Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Went

I brooked no bonds.  I threw off all restraint,

and went.  Toward enjoyments that were half

real--half ruminations of my brain,

into the illuminated night I went.

And of strong wines I drank boldly, as drink

they who seek after pleasure and are brave.


C.P. Cavafy.

(guess what it's about Georgia for me)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Visiting

Well, y'all.

I'm going to just describe some awesome experiences of the past year/ six months/ whatever.  I have mentioned that I've been working closely with the Very Excellent Vermonter, Anna Roberts-Gevalt.  And boy, have we gone places!

Kentucky.  Anna spent a couple years in the Bluegrass State researching women fiddlers.  We went back to show our crankie to a wonderful woman, Letha, who knew the fiddler Lella Todd.  Our crankie illustrates things Letha said about growing up near Lella, who used to play with all the neighborhood kids.  If you're into that kind of thing, Anna put together a website of all her interviews, which are beautiful pieces of folklore in their own right, www.annarobertsgevalt.com.  If you want to see the crankie about Lella, here's a link to a video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRvBHp-l9w0
and an image to help you along:



Below is Letha's brother, on the porch of a log cabin he reconstructed.  I don't know how to communicate the sense of peace and easy-breathing that permeated this place.  It was the midst of a really busy time for Anna and me, and I was stressing out; but that place, little by little, eased my burden.  He and his wife manage a beautiful garden with maybe ten kinds of heirloom tomatoes.  As we were leaving he took his cane and knocked down and  broke open some Asian chestnuts, and handed them to us all gleamy.


And here's Anna and Letha in the quiet graveyard, at Lella Todd's grave:


Here is the red velvet couch where Lella used to keep her instruments.  Letha has it in her living-room.



Here is a little lesson on Old-Time Music Culture.  It's one of the most important features, as far as I'm concerned.  It's a little thing called: Legacy.

Yes, while many cultures (especially Youth cultures, amirite?) are busy Rejecting the Man and spitting on their parents, Old-Time kids are seeking out geezers and geeking out Caesars--I mean, geeking out over scratchy recordings made decades before they were born.  Emmett Lundy (amazing fiddler from Galax, VA) talked about following around a man he called "Old Man Green Leonard".  Lundy was still a young man when Leonard died.  Green Leonard had been very protective of his tricks at the fiddle, but Emmett was persistent in trying to pick up all that he could.  The last time they met, tears came Leonard's eyes when he said that Emmett Lundy was the only one who had tailed him and learned his licks.  He had never taught them to anyone else.

I think the days of secretive fiddlers are a little past, but the idea of passing on a way of art, and especially of keeping a way, is a real force at work in the old-time music community.  I'm sure it's part of why the community is so supportive of children and beginners.  I saw the same thing one time when I went to the Chickahominy pow-wow when I was in college.  Many of us American types are afraid that we're just a few steps shy of tradition completely slipping away.

I went on a big fancy tour one time, and Sammy Shelor was there (Am I bragging?  Yes.), and I'll tell you that the tears came to my eyes when he said late one night, "You seem like somebody who spent a lot of time with their grandparents."  He told me about times he had spent with his older relatives, driving trucks.  I wished then, and I still wish now, that I had asked more of my grandparents when they were alive.  They were some of the best people I knew, and I took their wisdom for granted.

I say this not to guilt you; but as an encouragement--give it a try.  Old people really like talking to young people.  They know things.  They have hilarious memories.  It's not like you have to love banjos, or music from the 50s, or antique tractors--but I bet you will find something that interests you.  In this era of the whole "local food!  local business!" thing, how about a little local hanging-out?  A little local culture?  You could find out about your hometown.  You could get to know your neighbors, and then they will be more likely to share their canned foods with you when the apocalypse comes.

Yes readers, Visit somebody!  They will teach you their skills!  The other thing about old people is that they are super grateful.  When you visit them, they will feed you up, with veggies from their garden.  (Foods I have received from visiting old-time musicians: pickles; relish; pickles again; relish again; home-grown tomatoes; sumac tea; brownies; pimento cheese; borscht; angel-food cake with strawberry sauce; hot soup.)  They will give you a hug, and invite you back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Visionary, Outsider, Naive, Folk, Innocent, Brut

ART!

