Sep 282011

If you know the name “John Hartford,” you are probably a fan. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say they didn’t enjoy the man’s music, imagination, and wit.

Hartford was a fanatic for traditional fiddling, especially the styles from the western side of Appalachia along the Ohio River and down through Missouri toward the middle parts of the U.S. And for all the research and scrutinous study of traditional fiddling, his fiddle had a voice all its own.

The man played banjo with such soul, sweetness, and tone. Among banjo nerds there are all kinds of ideas about Scruggs style versus Keith style versus Fleck and Trischka. The hard-driving classic bluegrass’s and the funky sweetness of jazz and newgrass pickers. Hartford’s banjo sound had its own voice, almost a granfather’s chuckling narrative.

His singing, his lyrics, his stories, his constant dancing and musicality are all over tons of great records. Get out to Amazon or iTunes or a good used CD shop and pick up a couple things by Hartford if you’re unfamiliar. It’s funky, fun,, acoustic, purely American music that defies genre.

Marcy Cochran and Sheila Nichols are two fabulous filmmakers and fiddlers working on a John Hartford documentary. They have piles of primary source material from family, friends, and legendary musicians such as Glenn Campbell and Earl Scruggs. Check out their Kick Starter campaign here and consider lending your support. And check out the trailer here on Youtube. This is great stuff for your ears and your heart.

Jul 072011

You just read a great poem, saw a moving theater performance, or enjoyed an awesome new CD. Perhaps a minute or two is all it takes to give something back to the people who poured imagination and sweat into that creation.
Here are a few practical suggestions on how to give back. I have small and independent artists in mind especially, since those folk depend so much on the grass roots.

  • Send a note: Mention a specific song title. quote a line from the poem. Let the person know what you specifically liked. You might be amazed at how seldom it is sometimes for an independent artist or writer to get fan mail, and it’s a double-treat when the feedback is specific.
  • Buy two: When something really excites your creative side, buy another one to give away. Share a book, sculpture, print, CD, or theater ticket with a friend, especially when birthdays and holidays come around.
  • Muster the forces: Get a few friends together to get out for some live music, theater, or an art show. There could be some good date ideas here too, if you’re looking to get beyond the old dinner and movie thing.

OK, I started the list. Now you can give those things a try, or add other suggestions to the comments. What do y’all think?