In my travels, I have seen the resilience of homegrown music in west Tennessee and north Alabama and here.
In west Tennessee, the birthplace of Memphis Blues, the music permeates homes, courthouse squares and churches. It is as much a part of growing up in the little towns like Covington and Brownsville and Jackson, Tenn. as is Bluegrass and Old Time to growing up in Ashe and Mountain City and Galax.
The Blues live on in such places in Tennessee and our music lives and on and energizes us here in the mountains
I’m encouraged by the staying power of a community’s music. It is a last vestige of community that we have to cling to in the face of growing homogenization of TV and the Internet.
This weekend’s Ashe County Bluegrass & Old Time Fiddlers convention was a fine demonstration of that for its show of musical quality and community support. The Ashe convention and the musical style in general seem to be on he rebound thanks to the endeavors of those known and not so well–known in the mountain music community.
The convention has seen better days and now – thanks to this weekend -- has seen worse days.
Oldtimers will tell of the days when the Ashe convention drew 1,500 people. This weekend saw crowds not quite that robust, but the event is on the mend. For the past four of five years, turnout has been less than even the 850 who turned out Friday and Saturday.
But then the Rotary Club of the Jefferson’s has given some dynamic energy to the convention this year for its40th anniversary.
A huge part of that energy -- promotions wise -- was focused through networking with musicians from other conventions and festivals. That means lots of legwork for Rotarians. But that is the way to get musicians to the event, according to nationally-syndicated radio host Cindy Baucom.
Baucom grew up right here in Ashe, played many years with her father’s band at the Ashe fiddlers convention, began a radio career at WKSK up on radio hill and now can spread to gospel of mountain music nationwide.
We have the value of good spokespeople like Baucom and nationally credentialed musicians like Steve Lewis Wayne Henderson. They are teaching and encouraging young people in the musical style.
But there are hundreds of others, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who are encouraging continuation of the music.
That is the most intriguing to me.
Young people will say they enjoy the music because th it is what they grew up with. Their grandfather played and they are comfortable with it, at home with it.
It also tells stories that are familiar to them and their ups and downs, loves and losses and spiritual connections.
Telling and remembering those stories and seeing our children, friends and neighbors do it is why we need to preserve the genre. We need to hear the stories.