McClurg Jam

McClurg Jam

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

I try really hard to restrain myself when it comes to current affairs and politics and economics on this blog. This is not the place for that even though I find myself scared to death over what is happening.

It has been an interesting phenomena for many years now that Old Time and Bluegrass and Folk music has attracted people from different spectrums of thought and philosophy. When Bluegrass became hot in the seventies it was common to see long hairs and "hippie" types at festivals alongside the so called "rednecks" and working class people which this music traditionally arose out of.

For the most part this blending of left and right worked out OK. It was about the music and the other cultural, religious and political stuff was left for other places and times. Many were the young long haired fiddle players who sat at the feet of old farmers and truck drivers who were puzzled by these oddly dressed and coiffed people but delighted to find them interested in the old time fiddle tunes they're folks taught them back in the thirites.

It's still going on but the lines have blurred a little since the sixties and seventies. In Missouri the old working class fiddlers are still there. Most have passed away but a few remain. In the city's nearby, the more urbanized players are keeping the music alive but with a different background and experience. Many of these urban players come from a more "liberal" perspective while the rural players remain more conservative.

Our society has been divided along these lines for some time now. Urban versus Rural. And it matters. The Urban is increasingly driving the cultural directions. Look at so called "Country music". Even in Old Time, John Hartford played around the edges as only he could do and produced some fun recordings that were somewhat popular and influenced alot of upcoming players.

Still, Old Time is still Old Time and the allure of the original is strong and pulls us back to that simple joy of the simple tune. In the end, Hartford devoted his closing years to recording traditional fiddle tunes. When deaths angel is at the door it's time to get serious and he did.

I have perceived that there are at least three cultural orbits that relate to our music here in the greater KC region. Lawrence Kansas, Kansas City/Independence and Little Dixie in Missouri.
Lawrence is the heart of the left wing "hippie" culture old folkie crowd and it's Old Time music scene is now mature and well developed with many instructors and players and bands with a few venues to boot.
Kansas City/Independence is the meeting ground between Little Dixie and Lawrence and you can find folks of every cast among any music gathering and jam. This area is probably best described as urban but other than that you might have a hard time assuming anything else from someone there.
Little Dixie is the area immediately east of Independence Mo. and it has been legendary for it's fiddlers and tradition. This is the homeland, the heartland of the old traditional fiddle tunes for this part of our world. You should not underestimate this cultural phenomena and it's depth. I have heard these folks described as "red necks" and conservative and sometimes crabby.

Maybe these are a bit simplistic descriptions but I think they are valid enough. So this gets to the fragmented nature of our cultural experience of Old Time Music here in NE Ks and NW Mo. Only rarely do these orbits cross pollinate. Only rarely do you see these regions share. It's like there are invisible fences that block them from interacting with each other much.

If I have a dream for our area is that this change someday. I think it has to start here in Kansas City. We need a venue for these folks to come together to experience what we love in music and in turn find each other. I think what is really missing here is vital interaction between folks in these orbits.
If this ever happens I believe we will see the real depth of what is out there in Old Time Music, in our area.

Efforts like the Stringband Rendezvous were good but sadly it may have folded. As I keep harping, we need venues here in Kansas City. We should be seeing players from Little Dixie and Lawrence playing here. We really need to find a way to bring us all together. So far, it's not happening in spite of years of efforts. Lets just keep looking to find ways to bring us together to play our music and to grow our music.

Why is that Gary? Because it's worth it to build something beautiful and satisfying. Because the cultural heritage is alive and well. Because we all need friends with similar interests which in turn lifts us up with encouragement and companionship. Or simply this. I like the old fiddle tunes and want to play them and hear others play them (and much better than I can too)

To conclude:
I don't care if you read Marx or F.A. Hayek or Milton Friedmann or Obama. Lets break out the instruments and PLAY!


  1. I think one of the beauties of old time music is because of the "Lawrence, KC, and Little Dixie" divisions around the country. The divisions are caused by a like-mindedness on whatever demographic level it happens to occur at...typically city/country, young/old, politically conservative/liberal.

    I don't think that a complete breakdown of walls would ever be feasible, but you will find a few that are able to stand at the fringe of each group that can walk between. While I think it's great that some interaction occur I also think it's important for the separation to stand so that old time music doesn't become a homogenized sound where everybody sounds like the Morpheus Supertones or Slate Mountain Ramblers (or the central states comparable popular groups).

    josh in sc

  2. Good comment Josh. Over the years I have had my feet in wildly differing groups of people. I am able to navigate that pretty well after living and working among different folks from Chicago to Doniphan Mo to Mission Ks. Life is richer that way.
    That Old Time music has this cross cultural draw is a gift to us all.

  3. Great Article. I agree!

    (btw i am with F.A. Hayek :-) I perked up just realizing you even knew who that was!!! Most people dont. I think its cool!)

  4. Thanks jeremy! Yes I do know Hayek. I just read his Serfdom book and will read the next one soon.


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