Bluegrass Music: A Retrospective

Since we live in the country, the back roads are teeming with life. There are creatures I imagine that the rangers at the local nature center, near my civil war built farmhouse, would find a bit unnerving. Let me say this—if you have never caught an opossum in your headlights, you have never experienced the mystique (not X-Men) of nature.

Driving in the pitch dark which resides before sunrise, I was surfing the radio stations and came across a bluegrass station. Yes, there are bluegrass stations in my Northern woods—I may add a lot of country western fans as well. The county fairs testify to that fact.

My music tastes are eclectic, but bluegrass is not one that I would tend to listen to. The words in bluegrass and country songs touch the human experience—joys and sorrows; love won and lost; fragile human relationships; death and reunions in the great beyond; the hollows of triumphs and defeats; moonshine and Sunday meetings…

These themes carry a lot of emotion. If I remember right, bluegrass music came out of the Great Depression in the Appalachian Mountains. The Great Depression was a time of fervent emotion for many people. To get together on a Saturday to share food, dance and sing was an American pastime when times of innocence prevailed.

Banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and fiddle playing filled the night avenues in these valleys of Appalachia. It was a time to leave one’s troubles and fears at home and come together to enjoy a few hours of wholesome fun.

I am sure some country gin was on hand also. In case you don’t know what country gin is—it is mountain moonshine, the white lightning of the mountains. There were a lot of canning jars from grandma’s cupboard that grandpa would “borrow” to store his mountain brew—as my grandfather referred to it—“the dew of heaven.” Well, let’s not fault these folks and their quaint customs. Theirs was a simple life of the mountain valleys during a time of great misery.

And I am sure the mountain creatures would pause and take a listen. For after the humans were done with their gaiety, the creatures would move in to clean up the leftovers—a used corncob still has plenty left on it for a raccoon or for sanitary purposes in the outhouses dotting the valley walls.

Anyway, perhaps, I will give bluegrass another listen on a dark morning on country roads. Listed below are two songs from the tradition.

G. D. Williams © 2013

POST 518

East Virginia—Tom Roush

I was born in East Virginia,
North Carolina I did roam.
There I met a pretty lady;
Her name and age I do not know.

Her hair it was of a brightsome color
And her lips of ruby red.
On her breast she wore white lilies;
There I longed to lay my head.

Well, in my heart you are my darlin’,
At my door you are welcome in.
At my gate I’ll meet you, my darlin’;
If your love I could only win.

I’d rather be in some dark holler
Where the sun refused to shine
Than to see you be another man’s darlin
And to know that you’ll never be mine.

Well, in the night I’m dreaming about you,
In the day I find no rest.
Just the thought of you, my darlin’,
Sends aching pain all through my breast.

Well, when I’m dead and in my coffin
With my feet turned towards the sun
Come and sit beside me, darlin’,
Come and think of the way you’ve done.

Emmylou Harris—Wayfaring Stranger

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go

I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

High Lonesome—The History of Bluegrass Music