One of the amazing things about working with my rock-steady home-girl sistah-from-another-mistah Anna is that we share an easy geek-out enthusiasm for personalities and talents, especially ones that are high on kooky and low on ego.  For example, our friend Caleb Stine (songwriter and humanist extraordinaire) introduced us to the art of Loring Cornish of Baltimore, MD.  Check out Loring's mirrored house:



And his studio:


We have been very lucky to explore (thanks in large part to Crankies, home-made performance-art of the future!) the wonderful world of..."visionary art".  And just what is visionary art?  Well, friend, it's hard for me to say.  But here's what Aunt Wikipedia has to say on the subject:


"....art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." -American Visionary Art Museum


Nice.  Very nice.  And how about this..."art brut"?


Dubuffet characterized "art brut" as:
"Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade."


Oh my, Dubuffet.  Stop it, you're making me a little flushed.  When we visited the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, "flourishings of an exalted feverishness" was the order of the day.  Indeed, this was an aspect of art that had been percolating in the back of my mind ever since I encountered the work of James Hampton:
Why, yes; that would be life-size religious-themed altar, ark of the covenant, thrones and stuff, all made of cigar-bands and other found foil.  This kind of work fills me with awe, and also...discomfort.  I don't don't think I have this kind of work in me.  When I imagine the focus and time and the saving of every bit of foil for years and years...it makes my spine a little tickly.
Here's something that to my mind is similar.  This artist beaded her kitchen:
http://mocoloco.com/art/archives/001422.php


Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic.[1]. Folk Art is characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed. Closely related terms are Outsider Art, Self-Taught Art and Naïve art.


Did you really just say, "peasant"?  Never mind.  Primarily utilitarian--like an amazing blanket or vase.  I do love that stuff.  I don't think it's quite the same somehow as the towering individualism of the visionary art, but whatever.  Lines are blurry.  Let's take little look at Naive art, shall we?


Naïve art is a classification of art that is often characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. While many naïve artists appear, from their works, to have little or no formal art training, this is often not true. The words "naïve" and "primitive" are regarded as pejoratives and are, therefore, avoided by many.


Haha, what? (sorry Auntie Wiki--it must be said) the example picture for "childlike simplicity" is this:
Are you kidding?
The Lion's Repast by Henri Rousseau?
And this seems like a good place to break.  But I hope to return to this topic later, and of course (you know me) RELATE IT TO BALLADS.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sister, thou

Here's a picture of a friend of mine, Teresa, holding her grandson:


I miss her.

I don't know that I have anything constructive to say, or any real reason for posting about this, except that I don't think that she & and her daughter should go unremembered.  If you know the Morgan family of Seattle, through their music or just because, then I think anything as simple as good wishes have the power to help.

Here are the words to a song:

Sister, thou art mild and lovely
Gentle as the summer breeze
Pleasant as the air of evening
As it floats among the trees.

Peaceful be thy silent slumber
Peaceful in the grave so low
Thou no more shall join our number
Thou no more our songs shall know.

Dearest Sister, thou hath left us
Here thy loss we deeply feel
But tis God that hath bereft us
He can all our sorrows heal.

Yet again we hope to meet thee
When the days of life have fled
There in heaven we'll joy to greet thee
Where no farewell tears are shed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Story of the Amazing Day, Part 3

So one of the shepherds looked down the table to where my friends Barry and Diana were sitting, and he said: "For you--because you are in love--I want to give you the most valuable thing I have."
He pulled out a knife.
"This is all I have left from my father, and it's not just for you, Barry.  It is for both of you."

While our jaws were hanging open, Barry said, "I can't take the knife."
John took an aside from translating to tell him that he had to take the knife.  The shepherd would be dishonored if he didn't.  So Barry stood up--in this intense moment and next to these weathered men he looked like a little kid in a Dick & Jane book or something-- and walked to the other end of the table where the shepherd stood.  They shared an intense eye-lock and handshake, the kind where you grip elbows and clap each others' backs, and they exchanged a Euro-style kiss on the cheek.  And Barry took the knife.

