While winding along I-40 one morning, the sun roaring over our Smoky Mountains with every bit of arrogance the sun deserves (and only the mountains can face the sun without averting a gaze), I listened to Bluegrass—the soul-filled mournful fiddle crept up the back of my spine and settled there, vibrating until my entire body strummed and thrummed.
The roots of Mountain Music, our Bluegrass music, arrived here with the immigration of people from Ireland, Scotland, England, Africa. Early settlers of Western North Carolina were Scots-Irish, and when they arrived, they brought with them their songs and their fiddles and they expressed the human condition through their vocal and instrumental storytelling, passing them down from generation to generation, each voice, each instrument, each condition molded and formed to fit, yet at the same time, as ancient and consistent as mountain life itself.
In those early pioneer days, women generally weren’t allowed to play banjo or fiddles, so they sang, passing down from mother to daughter their musical stories. The story-songs had as big impact on Bluegrass music as the instruments. Listen to the tone of their voices and hear the plaintive melancholy that seeps into the bones and stays there, a part of the marrow, a part of the people who live in and love these mountains.
Scottish influence wasn’t all gloom and woe, for they brought their love of fun and dance with them, as well. Cool mountain evenings brought laughter and music as ancient as these old mountains, and the connection from Scottish Mountain to Western North Carolina Mountain cannot be mistaken when the ear is tuned to the past intersecting with the present.
From the sideboards of American homes, Bluegrass music entered living rooms live from the Grand Old Opry from the musical stylings of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise, and Cedric Rainwater. Live performances are something we radio listeners do not get much of now with the onslaught of recorded music, and yet, without the recording of music, how much of the old mountain music would reach the ears of a population who will never sit on a front porch and stomp a foot in time to soulful renditions mourned out as if from the pricking of skin to let the music bleed away, deep red and thrumming, dripping down into the mountain earth where up springs a unique, rich, and varied mountain life and its song.
Now you all know I always say for us to support our writers, musicians, artists!
So, here’s a few places to check out bluegrass, or variations of it, and feel free to add your own in the comments if you like:
Steep Canyon Rangers (this is the Western North Carolina bluegrass band that actor/writer/musician Steve Martin joined up with)
My brother’s “california bluegrass – Saga of Virginia Kate” (and again, as I’ve said – I do not receive compensation for this! It goes to the musician, of course!)
(photos all taken by kat magendie)