end of year tunes with old friends
whatever might be said about 2016, at least it ended right, with visits to some of my dearest musical friends in NC for rejuvenating tunes and chat.
bruce greene and loy mcwhirter live deep in the patton thicket woods area of celo, nc, a couple miles from the farm where i grew up, just across the south toe river and down the road on highway 80. my parents still live there. my aunt does too, now, and my brother and sister have also returned to build homes and raise their families. so, along with the many goats and chickens that enjoy permanent residence despite the farm no longer having commercial operations, the cade homestead is pretty dang full these days. lots of kids, chores, and activity. all fun, but it's hard to find much time to break away. somehow though, on one of the last days of our holiday visit, i managed to find an afternoon to visit bruce and loy in their cozy home, and caught up on some news and played some old tunes. bruce had a new fiddle (bought on ebay of all places). i got a sneak listen to some of a brilliant new CD project documenting tunes that he learned from some old-timers in the south toe valley. it's so good! we began, as we almost always do, with one of the first tunes he taught me as a kid: isham monday's "apple blossom." it's an incredible and timeless tune, well-built enough to suit any season, room, and mood you might find yourself in. (by the way, we've got an entry about recording Apple Blossom in 2014 over on our Tune Journeys page). bruce and i revived a bunch of john salyer tunes, including "lost girl," "barlow knife," and "big-eared mule." i was pleasantly surprised that we had both come up with basically the same interpretation of "little bobby," one that salyer recorded with variety, which i hadn't played in years. we exchanged our pretty different takes on darley fulks' certifiably-insane but strangely-captivating performance piece "the snowstorm," and i almost picked up "somebody's buried in the graveyard" (but have already forgotten who it comes from). bruce's fiddling sounds better than ever, to my ears. the micro-rhythms in his bowing sneak up from unexpected directions, swirl, and accumulate, creating a kind of lift that makes the music seem rise up and circulate around the room. it's dizzying and breathtaking and moving to experience in person.
two days before, i also got a chance to hang out with patrick and cathy sky in nearby spruce pine, nc. i first met pat and cathy around 1996 or 1997 in chapel hill, and for about 5 years, before i moved to new york city and they relocated to spruce pine, i played a whole lot of irish music in their kitchen. i learned tons from them, at a very formative time in my musical life, about the power of a tasteful, pure drop approach to traditional music. it's not just the importance of melody, ornaments, and pace -- though such qualities are critical to making artful music. it's also seeking out the most beautiful and vital tunes and settings, and sharing them with others in your musical community. and it's about approaching this music with lifelong respect and discipline, balanced by humility and humor. eventually, you've got a living language, and when you meet others you can communicate in this deep way through the old tunes.... pat's pipes weren't working when i visited, sadly, but he played his three-string bouzouki as cathy and i rekindled some of our old favorites ("whistling postman," "love at the endings," "grainne's jig," "queen of may," and many more), talked of neighbors and kids, and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that descends and surrounds when longtime musical friends get back together.
goodbye, 2016. here's to more music, with old and new friends, in 2017.
-jason, dec. 31, 2016