BONUS TRACKS: Bluegrass’ Big Week, Timely Singles, and Fat Bears
Sarah Jarosz gives the keynote speech to open the International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass week.
Like everything else this year, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass conference and festival has had to shift online, so instead of rambling from show to show in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, and crowding around jams in hotel hallways this week, I’m parked in front of my computer (just 15 minutes south of downtown Raleigh). I’ve heard some great music and learned a lot in the business conferences, and as always I’ll come away energized about the future of this traditional music that isn’t afraid to blaze new trails. Sarah Jarosz, quite appropriately, pointed the way forward in her keynote speech Monday.
“As bluegrassers, it’s sometimes easy to feel like we’re a part of a small club, and it’s better if outsiders stay away lest they tarnish the finely tuned tradition,” she said. “But in my mind, if we’re able to shift our focus to think about bluegrass and its musicians as a community and not a club, then we’re on to something. Bluegrass as a tradition is more likely to be treasured and preserved and grow and thrive if it’s sung from the mountaintops, not just the front porch.”
Whether you’ve got your bluegrass bonafides or you’re a little frightened of fiddles, you’re bound to hear something you’ll like if you tune into IBMA Bluegrass Live! today and tomorrow. The festival’s video performances can be watched free; head to worldofbluegrass.org/festival for schedule and to register for a free Music Pass. The lineup includes Sierra Hull and Molly Tuttle performing together, Jerry Douglas with gospel and folk singer (and registered nurse!) Odessa Settles, Tommy Edwards and Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin, Steep Canyon Rangers, Dom Flemons, and Mountains of Infamous Leftovers (members of Yonder Mountain Stringband, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Leftover Salmon).
Artists stuck at home these many months have had lots of time to think, and, when inspiration strikes, create. Sometimes what results is too timely, too important to sit on, and we get treated to a single. Two came blazing in this week that we’re playing on repeat. First, Amanda Shires, with Jason Isbell, portrays a very real, very tough conversation about abortion on “The Problem.” The song landed on Sept. 28, International Safe Abortion Day, and proceeds from its sales benefit The Yellowhammer Fund, a reproductive justice group based in Alabama.
And swooping in like the superhero she is, Ani DiFranco released “Do or Die,” a call for voting, for participating, for speaking out — all the things that keep a democracy free and functional. Check out the video, which features the New Orleans Dance Collective and Dancing Grounds.
Bandcamp announced this week that it will continue Bandcamp Fridays through the rest of 2020. Today and each first Friday of the month since the start of the pandemic, Bandcamp has waived its cut of sales, maximizing the money going to artists. It’s a great time to buy music, and artists, labels, venues, and others have started releasing special albums just for the occasion. One you won’t want to miss is Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy, Volume 2. The 77 (!!) tracks are unreleased songs and performances from a wide range of artists, including Pearl Jam, Black Pumas, Yola, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Andrew Bird, Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell, Old 97s, and Jason Isbell. If you’re interested, be quick — it’s available today only!
I’d love to get through one of these columns without having to share news of people who’ve passed away, but it’s not happening this week. Take a moment to read up on the vast songwriting credits from Mac Davis, who wrote songs for just about everyone, including Elvis Presley (“In the Ghetto”), as well as for himself (“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me”). And Helen Reddy’s legacy will forever roar with her 1972 hit “I Am Woman.”
WHAT WE’RE LISTENING TO
Here’s a sampling of the songs, albums, bands, and sounds No Depression staffers have been into this week:
More bluegrass than you can shake a fiddle bow at, including this year’s World of Bluegrass performers as well as a classic, Tony Rice
Sylvan Esso – Free Love
Brandi Carlile – A Rooster Says (a Record Store Day 12-inch paying tribute to Soundgarden with covers of “Black Hole Sun” and “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”)
The Unrighteous Brothers (Orville Peck and Paul Cauthen) – “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”
The peaceful sounds of rushing water as we obsessively watch the live webcam of brown bears from Katmai National Park in Alaska during Fat Bear Week.
Steve Poltz – “Quarantine Blues,” providing some much-needed humor and real talk (along with a dash of TMI) right on time.