Listen to Your Mother

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”  – John Burroughs

As artist paint a scene on canvas, so too do musicians create images, evoke feelings, and remind us of scenes we have witnessed or enjoy imagining. In many ways the music we listen to reminds us of what surrounds us in our daily lives. As we plug into our mobile devices to chase these “synthetic” pleasures, an entire symphony of the sounds of life surrounds us. Often times we do not take the time to appreciate it.

In a setting like a college campus, the majority of these sounds are a testament to  the noise we as humans create. It is easy to forget the life around us as we attempt to live our own. The convenience of engines, electricity, and other technologies that we use daily can make us blind to our natural surroundings.

When we remove our headphones and actually pay attention to what goes on around us, we can both hear and see the life that surrounds us. The same ability to hear the music we appreciate has a much greater purpose in our survival, a fact that can easily be forgotten.

Our ability to hear is a phenomenal adaptation meant to make us aware of what surrounds us and alert us of potential danger. However, somewhere in the human mind came a moment where this means of survival also became an ability to experience joy, sadness, melancholy, terror, and nostalgia.

All of these emotions can be felt through the music we create, but can also be found in nature. The sound of wind in the trees, the gentle lapping of ocean against the shore, and birds softly chirping as you awake, can provide a wonderfully soothing effect. A crack of thunder, the splitting of a branch, and the rumble of an earthquake evoke terror. Our earth is just as alive as we are and it only takes tuning out the noise we create to appreciate it.

One artist in particular has found a way to fuse the sounds of nature into music.

Diego Stocco is an innovative composer, sound designer, and performer who has composed scores for notable features including the films “Immortals,” “Into the Blue,” “Crank,” and many more. While busy in Hollywood, he also finds time do do experimental work on the side, which involves fusing the sounds of nature with modern technology.

By recording the sounds of nature playing “instruments,” such as the tree, Stocco creates a unique, captivating sound while also providing a metaphor for the coexistence of nature and mankind.

Diego Stocco provides an interesting fusion of sounds that suggests that what the “human world” and nature are not necessarily separate entities, but rather all part of one system. All we have to do is listen. One mother, one earth.

The Queen

For years Rhonda Vincent has won over the hearts of millions of fans with her animated performances, pleasing harmony, and southern charm. The respect and widespread adoration for Vincent has granted her, in the minds of many, the title of “the queen of bluegrass.

At the age of eight she was playing mandolin, and by ten was performing on the fiddle in her family band. After several years playing with her family, she decided to set out to make a name for herself all her own. She began performing with Jim Ed Brown from the Grand Ol’ Opry and was signed by Rebel Records. Shortly after releasing her first album, she was noticed by James Stroud, the president of Giant Nashville Records. Stroud then offered Vincent a two album contemporary country deal.

After completing two country albums, Vincent reached back to her roots and produced recordings with a more traditional style, similar to what she was used to playing and listening to while growing up.

In 1999, she was in a car accident that limited her ability to travel for auditions. Instead, she decided to hire a band and collaborate on the album online. Storm Still Rages was nominated in 2001 for seven IBMA awards, including Female Vocalist of the year. She then went on to hold the title of Female Vocalist of the year.

In a genre that is largely dominated by men, Rhonda Vincent is a standout female artists with the utmost respect from the bluegrass community. She has shown perseverance in the face of obstacles and determination to make music not just for sales, but from the heart.

Rhonda Vincent represents everything sweet in every country girl who has ever had a broken heart, and every woman a man never wants to see cry. She is a talented fiddler, skilled mandolin player, and has a voice that sings so smoothly it could almost be confused with a dobro at times.

Vincent represents a wonderful combination as both a traditionalist, as well as a renegade in what she has done for the place women hold in bluegrass.

Roots & Sprouts

I have always had an extremely high interest in new music, emerging artists, and the evolution of the sounds of a genre over time. However, in the last several months, after deciding to take a course on bluegrass music, I have redirected my attention to music, both old and new, that has come from my area of the country.

My mom and dad have never let me forget that I have Blue Ridge blood. Although the more deeply rooted Appalachian cousins of mine joke with me about being a “city boy” from Southside Richmond, I have always found a strong connection with the bluegrass and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The sound not only reminds me of the family that I see less than I would like, but of particular places that been painted in my memory. Long, aimless drives with my grandpa, heading no place in particular, but to find a good look at Smith Mountain Lake, or the mountains surrounding it.

In the bluegrass community today, the definition and classification is highly debated. I find it ironic that Ralph Stanley, widely considered one of the fathers of bluegrass, considers bluegrass to be strictly the music created by Bill Monroe.

While there is such a hot debate going on over what is considered bluegrass, place is undeniable. Just as bluegrass music is widely considered the sound of Appalachia, I have begun to associate the music from artists nearby to represent myself and my culture. When we are sprouting from the same valleys and rivers, there are sure to be similar ideologies and shared beliefs.

The evolution of music in Appalachia has come a long way in the last 100 years, and yes, of coarse, this is due in part to the advance of modern technology, but certain elements from old time bluegrass, even if they are minimal, can be heard in the music of emerging artists.

Mipso is an emerging group from Burke County, NC. The have been praised by critics as cutting edge traditionalists, incorporating  strong harmony, fiddle, upright bass, guitar and mandolin. Elements of bluegrass influence are evident as they put their own unique “dark holler pop” sound on display. There certainly seems to be something truly Appalachian in their sound.

Jim White vs. The Parkway Handle Band also incorporate undeniable aspects of bluegrass. Their group sing, swing stomp sound has elements of bluegrass that aren’t quite old time, but are sure to provide a good time.

Other notable artists such as Travis Book, the bassist from the Infamous Stringdusters, and Gill Landry, supporting member in Old Crow Medicine Show, have also been working on their own projects. Book has teamed up with his wife to form the group Sunnier, will Landry has been pursuing his solo career.

All of these artists are coming from areas all around the Blue Ridge. I can honestly say they are representing the area well, while also not entirely forgetting their roots. As they grow in popularity and times change, it is good to know that the evolution of music in the area can still remain relevant and relatable to the people.

For more emerging artists in the Blue Ridge Area checkout