A Prairie Home Companion at the Ryman

A Prairie Home Companion visited Nashville on the first weekend in May. A bit of Minnesota in the Mother Church of Country Music.  There’s some audio highlights on http://prairiehome.publicradio.org .

Sam Bush Band – Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train

Brad Paisley – Anything Like Me

APHC is doing a benefit show in Madison, Wisconsin, tonight, with Robin and Linda Williams, in memory of Garrison Keillor’s brother.

Telluride Bluegrass 2009 Lineup

OK.  So I wrote the nice fluffy bit for the No Depression Telluride Bluegrass Festival Blogging Contest, now here’s my take on the lineup:


OK, now that that’s over with… I posted the big-ticket event roster with last.fm links over there.  Bluegrass.com line-up has your basic paragraph bios & pics.  I know there’s up the hill and down in town and all.  Whatever.  My thoughts on the Single-Day lineup as posted:

    Thursday’s picks:

  • David Byrne to kick off the event:  Huh?  Good god what are they thinking???  Then again Planet Bluegrass is equal parts World, and Music, could be an interesting set.  Tho I’m not all together sure if these are in cardinal order.  (And I’m late for dinner so I’m not going to take the time to check.)
  • Conor Oberst (i.e. Bright Eyes): Good follow-on from Byrne
  • 3 Girls & their Buddy:  Emmylou, Patty, Shawn Colvin & Buddy Miller.  Now you’re talking.  They ought to get 4x the set time.
  • Peter Rowan fits, Zac Brown comes recommended but doesn’t really fit (?), Lovell Sisters would transition well to Jerry Douglas & Tim O’Brien.

  • Railroad Earth played at KRFC when they came thru Fort Collins and really wowed us… for East Coast guys.
  • Elvis Costello, Bela Fleck, John Cowan.  Buy extra strings, they’ll probably break a few
  • Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley):  Some last.fm’ers I know like her, but I just haven’t taken the time to really get to know her.  Certainly some younger indie rock cred.
  • The Greencards:  I’d really like to see these three.  Really.
  • Blue Canyon Boys:  A Colorado bluegrass band, at a ‘bluegrass’ festival in Colorado.  Cool.

  • Sam Bush Band, Jerry Douglas Band, Yonder Mountain String Band:  Telluride truth in advertising.  See my No Depression blog for a great video on YMSB in Telluride.
  • Kasey Chambers & Mr. Kasey.  Saturday looks like one of those days, it could be pouring rain, and this line-up will be so mellow, so chilled, ya just don’t care…
    Sunday: Time to go home, but I would stick around for the Telluride House Band and more Emmylou, plus Tim O’Brien.

  • Todd Snider is a bit too political for my taste but I’m sure the granola heads will love ’em.
  • Steeldrivers:  More last.fm’rs I like & respect like these guys.  I haven’t spent the oro to check out their plata.
  • And as for Mike Ferris, Planet Bluegrass says: “As the sun rises on the Telluride Sunday morning gospel set, prepare to be moved, shaken, and healed. ”  Sounds good to me.

I jumped (or maybe was pushed) into the No Depression community in large part due to their Telluride blog dare.  I’m not terribly happy with my fluffy post.  It could be better.  It could be worse.  I would have liked to have had the historical photo of William Jennings Bryan (in front of the New Sheridan Hotel), but if I understand the fine print correctly Telluride Historical Museum wants $150 for one-time limited use, which is $149 more than I have in my pocket right now.  Oh, well.  My old Mac wouldn’t be up to the trip, and I don’t do so well with crowds anyway.

Besides, Cadillac Sky was there last year.  Can’t possibly top that!



Go Higher

Telluride Topography

Telluride, Bluegrass and the Cross of Gold

My first time into Telluride I was coming in from the East. The summer was hot and dry; the Colorado backcountry better suited to rattlesnakes than trout water. I had been camping up the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, some rutted jeep trail of a Forest Service road that would have seemed an interstate compared to the insanity of Black Bear Pass. That is to say, I drove in from the West, down Leopard Creek Canyon through Placerville by way of Ridgeway. When in doubt, go higher.