"Wait, wait!" The shepherd said, "You also must have the case.  I made it out of one of the goats I slayed."  He used the word slayed--or more accurately, John used that word while translating.
"Smell the inside--it will smell like that for a hundred years!"

So the sheath was also passed over to Barry, who said:
"Can you tell him...that I made a coonskin cap?  And that...I'm really going to use this knife?  Like, I'm REALLY going to USE it?"
Hilariously, John's short answer was--no.  Which sort of makes sense--why would you explain about this animal and a hat with a tail on it, and Daniel Boone and stuff?  But I also wonder if John thought that this comment--if added to the inevitably inadequate thanks--was just a little too twinkie.  And I think we were all thinking some version of the same thing, that there's no way to properly thank or repay in a moment like this.  And also, that there was no-one at that table who needed a knife more, every day, than the man who had just given his away.

And then the really incredible thing happened.  Sergo--shaved bald head, red t-shirt, red jeep, ex-gun-runner Sergo--stood up.  He pulled his knife out of his belt.  He took it out of the case.  The blade was black and teflon-looking.  And he threw the knife into the table in front of the shepherd, with these words:
"This is yours now."

I can safely say that I had never seen anything like it.  I was agog.  I think we were all agog, and maybe a little tipsy.

When I looked back on it, even later that same day, I tried to work out just what it was that I saw.  Why I thought the same thing wouldn't happen in my country--or at least not where I could see it.  I couldn't help thinking that it was like something from another time.  That maybe throwing the knife into the table is something I would read about Robin Hood doing, or Sir Gawain, as a side-plot to one of those romantic stories.  It was like an example of the old-fashioned "courtesy" we don't really set stock by in the U.S.  I don't think that was the whole shape of it, though.  It's not a question of time, it's a question of...culture, I guess, and it struck me as a matter of the economy there.  Sergo was the most well-off native Georgian there.  John the American ex-pat didn't carry a knife.  When we as a group felt at a loss as to what could happen next, and uncomfortable about how damn rich we all were compared to this Shepherd who said he would give his life for us, it was Sergo's responsibility to step up and make the situation a win-win--to uphold Courtesy or Honor or whatever.  And Sergo's the one who ended up knife-less, BUT he also ended up generous.  I can only imagine that there's some kind of bond between him and the shepherd now.  I got the impression that Sergo is an influential person in that part of Georgia, and I'm ignorant enough not to know what that really entails.  It's probably meals like the one we had that create and maintain that influence.  Or maybe, as more than one person I've told this story to has suggested, they all had a laugh about it after us naive Americans went home, and John paid the actors.

The shepherd pled with us to stay the night.
"I would light a fire beside each one of you!  I would slay animals and we would have such roasted meats!  We would sing songs into the night!"

We were pretty caught up in the moment, and most of us were ready to do it--but in the end, concerns about the cold (ten thousand feet, remember?), our lack of gear, our lack of a way to notify the rest of our group, and--as Sergo took me aside to point out--fleas, put us back on our horses and riding once more past the dogs, over the stream, down the mountain, and back to the guesthouse.  We stopped at a tiny village of stone houses and little girls passed us cups of water to drink.  I was really nervous because I wasn't very good at controlling my horse, and I didn't want those dang adorable kids running around near the hooves, but it was OK.  Surreally, from somewhere in the village some loud music was playing (probably a car stereo, that was a popular method of radio-listening): this Kylie Minogue song.

On the last few hundred yards, John asked the group if it was OK with us to finally let the horses go and gallop back to the guesthouse.  Ho ho ho.  Was it.  It was so exciting--horses apparently enjoy running full speed at the very edge of a steep drop-off, and also gaining on other horses and getting super close to them to pass.  I loved it.  Even the gravel hitting my face made me feel like a badass.  I just hoped they would stop when we got to where we were going, but of course I needn't have worried.  Safe and sound, and breathless, we returned with a story on our lips.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn is over the long leaves that love us

The Falling of the Leaves

Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves'
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.

The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.

William Butler Yeats.



