25 FebBluegrass and Bourbon in Kentucky
snow storm! Why today, when we have to fly to Lexington, Kentucky? Argh!”
–Mary, at 7:30 a.m.
As it turned
out, we slipped out of JFK before the storm gained any momentum and, luckily,
the ice and snow didn’t hit Perry County, KY, until after we made the 2.5-hour
drive from LEX. So, safely ensconced in our hotel in Hazard, KY (yes, as in the
70′s TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard”), we were in the heart of coal
country and all that means. We had been delayed leaving LEX, waiting for
Ralph’s flight from ATL, so we didn’t make it to Hazard in time to be on Dean
Osborne’s radio show. But we did have time to find some very good Indian food
and a bottle of bourbon. We were able to tune into Dean’s show in the car for a
while, long enough for Dean to call me. We talked on the radio as we were
driving to get there. By the time we arrived, Dean was heading home to Hyden
and stopped by the hotel for a little visit
2011, Hazard, KY
An 8:30 a.m.
call from Dean Osborne, the Dean of students at the Kentucky
School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. He informed us that the
school had decided to close for the day due to weather conditions, which meant
we wouldn’t be doing a performance that evening. But that shouldn’t prevent us
from doing a lec/dem for the students in the morning. So we headed southwest
about 17 miles to Hyden and the Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC)
Leslie County Center.
We had visited
the school once before, just before it opened. We had come to Lexington at the
invitation of Jim Clark LexArts to do a
TruckStop performance with shape-note singers. We also met up with an old-time group and Dean
Osborne, a bluegrass banjo player and cousin to Sonny and Bobby Osborne of the
immortal Osborne Brothers Band. At the time, Dean had made a decision to “get
off the road” and was heading up the new music school in Hyden. He invited
ETHEL to perform and charge folks up about the new school.
The small facility
is immaculately kept. There is a tremendous pride in what they are doing
there; it is obvious and inspirational. To our surprise, most of the students
showed up to meet with us on a snow day–now that’s enthusiasm!
We had a great time playing and talking with them. After lunch at Dean’s (his house
is just behind the school and across the street), we headed back to school and
did a recording session for a few of the kids who had written some tunes and
were curious how a string quartet might fit in. They all felt certain that a
quartet was needed on their tunes. One boy, Corey May, composed a coda to his
song when he learned we were planning to visit the school. He had never composed
anything before and was pretty thrilled when he heard it played. It was clear
that it wasn’t quite finished, though, and he quickly filled out the cello part
after hearing Dorothy do some filling during our reading.
Tyler, is a talented fiddler and claw-hammer banjo player. He had a haunting
and original recording in which he played an unusual banjo tuning and over-dubbed
fiddle. It was really fun creating a string quartet part for that. Steve Reich
meets moonshine–or something.
Sean had a lovely tune that we did a more traditional sweetening to. And that
was how we spent our snow day. Totally fun!
2011, Hazard, KY
it would open its doors today, which means we’d be able to play our main show
of the trip. Yay! The show was booked as our “Present Beauty” performance,
with the caveat that we’d work in some tunes with some of the students and
Dean. Two groups from the school performed an opening set, which was awesome,
and then we came out and turned everyone on their ear with Terry Riley, Julia
Wolfe and Philip Glass. Next, we invited Dean and Curtis up for a gander
through a tune Neil and I wrote, which Dean dubbed as “The Pretty
Song.” We closed with everyone on
stage for a huge jam on “Deano’s Blues/ Smoke on the Water.” Whew!
The audience really ate up the show. They were thrilled by the new sounds we
brought to the mix and it meant a lot to them that we ventured into their
musical world as best we could.
Thank you, Dean,
for the opportunity to see what you’re doing down there in the hollers and for
inspiring us with your kids’ talents. Oh, and thanks for the bourbon,