About once a month, I fill in for Peter Thompson (no relation) to host Bluegrass Signal on San Francisco's KALW. This is a great treat for me; I love building sets of music around a theme or concept, finding an order with the smoothest transitions, and of course discovering great new music. It's also a great pleasure to help spread the word about upcoming events in the area.
Every September, hundreds of fiddle- and banjo-loving fools flock to the Bay Area for the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention. The BOTMC consists of many events spread out over five days: concerts, workshops, jams, dances, even a stringband contest. The booking for this festival is always phenomenal, and, this year being no exception, I wanted to highlight the performers on the bill for BOTMC 2017 in this week's program.
I programmed a show with a similar concept before last year's convention, in which every track played came from one of that year's performers (plus a few from Bill Evans, who also had a big show coming up -- to check out the full playlist click here and scroll down). This year, I decided to mix it up a little and test out some theme ideas I've been considering for future shows.
The show opens with a four-song set of what I've been calling "Southwest Bluegrass." There's a certain sound that sneaks into bluegrass music from time to time that's quite different from the Appalachian mountain music that provides the main foundation for the style. Whatever the source, whether it's cross-pollination from Western Swing or the obsession with the Latin beat that pervades 1940's and 50's pop music, I'm fascinated by this rhythmic and melodic infiltration that persists to this day. I picked out some of my favorites from the list I'm compiling, plus a track from Del Rey and Suzy Thompson's new CD, Communiqué. The humor of playing Hoot And Holler's "Goodbye Boozy Suzy" right before "See You In Seaview" from Del & Suzy was not lost on me, although I defend that transition as more than just a cheap joke.
Once while driving through a radio-poor area in rural Vermont I happened to encounter the hilariously-titled Tim McGraw song "Drugs or Jesus" (click at your own risk). The song itself didn't really resonate with me, but one line in the first verse really stuck with me: "It's a long long way from wrong to right / From Sunday morning to Saturday night." The song is all about how you have to choose one or the other, but I got caught on the idea that there was a space between the revels of Saturday night and the sanctity of church Sunday morning. "A long long way," and yet really no time at all passes. It seems to me that country music (and bluegrass, too) exists in that space, with one foot in the honky-tonk and the other behind a pew. That tension reflects our humanity, and it's one of the things that keeps me coming back to this music.
For my meditation on the "Saturday night/Sunday morning" theme, I drew on BOTMC alums, including Foghorn Stringband, who will be returning to the Convention this year. Their version of the Carter Family's "Gospel Ship" is a favorite of mine. Fun fact: the Foggies have an enormous tour van they call the Gospel Ship!
Putting together the rest of the show was pretty effortless. There are so many great performers coming to the Convention this year; it was just a matter of picking out my favorite tracks and trying to group them by some common thread. A couple of highlights:
I try to keep my on-air blathering to a minimum, so there's a lot of thoughts and research that go into a show that I never wind up sharing. I'm hoping to use this blog as a supplement to my on-air commentary, an enrichment for the extra-nerdy listeners out there!
To stream the show live online, visit KALW.org between 6:30 and 8 pm Pacific, Saturday September 2nd. The show will be archived until Saturday September 9th; click here and then select "Bluegrass Signal."
BOTMC PREVIEW – 9/2/2017
LOUVIN BROTHERS: Southern Moon/A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers (Capitol/60)
KATHY KALLICK BAND: In Texas/Foxhounds (Live Oak/15)
HOOT AND HOLLER: Goodbye Boozy Suzy/Reasons to Run (self/17)
DEL REY & SUZY THOMPSON: See You In Seaview/Communiqué (Hobemian/17)
FOGHORN STRINGBAND: Gospel Ship/Outshine The Sun (self/12)
GINNY HAWKER & TRACY SCHWARTZ: Climbing Up the Golden Stairs/Draw Closer (Rounder/04)
CANOTE BROTHERS: What Did I Do With That Thinga-Ma-Jig/Thinga-Ma-Jig (Clone Tone/98)
BUCKING MULES: My Wife Died On Saturday Night/Smoke Behind the Clouds (Free Dirt/17)
ANNA & ELIZABETH: Lovin’ Babe/Anna & Elizabeth (Trade Roots Music Group/15)
DAVID BRAGGER: Kiss Me Quick, My Papa’s A-Coming/Big Fancy (Old Time Tiki Parlor/15)
MOLSKY’S MOUNTAIN DRIFTERS: Old Kimball/Molsky’s Mountain Drifters (Tree Frog/16)
FOGHORN STRINGBAND: Columbus Stockade Blues/Devil in the Seat (self/15)
RED MOUNTAIN: Barnyard Dance/Throw the Old Cow Over the Fence (Whoop It Up/09)
DEL REY & SUZY THOMPSON: Everybody Two-Step/Communiqué (Hobemian/17)
BEN HUNTER & JOE SEAMONS WITH PHIL WIGGINS: Shanghai Rooster/A Black & Tan Ball (self/17)
MOLSKY’S MOUNTAIN DRIFTERS: Free Little Bird/Molsky’s Mountain Drifters (Tree Frog/16)
KIM JOHNSON: Dunbar/Keepers (Buffalo Skinner/09)
WB REID & BONNIE ZAHNOW: Katie Dear/Poca River Blues (Padsnug/07)
MODOCK ROUNDERS: Barlow Knife/Home Music (Buffalo Skinner/16)
ANNA & ELIZABETH: Won’t You Come And Sing For Me/Anna & Elizabeth (Trade Roots Music Group/15)
DAVID BRAGGER: Jingle at the Window, Tidy-O/Big Fancy (Old Time Tiki Parlor/15)
DAVID BRAGGER: Cripple Creek, Going to the Free State, Big Fancy/Big Fancy (Old Time Tiki Parlor/15)
FOGHORN STRINGBAND: Over the Garden Wall/Outshine The Sun (self/12)
MOLSKY’S MOUNTAIN DRIFTERS: Isambard’s Waltz/Molsky’s Mountain Drifters (Tree Frog/16)
ANNA & ELIZABETH: Voice from on High/Anna & Elizabeth (Trade Roots Music Group/15)
DEL REY & SUZY THOMPSON: Monongahela River Waltz/Communiqué (Hobemian/17)