You guys, I can't even handle it.  Look at his soulful eyes...
One time I talked to Tim Eriksen (am I bragging? yes.) and he said maybe we are inescapably doomed to like the music we liked as teenagers.  "I just love punk," he said, trying to sound a little rueful but actually you could tell he regrets nothing.  Is this true of everything, I wonder?  Maybe.  Oh man I love Yeats as much as or more than I did when I was sixteen.
That is OK by me.  My teenage taste was frickenSICKNASTYAWESOME.

Gotta give you another one, it's killing me:


Ephemera

'Your eyes that were once never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lide,
Because our love is waning.'
                                              And then she:
'Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the long border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls a sleep:
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!'

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
'Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.'

The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves 
fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
                                'Ah, do not mourn,' he said,
'That we are tired, for other lovers await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.'

Monday, September 26, 2011

Greenwood Sidey

Anna and I are working on a new crankie (what's a crankie? I'm glad you asked!), and unlike all our other crankies, this one does NOT have a happy ending. The song is Addie Graham's version of "The Cruel Mother" (Child Ballad #20), which she called "The Greenwood Sidey", and it is one DARK, DARK ballad.

Suffice to say it is about haunting and guilt and women's issues. It's new territory for us to explore horror in a crankie. The first one Anna made was about sorrow and war; the ones we've made together have been:
-A landscape/magic shadow for the banjo tune "The Lost Gander"
-A sewn one about the ballad of "Lord Bateman"--like any good comedy, it ends with a wedding.
-Another shadow-paper one about Kentucky fiddler Lella Todd
-And another sewn one (in the works right now) about the ballad "Riddles Wisely Expounded": a Virginia version called "The Devil's 9 Questions". Also somewhat of a comedy.

Also new territory, and this is really exciting, is that for the first time we are making a crankie that depends on drawing. There's going to be a lot of black & red ink, PLUS LINOCUTS. LINOLEUM BLOCK PRINTING!! It's one of my favorite media and I am really amped to be exploring it some more. And to explore it in such a huge way; Anna ordered six 18" x 24" blocks yesterday after we talked through our sketches and established a storyboard.

Addie Graham's version is fairly short. It's much less detailed and graphic than many versions. We're trying to work with this sense of mystery, and at the same time include some of the symbols and images that come with more fleshed-out versions. We have decided to actually show some things that aren't said.

This crankie is an important part of our upcoming show. We are delving deep into a women's voices-granny-kitchen music-quilts & aprons -kind of vibe. And as much as it's about family and comforting and passing on everyday art, it's still important that not everything is saccharine. Old-timey music is not all about being safe, prim, and proper. "Greenwood Sidey" is anything but.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Story of the Amazing Day, Part 2

After our glacial dip, it was time to saddle up again. "Please try to keep the horses together", John translated for us, "because the boy knows the dogs--but the dogs don't know you. We don't want anyone to be attacked." We were going down a slope to the shepherds' camp. Downhill is harder for horses than uphill, I learned. Also, since horses always want to follow their fellows, once one starts to sort of veer off and find its own path down, the rest will too. It was a halting progress, especially with such inexperienced riders as us.

But at last we approached the camp, riding together tight and close. We could hear the dogs barking, but some were hidden in the tall weeds. It was afternoon now, the sun was a little less bright but the grass seemed that much greener. Their living area was defined by a birch fence.

"It's best if you don't leave this area," John said; "if you have to pee, get an escort. It is better to moon a man and pee in peace than to be mauled by a vicious dog." These Caucasian shepherd dogs are really huge affairs with long fluffy white hair. They cut their ears and tails so that when the dogs battle bears and wolves they won't lose a lot of blood from tears. The menacewas a little assuaged by the presence of a truly adorable puppy.


It's a little difficult to describe where these shepherds live. I have been saying "camp", although I'm not really sure how continuously they live there. Certainly they do not "get out" much.


Not sure how to say this. But in the states, we just don't see--or maybe I should speak for myself--I just haven't seen this kind of living. When I think "poverty" I have kind of a vision of a smoky trailer with tires on the roof, crystal meth, babies drinking kool-aid, and a lot of sick dogs with weird-looking inflamed eyes, and maybe a moldy mattress out in a barn somewhere with a mountain of Natty Ice cans. That's my Southwest VA image.

