Irene Lehmann. Irene is patient with the amount of time it takes, helpful in restraining me when my worst (although often most pointed) instincts kick in, and increasingly helpful in providing first rate photographs. She's earned her own camera and she has it back now that mine has returned from the shop. I want to thank the California Bluegrass Association for giving me a monthly forum to examine some new ideas before I post them here, and No Depression for featuring a number of my blog posts there as well as Bluegrass Today. I also want to thank the Editorial Board. This board includes everyone who sends me corrections. I know I can count on people like Pete Wernick, Jon Weisberger, and Cindy Baucom to correct my mistakes while only rarely quibbling with my judgments. I also know that you, my readers, will always respond with a name correction or addition when I post a “?” over a photo or make an error. Thanks so much for keeping me straight. I also very much appreciate the thoughtful remarks so many of you have made in the comment section of the blog, our Facebook pages, and on the various forums I follow and post on. Without your visiting the blog and continuing to return, I'd have stopped long ago. Thanks so much to each and every one of you who come and participate. We're getting ready to head out right after primary day here in New Hampshire. Our first event will be the Gibson Brothers/Larry Stephenson show in Berryville, VA and then we're off for Florida. Please stop either of us and say hello when we see you on the trail. Meanwhile:

Merry Christmas (or Your Choice) and Happy New Year
from
Ted and Irene Lehmann