Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Community” Development

Through the discussion around festivals and the bigger scope of the bluegrass community, I have been thoroughly entertained hearing stories of community from other classmates. This aspect in itself is one of the reasons I enjoy Tech. The university has such far reaching boundaries that you can hear such different stories. The film, Bluegrass Country Soul was a documentary concerning a festival in the early 1970s in Camp Springs, NC. The comradery present at the festival in the film was awesome. People were jamming together that were a couple generations apart, geographically people were from all over the east coast and audibly there was just about any type of pickin’ you could imagine. The conversation then led to Robert Gardner’s journal article, “The Portable Community.” Gardner’s article was something new for myself. I had never read a peer-reviewed scholarly journal article about bluegrass. Continuing, the theme of the article was concerned with the idea of a community, specifically why people either purposefully or accidentally join a community. Getting away from the traditional community definition being a neighborhood that waves as you pass one another on the street, Gardner really looks into a community being associative. I have included below a few pictures from Anna’s Restaurant in Narrows, Virginia. Every Thursday a small group from the area gets together and jams. It is a very intimate setting with a cozy atmosphere and tons of “southern” cooking. A strong community even these people were from all over the New River Valley.

IMG_1877 IMG_1883 IMG_1884

Separately thinking, I quickly became infatuated with this idea of community. The thought that no matter where you are, there will be someone in which you can easily associate with made me consider the roots of communities. Why do these groupings of people, often so different, come together for one event/thing? What causes people to remove themselves from the daily rut of life to go camp with people they have never met?

To me, the root behind communities is the human need for affiliation. This idea that everyone needs some type of relationship, and that it is physically impossible to keep to yourself is something I first heard in a course on Public Administration. David McClelland was the first scholar that really coined the idea that as a human some types of relationships are mandatory. He really focused around that if we join together then each person will feel this great sense of accountability to others and attainment. Connecting McClelland’s theories to bluegrass is not far reached.

When considering the festival crowd in a region, these people rarely see each other if ever. Yet, this scene fulfills something in itself. Moving away from the norm of relationships such as: work, school, neighborhood or marital, the bluegrass community functions differently. Conversation, something that is becoming a lost art with time, is very prevalent in this community. People care and want to communicate what is going on in your life. A personal experience of this comes from some of my late Great-Grandfather’s friends. Although I was just a child, these older gentlemen seemed concerned about my life. Even though I would rarely see them and could only sometimes remember names with faces, they would often ask about how baseball was going for myself as they picked on a back porch.

When linking bluegrass to community, I believe the uniqueness is the overarching factor. People want something that is different from every day, and bluegrass festivals, in particular, benefit from not being something that occurs often. These are weekends people use to get away from the rut of every day life. Plus the overall genuineness of people linked to bluegrass play an influence as well.

Music, Place, Identity: What’s the Question?

Music unlike many other forms of entertainment has a unique characteristic to take people to a specific time or place. Strangely it seems that this quality of music remains dormant until someone leaves a certain place. For me, as typical as it may seem, I never realized a connection to the song “Country Roads” by John Denver until I left my home state. While a specific example, I believe that many people feel a connection similar after leaving one’s area.

It seems almost ridiculous to think that place and music have no relationship. However, historically music has had no boundaries, so why do we still associate music with a place? This broadness is noted in Hunter Thompson’s chapter on “New York Bluegrass.” Thompson talks of being at a bar in NYC and here come The Greenbriar Boys, a band from Queens, New York. Although there was no link between Kentucky and New York these guys are playing traditional bluegrass. Another interesting fact about this story is how quickly you can see the universality. Bill Monroe emerges in the 1940s and here The Greenbriar Boys are jamming in the early 1960s.

A strong mode of musical transportation from region to region is transferred through festivals. Carlton Haney, who really got the ball rolling for festivals, believes festivals are used to inform people. To me, this information received is a way to almost spider web knowledge of music. The spider web effect causes familiarity to grow rapidly. Focusing on bluegrass, we see that it was originated in western Kentucky but then the first festival being in southwest Virginia, a move into Appalachia. So why do people have such strong feelings about bluegrass being strictly Appalachian? The folk revival in the 1960s, which notably was no surprise to Hunter Thompson, took place all over the country and was strongly rooted in the west. Another important factor of cultural movement was from the radio. A radio allowed people to stay connected no matter location.

So as complex as it is to link music, place and identity, to me, the correlation between music and place tends to be a more personal question than a generalized statement that can be easily recognized. There is a strong example in my hometown. Just because certain people may not live the life of these famed rappers they envy and attempt to imitate, they still have the opportunity to convey their feelings even though it may lack validity. Attempting to wrap everything together, I believe the music has benefitted by not being stuck in one place. When you can diversify the sound and add differing styles it opens up the entire world of music. This diversity comes about from different modes like the radio, festivals or simply branching out from other genres. This new world of music has been seen as the transformations to bluegrass since it was coined as a genre. While scattered brained as this post may seem, I hope it proves that music really has no place with the globalized society that the 20th and 21st century have created.

“Everything is Political”

Being in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech I inherently have a strong interest in politics. John Street makes a connection that I somehow often times insensibly forget to link, the correlation of music and politics. Of course, I was informed on instances where regimes took over radio to build their ideology but never really put it in terms of every day radio. The regime that I was most informed on was the Nazi propaganda during Hitler’s reign. Street provides eye opening quotes throughout his introduction such as, “Music does not just provide a vehicle of political expansion, it is that vehicle.” This is something I feel may be exaggerated; however, Street has a point. People look to music to express themselves, and it serves as an extension to the common person. Beforehand I considered music to serve as an outlet for people, although music is really serving as an inlet to understanding lives. The song shown below is a prime example of how Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien characterize problems of daily hardships of into a song:

As the old adage states, “everything is political.” Scott and O’Brien produce a song that is an attack at just about everyone, but the story no way stops here. There are entire volumes linking protest movements to political movements. A song that jumps out in my head is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song characterizes how music is intrinsically political. Street would agree that this song fits his definition of when music becomes political. He says that music becomes political when music forms a “site of public deliberation, rather than private reflection.” This to me is masterfully asserted. When music is no longer played only in one’s kitchen as something to do before bed but is instead played to express the hate for an industry or disliking of a government action then music is political. Street is very smart in his wording saying that he does not believe all music is political. He deems that music must form collective thought for it to be considered political. An instance of this collective thought was Woodstock in 1969. At the time, there was war in Vietnam, women’s rights and civil rights, but music acted as a glue for people. This festival and music allowed people to unite during a very hard time for the United States. woodstock

Connecting Street’s view about music being political, I hope to focus my annotated bibliography on this relationship. I, like Street, believe that “music stands as the epitome” of freedom. I will focus my mix tape on the relation of music in the coalfields as a message of desired changed. I believe that this project will help me better understand the coal industry, but also comprehend the linkage between protest music and political change. Often times coal camps were setup with company towns and in these areas the coal company controlled every facet of one’s life. The company provided the shoes you bought, food you ate and the church hymns you sang; however, the company could not control the music that influenced collective thought. Andrew McKnight and Beyond Borders sing in the song below about a company town. I hope to continue to dig into coal, music and politics of southern Appalachia and find more links to better understand the place where I call home. At the same time, keeping Street’s ideas of the link between music and politics will help me better plot my journey.