What these Tushetian shepherds have could not be more different. I mean, that smoky trailer I'm talking about probably has a microwave, even a TV. I hesitate to call this Georgian version "poverty" in the same sense. These guys don't have: a roof, electricity, or running water, or a way to get around other than on horseback. The reason we were riding to see them was because there's no road. They didn't have their families there, so I guess it really is kind of a camp, just the men and the dogs and sheep and goats.



Whatever.

Anyway, it was stunningly beautiful up there at 10,000 feet, and you could actually look down across the mountains and see our little hotel/guesthouse amongst the pines. They sat us down at their long outdoor table and brought food; we supplied a large water-bottle full of a clear liquor called chacha (made the way grappa is made, from the skins and stems and pits of grapes), plus cows' horns for drinking toasts. They had us try their fine fine tomatoes, fresh tarragon (so strong it burned my mouth), bread of course, cucumbers of course, cheese of course, and the specialty: their own sour cream. It was truly heavenly, that stuff. "It has lots of things good for your skin", they told us. Partway through our meal they apologized and brought out plates for us to eat on. We hadn't noticed...or to be more specific, maybe I had sort of noticed the red dried gore lingering on the table from probable butchering, but why should that impact this princely feast? We were feeling high as kites, taking in the view, shoveling sour cream into our mouths, and toasting each other with strong drink.




Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Story of The Amazing Day, Part 1



Part 1

The way you get Georgian horses to Go is to say, "achoo!" No lie. And the way you get them to stop is to say, "drrrrrrrrr" rolling your 'r' sound. But the way our young guide said it was to stick his tongue way out of his mouth and kind of go "pbbbbbbbt". And that seemed to work just fine, because he effectively (mostly) stopped our horses from going any faster than a walk. The entire way. A couple of the feistier horses had some exciting breakaway moments, and since horses are SO herd animals, the others would get excited and start running too.*

We went up and up through a tiny village, across a river, past some stone towers, and onto steep narrow little paths up the slopes in the piney-woods. That part was astounding in many ways: the beauty of the forest; the steep drop to the sides; the incredible sense of height and space beyond the close green boughs; the exhilarating strength of the horses, the feeling of them pulling you up and up, sure-footed and muscular and carrying you. The pines turned to a few open meadows surrounded by gnarled old birches. The trees looked really fantastically hoary. I may as well admit it now: there were more than a few times that Georgia made me think of Middle-Earth. After crossing a stream, it really opened up. We were past the tree-line and surrounded by grass, and we could finally see just how high we really were. Green slopes all around, down and down. Far in the distance, dark rocky and snowy peaks. The sky was clear and blue. The sun was strong, strong, strong.

We reached this little glacial lake, and there we got off our horses. Our guides tried to stop the horses from sitting or rolling as often as possible. We didn't understand why until we pulled the totally smushed tomatoes out of the saddle-bags...
Long story short, a few of us mustered our gumption and stripped to underwear, hollered and ran and JUMPED into the green water. It was COLD, deep, and clear. A little water got in my mouth that tasted beautiful. It was a small lake--I easily swam across it floating on my back, feeling clean and glide-y and like Nessie or Excalibur could be lurking below. I was chilled for hours after putting my clothes on over my wet underwear, but it was worth it.


*On my first riding trip, on our way down the mountain, Shergil came thundering down on his horse looking like fricken Lawrence of Arabia/Marlboro Man/other awesome horseback-riding manly men I don't know about. My horse got in on the action and galloped all the way back to the village. Except for trying to hold my hat on with one hand and the reins in the other, it was a feeling not to be beat. How do cowboys keep their hats on?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Great Day


Something wonderful happened to me last week. I took the afternoon off from working at summer camp, and I got in the car with my mom and dad, and we drove to Galax. That's usually wonderful enough. It's a pretty drive, and that town is riddled with good barbecue, music both live and historic, and the best Mexican restaurant within a fifty-mile radius.

But! That day was special. We were going to meet Jim Barnes, a music and radio enthusiast and very tall man. Most exciting, we were going to meet Betsy Rutherford's daughters.

We were all smiling so big to meet each other there, me looking for Betsy in the faces of these women, Jim Barnes so tall, us girls so short. Jim and the three of us--Mom, Dad, and me--talking about what an incredible singer Betsy was. My mother and father talking about listening to the musicians of our area, going to the fiddler’s convention in Galax in the seventies. My Dad took his Betsy Rutherford album back to college in Ann Arbor, Michigan; back to what I imagine as a small round table in a small dark college dorm room where he and his buddies had a continuous bridge game running. He played with the football guys, and the list of allowed LPs was a short one. Motown was unilaterally banned, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan allowed, and because of my Dad the southern boy those Michigan jocks over at the political school were listening to James Taylor and Betsy Rutherford too.


Betsy Rutherford Coffey (1944-1991) was born in Galax, VA and raised in Baltimore, MD. If you remember my post about Fields Ward (specifically his singing of the ballad "Earl Brand", she was his cousin. There were several great mountain musicians hanging in Baltimore at the same time--Ola Belle Reed was one.
There is Betsy in the photo below--the younger, wistful-looking woman. In the foreground is Stella Kimball, who Betsy played music with.


I've said a few times that she was one of the finest voices in traditional music. A great bio on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Betsy-Rutherford/280723351942865?sk=info


I got the chance to say to her daughters, “So many places I go to sing, I talk about your mother.” To tell them how their mother shaped my life by the power of her songs and the way she sang them. When I was a teenager, looking for new songs to sing at the Fiddler's Convention, my Dad played his old LP for me. I remember I liked Joan Baez at the time, I liked James Taylor, and I liked Irish music, and the Beatles. Betsy Rutherford's voice rolled. She had a deep and sweet voice, that could sigh, too. She could rock you--not in a Joan Jett way, but rock your soul. There was so much conviction and passion and reality in the sound. I had read a novel called "Belle Prater's Boy", that featured the song "Tramp On The Street". I thought it sounded sappy; but when she sang it, it was full of this truth.


She sang "Rain and Snow":


I saw her coming down the stairs

Combing back her long yellow hair

And her cheeks were as red as a rose.


I understood so fully, so powerfully, this devastating destructive beauty. I knew what that verse meant.


Lacy said, “Mom was a storyteller, first and foremost.”


Then Heather would pop out with something like, “Ernest Stoneman couldn’t drive!”


We visited the house, met the dogs. In a little wood-paneled room, a mini-archive in Galax, sat DJ John Coffey, who took requests and spun us 78s that made us want to shake a foot. Heather threw back her head and said, "Harvey and Copeland!" and out it came. For many years John made "Christmas albums": exhaustively notated 25-track compilations of traditional music from his vast collection, just for enjoying and giving to the family at Christmastime. My dad got all twilight zone when he saw the stained-glass bathroom door that John put in 20 years ago; Dad just put our stained-glass bathroom door in place a couple months back.



(Betsy Rutherford Coffey, John Coffey.)

Gazing around at the neat stacks of records, drawers full of CDs and tapes, it was obvious--Mr. Coffey is a brilliant scholar. He wrote liner notes for Betsy’s album, before they were married.


Such a big part of this music--and this music is old-time, Appalachian, ballads, folk (it's a dirty word to some, but not to me)--is about legacy. It's about "more than just notes". It's about family and community and history.

Heather talked about being a tiny girl, sitting under the oak tree in the backyard, listening to Betsy and Fields making music together. The two daughters talked about how much they miss that voice, and the wonderful music made around the home. "I wish we'd had a tape recorder then," they said. "That album is such a small part of what Mom sang."


It touched my heart. Heather and Lacy would say, “I just loved to hear Mom sing.” “We always knew she was amazing.” They talked about Fields Ward. Both John and Betsy wrote poems about him. The music of this family has touched me so, that to meet those close to her is a huge gift. We share something that is theirs to share, not mine; but the amazing thing about art is that we both understand. We all understand it. I feel so grateful for that.


Thanks to Jim Barnes and the magic of Youtube, you now have the opportunity to hear her incredible treatment of songs like The West Virginia Mine Disaster and Faded Coat of Blue.

