Chatham Arts Council: The Bluegrass Experience (Mike Aldridge on mandolin, Stan Brown on banjo, bassist Snuffy Smith, and fiddler Keith Thomas) sometimes performs a song called “Sitting on Top of the World”. The lyrics mention Mississippi and El Paso but where does the band enjoy playing in Chatham County?
Tommy Edwards: It’s a three way tie. We greatly enjoy our anniversary concerts in the Fearrington Village Barn and we dearly love playing for the Bynum Front Porch Series each year. We also enjoy playing at Shakori Hills. The audiences are wonderful at all three venues.
CAC: The Bluegrass Experience does a cover of “The Orange Blossom Special”. Listeners will detect a sound similar to a train in this song. What can you tell us about the prevalence of trains in bluegrass music?
TE: Trains carry a lot of baggage (pun intended) in roots music and have been extremely popular subjects from the earliest country recording right up to today. One of the very first country music stars was “The Singing Brakeman” Jimmy Rogers. Our bass player Snuffy Smith recently noted that of the 30 songs included in a recent Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine airplay chart, 6 were train songs.
Trains represent opportunities for travel, adventure, escape, freedom, personal encounters and so much more. Trains can be a metaphor for our journey through life or just be part of a story about love, loss, or a historical event. Songs such as “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad”, “Big Black Train”, “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town” and “Midnight Run” offer advice for living, caution against a life of sin, tell stories of love and loss and describe a luxurious train that began service during The Great Depression. One of our favorite tunes “The Lightning Express” has little to do with the actual train but provides a setting that shows the kindness that strangers can offer someone who is in distress.
As to “The Orange Blossom Special” it appeals to both musicians and fans on several levels. We love it because each of our the band’s two fiddlers have given it enthusiastic and personal interpretations that not only showcase their artistry and energy but bring excitement to the audience as few other tunes do. And we particularly appreciate that it was written by a fellow North Carolinian, Ervin Rouse who was from the eastern part of our state.
CAC: The Bluegrass Experience has performed a song called “A Beautiful Life”. Listeners will notice gospel influences in that song with a call and response style of delivery. Talk about the historical significance of this kind of lyric in the context of bluegrass.
TE: Sacred music has always been an important part of bluegrass music. Most of the pioneers of bluegrass hailed from religious traditions that valued music in their worship activities. Some even came from denominations that prohibited instrumentation but allowed singing. Therefore acapella performances have become standard in the genre. And the harmonies in church singing have found their way into many secular musical expressions as well. The call and response songs permitted church singing leaders to lead congregations in songs even if printed materials were not available to them. I imagine that a large percentage of the most traditional bluegrass singers would tell you their first public performances were in a choir or singing group at their church. I know mine was!
CAC: Recently the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) hosted “Wide Open Bluegrass 2016” in Raleigh. What was the highlight of this weekend for The Bluegrass Experience?
TE: That’s an easy one as The Bluegrass Experience has performed at each of the World of Bluegrass’s Street Festivals and each time we have had a most enthusiastic reception. Since we aren’t a touring band it makes us feel really good when we have several thousand people cheering us on! Outside of that, we always enjoy visiting with our friends, some of who we only see once a year at the festival and we get to meet and make new friends as we move about the festival sites. Hearing our heroes and friends perform is always a treat, too.
CAC: The arts council appreciates this opportunity to present this concert as a fundraiser to help fulfill our mission of investing in artists and educating kids through the arts. What part of our work is near and dear to your heart?
TE: The arts council provides many services that stimulate Chatham County’s economy, encourage arts education, foster appreciation for the arts, help artists to find ways to market their art and in other ways enrich the lives of our citizens. Administering Grassroots Arts Grants, sponsoring ClydeFEST, supporting arts in the schools and publishing the monthly e-newsletter with its events and artist profiles are just a few of the ways the Chatham Arts Council elevates the arts and shares them with our citizens. We sincerely hope that our efforts will help raise funds that will assist the organization in continuing its important work.
Go See This: Pickin’: The 45th Anniversary Concert of the Bluegrass Experience sponsored by Opus Financial Services, Inc.
Who: Special Master of Ceremonies – William Lewis, Executive Director of Pinecone
When: Sunday, November 13, 3 p.m.
Where: Fearrington Barn, Fearrington Village Pittsboro, NC 27312
How Much: Adults – $15 in advance / $20 at the door. Kids 3-12 – $8. Buy advanced tickets at McIntyres Books or online.
For More Info: www.ChathamArtsCouncil.org / 919-542-0394
Accessibilty: Accessible parking and facilities
At publication time, sponsorships are still available. More info available at the online ticket link or call the Chatham Arts Council, 919-542-0394.