“I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability; but this is not a contest among persons. The humblest citizen in all the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke as such when he visited the town of Telluride in 1896, while campaigning for the presidency. Telluride sits astride a narrow box canyon at the headwaters of the San Miguel River. It’s not the sort of place you happen across, that you wander through on your way from here to there. Telluride is a destination.

“Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been by the voters themselves.”

The mines of the San Juan mountains gave birth to Telluride in the 1870s. Zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold flowed from the Sheridan, the Tomboy, the Pandora mines. Miners mined the ore, the town mined the miners. The good times were good. The bad times were bad. Butch Cassidy began his career in crime in June 1889 when his “wild bunch” robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank. Eastern financiers dealt a much heavier blow during the Silver Panic of 1893. It was silver and gold that brought Bryan to town.

“But in this contest, brother has been arrayed against brother, and father against son. The warmest ties of love and acquaintance and association have been disregarded. Old leaders have been cast aside when they refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of freedom. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever fastened upon the representatives of a people.”

Over time the mines played out, and by the 1970s, “hippies” had taken over many of the old union shacks. The search for silver and gold turned to the perfect slope. And the perfect music festival. According to the Library of Congress, the first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was organized by a bluegrass band, Fall Creek, for the 1974 Independence Day celebration. Telluride, acoustic music and the Festival have all changed a lot since then.

“we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities… The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.”

Author & professional contrarian Edward Abbey made his home downriver, past where the San Miguel joins the Dolores River and flows into Utah. He lamented the mining at Moab that followed the bust at Telluride. He lamented the rise of industrial tourism that turned desert towns and mining towns into meccas for the leisure class. Abbey’s Moab and Bryan’s Telluride are the same, yet different, than hundreds of others places in the high country. Built and broke on the back of mining and ranching. Reborn as recreational playgrounds, some might say they sold their souls to the new company store. Might say they’ve lost their souls on a cross of gold.

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke of literal gold, the heavy yellow mineral competing with Telluride’s silver for status as legal currency. Yet we still today find ourselves pressed down upon: Our crown of thorns is a gold record standard. The over-riding expectation that all that matters is the next hit on the radio chart, the next big thing on MTV, the next Girls Gone Viral on the world wide web.

Telluride is one of the few places that have staked out their own claim outside the Next Big Thing. Citizens of the town work hard to stand up for their land and historic fabric, looking for ways to balance growth and development—to make a place for a ski resort, summer recreation and a functioning community.  The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has done as well, balancing a broad and diverse lineup to stay funky yet relevant.

It is no easy thing to resist the lure of easy gold. To resist the urge to get yours while the getting is good. To do better. To go higher.

Telluride is the destination. An amazing music festival is the reward.


(Thinking of posting to New Depression Telluride Bluegrass Festival Blog Contest .)

Big Music Will Surrender, But Not Until At Least 2011

Big Music Will Surrender, But Not Until At Least 2011

Posted using ShareThis


recorded music will largely be little more than marketing collateral, meaning that the Internet services being sued today for copyright infringement will be embraced in the future as ways to get the word out on hot new music. These services pay for the privilege today (either through high streaming rates or in court), but in the future they’ll be the ones getting paid by labels. Think radio payola at a whole new level, and there won’t be any more talk about social networks giving stock to labels and artists. Money will flow the other way, as it should.

h/t to @marybethdamico .  She thinks it’s depressing, I’m not so sure.  There’s a business model here for somebody smart enough (or dumb enough) not to get scared off by the music mafia).

T for Texas

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was one of the first “stars” of country music.  Often known as the Singing Brakeman, Rodgers set the standard for future generations:

Jimmie Rodgers’s first Blue Yodel, which became known as “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas) ”, was recorded on 30 November 1927 in the Trinity Baptist Church at Camden, New Jersey. When the song was released in February 1928 it became “a national phenomenon and generated an excitement and record-buying frenzy that no-one could have predicted”.

I first heard Lynyrd Skynyrd do ‘T for Texas’ back in school days.  I didn’t think much about the song or the lyrics, but over the years it’s dawned on me how radical this stuff is.

i’m gonna buy me a pistol
just as long as I am tall
i’m gonna shoot poor Thelma
just to see Her jump And fall.

Kids today, in my day even, think of Country music as old stuffy stuff, with the hoots and the haws and the howdy y’all.  Go back to the roots and you’ll find some pretty basic matters of life, love and all the complications thereof.

(cross-posted at last.fm)

When You Say Nothing At All

Happy Valentine’s Day

Alison and Robert Sand the Grammys

Last year I was Grumpy about the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. I can’t be grumpy this year. My gal Alison Krauss cleaned up. Producer T-Bone Burnett worked his magic on her duet album with Robert Plant, Raising Sand [ Rounder].

  • Record of the Year
  • Album of the Year
  • Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
  • Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
  • Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album

Alison Krauss is simply the best thing out there right now.

And I’m conflicted about that.

I don’t “get” Raising Sand. I don’t dislike the CD. I’m a long-time fan of Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin days. I just don’t “get it”. The plethora of gold record players gives me an idea why and it’s as obvious as the beard on my face.

I like to keep my music close to the roots. Songwriter. Guitar. Maybe a stand-up bass. Tell me a story, maybe one I can do a two-step to. I like my Alison closer to her roots—her high lonesome done-me-wrong songs. But she’s been there and done that. It’s only appropriate that she wants to grow as an artist, to challenge herself and try new things.

There’s nothing like finding a new artist that you connect with . It’s very much like making a new friend. In today’s flattened world of internet radio and social media, it often is making a new friend, or at least adding them as a friend on FaceSpace. However, we also all grow up. There are a few of my childhood friends that I’ve kept up with, more now with the latency of FaceSpace. There are many more whom we have gone our separate ways. Maybe I’m just jealous of all her new friends. I don’t know.

I am concerned. It’s not appropriate to sully your hard-earned reputation fawning over a “Pop Collaboration With Vocals”. I’m not sure if it’s a sorrier statement on the ill health of popular music, country music, or Americana. I could celebrate that Krauss, Plant & Burnett were able to put together a production that successfully bridged the chasms. That would be the pragmatic thing to do. I’m not a pragmatist. I’m a strong believer in the quality of music and the musicians craft.

Here’s hoping Alison comes back around to visit her old friends soon.

Other Kudos from the 51st Annual Grammy Awards

  • Best Pop Instrumental Album: Jingle All The Way, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones [Rounder]
  • Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Letter To Me, Brad Paisley. Track from: 5th Gear [Arista Nashville]
  • Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Stay, Sugarland. Track from: Enjoy The Ride [Mercury Records] (Was there ever any question?)
  • Best Country Song: Stay, Jennifer Nettles, songwriter (Sugarland) Track from: Enjoy The Ride [Mercury Records; Publisher: Jennifer Nettles Publishing]
  • Best Country Album: Troubadour, George Strait [MCA Nashville] (I can’t keep up with George)
  • Best Bluegrass Album: Honoring The Fathers Of Bluegrass: Tribute To 1946 And 1947, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder [Skaggs Family Records]
  • Best Traditional Blues Album: One Kind Favor, B.B. King [Geffen Records]
  • Best Long Form Music Video: Runnin’ Down A Dream, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; Peter Bogdanovich, video director; Skot Bright, video producer [Warner Bros.]

Of the others, I would have liked to see Kathy Mattea recognized for her concept album, Coal, even if I haven’t actually heard it.

p.s. After I initially posted this on last.fm, I got a Tweet contemplating a good question about release dates for Raising Sand.  Amazon.com gives ’em a release date of October 23, 2007.  Now I’m wondering: Plant & Krauss won a Grammy LAST year for Pop Collaboration. How can they repeat? My guess is it’s single release vs. album release. Anyway, artists, not all release dates are created equal.  Remember that.


(updated & cross posted from last.fm )

« Older entries