Please keep your eyes peeled for this radio documentary by Jim Barnes about Betsy Rutherford Coffey.



(Heather's hands, The Faded Coat of Blue--blanket made by Betsy Rutherford Coffey.)


(Mom, Dad, Me, Heather, Lacy)


(Me, Lacy; old-timey!)

All photos were taken by me, sometimes of photos belonging to the Coffey family. Please don't reproduce without permission.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oh, Yeah!


By the by, new album out!
At the ever-amazing Elderly Instruments
And coming soon to the Old 97 Wrecords website.
And coming soon to Amazon.

...there is a bonus track. It's a secret!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

So To Speak

Well kids, I'm on the internet!

This kind of rambling is the stuff I would normally reserve for this very blog. But this time, it's on someone else's blog. If you want to know more about how I feel about MUSIC and FEMINISM and stuff, give it a look-see.

This online magazine, So To Speak, is pretty neat. It's really nice of them to do a long long email interview with me.

Here is the link:


Gratuitous picture of my life:

Saturday, August 6, 2011


So in reality the beautiful places I saw in the Republic of Georgia made me appreciate my beautiful home even more.

Below is the region of Svaneti, and the little little bumps on the ridge-line are "Tamar's Castles"--King Tamar was a big dang deal. Since the twelfth century. Tamar was head of a company of warrior women, and that company always rode at the front of the army. When enemies saw them coming, their hair unbound, shrieking, they took fright and ran. Our teacher Ketevan told me this while she was teaching us a song about Tamar. "You are the eye of the world. You are so beautiful--all we can say is that you are like the sun."

...She also told me "Don't sing with your nose! Stop that!"



The Gelati Monastery, at dusk. I wish you could see the swooping swallows in this picture.
This was the first monastery we stopped at, and nothing could have prepared me for the effect of the space. I didn't take any pictures inside--I was too overwhelmed, by the twilight, the incense, the candles, the arched ceiling, the frescoes, and the way the chants arched and grew and traveled in the room. It actually made me stumble as I walked in. I saw other women kneel and kiss the icons, and I understood perfectly why. I wanted to do the same.


It was a place of learning, with a library, flourishing arts. A priest took us up into the observatory (small tower room with a ladder). He showed us a ladder going down, down, into what was once a deep deep well--sometime the monks there had discovered that if you stood in something deep like a well, you could see stars even in the daytime.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Compare and Contrast





the Republic of Georgia, versus:


...the States.

That's not really the whole size of it, of course. But sometimes it seems like Georgia was a dream. Indeed, even while I was there it often seemed like a dream. Moments when I was drinking wine and watching old men drink wine and my heart started to race; when I climbed mountains higher and higher and yet higher; when a woman with a gold tooth got up to dance while she played the accordion one night; as I petted the soft warm bellies of stray puppies who never seemed sad; when I looked over my shoulder to see a tiny woman with a red bandana giving me the thumbs-up over a church wall; listening to ancient chants in ancient churches and noticing the resemblance between the face of my teachers and the face of Mary on the wall.

I found out about the death of Arwen Morgan about halfway through the trip. I had two ways of thinking about this: the first was completely forgetting it because it wasn't real, and the second was crying in public. I cried so much on the plane coming home, because I wasn't distracted anymore, because I wasn't ready leave that gold place, because I didn't want to leave my new friends, because I needed so badly to be back with my family, and because I knew that I was coming closer to everyone who knew Arwen, and then the real grieving would start.

She was beautiful, and she was young. Someone asked me, "was she a musician?" Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Georgia, Starting Abstract

One image I saw often, and like to describe, is this:
The beige stone of a round, pointed church tower, probably built in the sixteenth century. It's laid flat against a hot summer-blue sky. The windows are tall slits, but they don't provide much contrast to the picture. What holds the patient eye is actually motion--little dark birds are whirling and swooping around the tower, seemingly ceaselessly.

So, I spent three weeks in the Republic of Georgia last month, at Village Harmony Music Camp. Many wonderful and interesting things happened there, and one tragic thing happened here in the States during that time.

Instead of stories right now, a few pictures, I think.