Thursday night (4/23) I attend a Rising Appalachia concert at Radford University. I had seen them before at a couple of music festivals, which were all outside and very different environments. Doing the sonic footprint activity before this concert made a huge difference because it made me pick up on this I never had before.
The auditorium was fairly normal but once the band came out on stage the venue became anything but that. An upright base player/guitarist and drummer joined the two sisters, Leah and Chloe. The four of them made a very unique sound that was extremely dynamic. They could go from a very slow and quiet melody to an energizing song that had the entire room dancing. In fact, most of the audience was dancing right down in front of the stage and in the aisles. This is something that I had never seen in a venue as traditional and closed off as this one.
Between each song, the duo would share stories and laughs from their tour (which they had plenty of because this was one of the last shows on the tour). We were very lucky because Rising Appalachia had just released their new album “Wider Circles” a few days prior to the concert. They played a great mix of music that included songs from their new album, some of them were they first time they had performed them live which was really special.
I was very pleasantly surprised with the show as a whole, Rising Appalachia did a fantastic job of engaging the audience and make sure everyone had a great time while enjoying their amazing music. My only criticism is that they didn’t play enough; I could have stayed for twice as long and still been having a great time. I look forward to seeing them again at music festivals in the future!
This past Monday our class did a very special activity where we walked around different parts of campus listening to a variety of sounds (and lack of them) while identifying the impact we personally had on the area. Sounds crazy right? I did not really buy into it much when I first looked at the worksheet, but after voyaging across campus and truly listening to more than I ever had before, I was sold. I guess I had always tuned out the sounds I create myself kind of like how it’s always been said that our eyes simply ignore our own nose even though it’s always there. My footsteps, shuffling of clothing, and even breathing echoed across the soundscapes and impacted the way wildlife and even people interacted with me.
Some sounds were quiet and others were very loud. One place we visited was a construction site on the northwestern side of campus. People often poke fun about how campus is under construction with jokes like “Virginia Tech: Under construction since 1872”. However a campus under construction is a good thing, a healthy sign of progress and growth. Even though most of the places I visited on my sound walk had the faint sounds of construction in the background, I just closed my eyes and thought of it as the sounds of spaces for opportunities being created for future Hokies.
With all of this being said, the most special place on the walk was down behind the Duckpond. While the sounds of the hustle and bustle of campus faintly echo above us, the Duckpond itself really took center stage. Once I really sat still and noticed all of the wildlife around me, I was blown away by how much depth there was to it. I could hear each of the squirrels running through the branches above me. I noticed the splashing of the ducks coming and going out of the water. I noticed how the wind moved the leaves and grass across the ground. It made me feel really small and it was a feeling that really humbled me in a great way. It was a little corner where I could actually listen to myself and then not listen to me at all. The things I learned from this I can certainly apply to the way I listen to music and identifying more than just what is on the surface. This activity opened my eyes, well technically my ears, to how much more there is to sounds and music as a whole.
When I first became interested in looking deeper into bluegrass I didn’t exactly realize that there was a lack of women present on stage and on the albums. I guess part of that is because the norm that is set for bluegrass performances is a stern group of men standing in a line across a stage all playing their stringed instruments. I have always been fascinated by history and that background context of sexual division plays a huge role in how gender roles are viewed today. Usually the specific musicians are experts and have mastered playing the banjo, guitar, mandolin, etc. Whatever their specific instrument is has usually been perfected and they play them in a very serious manor. I can see how this could be very intimidating to women and makes it difficult for emerging artist, especially female, to get a foothold in bluegrass. I truly do believe that women can bring immense amounts of talent and insight to performing and hopefully we can grow from the history of exclusion and move towards a more inclusive environment as a whole.
During class on Wednesday our bluegrass class watched “It’s Hard to tell the Singer From the Song”. This movie tells the story of Hazel Dickens who is a bluegrass singer songwriter who has a unique sound that highlights issues like unions and the feminist movement. Dickens hails from Mercer County, West Virginia along with eleven other siblings. She got started with gospel music within the church, her dad usually encouraged her to sing in front of others and got her hooked on it. In the 1950’s she moved to Baltimore and began working with Mike Seeger’s wife, Alice Gerrard. They recorded two albums as “Hazel & Alice” and really were able to sing the songs of the hard times they lived. They had a sound that had a traditional yet exciting new feel that made the duo a huge success. I feel like they were ahead of their time, especially in a music industry that was mainly dominated by men. There are a variety of factors that cause bluegrass to have issues with being inclusive, but I recognize that I do not possess enough knowledge to uncover why. I think there is some limiting factors that the touring lifestyle creates but I do not believe that there are limiting factors for women in bluegrass with having talent. I really enjoyed seeing how Hazel was able to use her ability to perform as an example of how women can be successful bluegrass singer/songwriters. She earned countless awards and recognitions later in her career, which confirmed just how much of a national treasure she was.