Old-Time Music: Captain America’s Adventures in Dittyville
On the fourth day of July I took a southbound train and sat across the aisle from a famous superhero. With temperatures expected to soar into the mid-90s, his red, white, and blue latex head-to-toe costume did not seem to be the best option, nor did the bulky round shield he navigated to fit into the empty seat next to him. As I looked around, I estimated that eight out of ten passengers on the crowded train were staring at their devices while listening to music or podcasts, unfazed in the presence of Captain America, who also was plugged in. The mask he wore covered his entire head, nose, and mouth, allowing you to see only his eyes. Every now and then he’d pull it down just a bit to scratch a scruffy beard. For much of the ride I tried to imagine what sort of music the good Captain might be listening to and whether the latex over his ears distorted or muted the sound. And I highly doubted that he — nor anyone else in that car — was listening to the same old-time music that was being pumped into my own aural cavities.
The dictionary defines bogtrotter as a mildly insulting epithet, which led me to spend too much time researching exactly what a bog is. If you’re interested, it’s a wetland that accumulates peat, and they are either classified by their location in the landscape and source of water or by their nutrients. The next time you visit Latvia you might want to check out the Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk, which may not offer the same thrills as Atlantic City or Venice Beach. That aside, the video above is from a band neither Irish nor Latvian, but that represents some of the finest old-time music from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. As they explain it on their website, “The Galax Bogtrotters are one of a number of local bands over the last century to use the bogtrotters nickname for the Scotch-Irish settlers who migrated to America to find a better life. The first band to embrace the term was the original Bogtrotters — a popular group in the 1930’s featuring fiddler Uncle Eck Dunford.”
Old Time Jubilations was released a little over a year ago and I recently came across it as I was making my way through the various projects of Erynn Marshall, the Canadian-born old-time fiddle player, teacher, and ethnomusicologist who is now based in Galax, Virginia, along with her husband and musical partner Carl Jones. For this project he plays mandolin and they are joined by Eddie Bond doing vocals, fiddle, and banjo; Bond’s wife, Bonnie, on bass; and Eric Hill playing guitar. These videos were shot during their 2017 tour of Australia, and Joseph Dejarnette is subbing on bass. Every track on the album showcases a tight and energetic band of virtuoso players, and it’s interesting to note that this is somewhat of a side project since each member also performs solo or with other musical configurations.
If you are fans of Jason and Pharis Romero there’s a good chance that Erynn Marshall is a familiar name, as she was the third member of The Haint’s Old Time Stringband, which released only one album, back in 2009, titled Shout Monah. Erynn’s move to Virginia allowed her to fully immerse herself in the culture, history, and musical traditions of the area, and along with Carl they established Dittyville, a state of mind as much as it is a website, that lets them offer online lessons for fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and post their extensive itineraries. They actively perform at the ever-growing number of old-time music festivals that span the globe and they each lead classes and seminars at summer camps that offer anyone the opportunity to learn from the masters.
That’s an original song written by Carl, and it appears on their first “official” duet album. Sweet Memories … never leave which came out in 2015. They each have released solo, duet, and ensemble albums, produced two instructional DVDs, and are currently working on their own books. The aforementioned online classes can easily be accessed through Concert Window and are downright cheap, with a minimum donation of only $10.
As it turns out, Captain America is himself an old-time throwback who first appeared in 1940 as a patriotic supersoldier who fought the bad guys in World War II and even punched Adolf Hitler in the nose. Over the decades the story arcs have changed, his comic books have had three different publishers, he died and was reborn, and for a time he resided in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, which is also the home of the Jalopy Theater and School of Music. Being New York’s epicenter of traditional music, it may not be so farfetched to imagine that my train companion was also tappin’ his toes to an Appalachian tune. Brothers in arms, all is well down in Dittyville.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed.