Hooked on Bluegrass
My bluegrass journey starts on Long Island, New York … May 31st, 1958…my earliest memories from home … ( 1963 ??? … I was then 5 years old…) was a home filled with the sounds of music… my Parents had all these music albums ( 33 RPM’s back in those days ) the collection included : Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Peter , Paul and Mary, The Weavers, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Broadway show albums : Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story… several Israeli Folk and Klezmer albums.
My Mom, although not a musician, loves the sound of the banjo… she got a collaboration album : Banjo Greats : who was on it ??? ……. My foggy mountain memory struggles here … Eric Weisberg, Doug Dillard, David Lindley, Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger ( ? )… as I learned to play the stereo turntable myself , I listened to that album over and over and over.
They were members of an every – week square dance club …everyone in the official outfits, women with the puffed out dresses, men in long – sleeve Western shirts and boots…this was LONG ISLAND 1965, and being ”Western” was not yet officially “cool”.
Our local neighbor, Lee Kopman ( Internationally known in square dance circles for original choreography ) was the live “caller”. Every week, they would drag us kids to the dance, and Lee would call the dance steps – live… all the time spinning the hottest square dance tunes on his 45 rpm record player. Us kids even had to join the action, as the “kids” dancers, we had our own little costumes, too…being a member of a “dancing club ” was NOT part of the equation of “ coolness “ for a pre- teen… even if I did get to hold hands with a girl – square – dancer.
In summer, Nassau County Parks would run these outdoors acoustic music shows, and we were there with our folding chairs, blankets and picnic coolers !!!
We would get together each summer with 5 or 6 other families ( the square dancing crowd )for the family summer vacation, usually a rustic cabins kind – of – place – on - a – lake – near - hiking - trails … Coastal Maine was their perennial choice. I had started playing banjo at 8 years old, and I kid you not the families would gather together for jamming / sing alongs !!! Us kids were playing : banjo / mandolin / fiddle / guitar… Parents I remember they were playing dulcimer / banjo / guitar / singing along … they were into clogging dancing too , while we were playing … our repertoire : Folk / Jewish Folk songs/ bluegrass … Dooley / MTA / This Land is Your Land / Little Maggie / Cripple Creek…
I remember going to the first ever Long Island Bluegrass “Festival”. It was indoors , at Sunrise Mall…2 or 3 bands…no mics – no amps … about 15 of us fans sitting on the tile floor in front of some stores…
One year we drove all the way to Asheville, North Carolina for summer vacation…we saw several bands do a show , the theatre had no air conditioning – giant – sized hand held fans were a popular item in the crowd… who played (?) I can’t remember all the groups… but I’m confident one of the bands was Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys… I was 9 years old (?) …
In my high school group we were all heavy – duty “Dead – heads” ( Grateful Dead) …when the Old and In The Way ( original cartoon cover ) record came out, I was like “ WOW !!! Hey guys listen to THIS “…they all laughed, as to them it was “hillbilly- corny”. Well, the laugh’s on them of course, as OAITW is one of the best selling bluegrass albums of all time.
The early - influences - bluegrass story does not stop there … our local library, where I spent many a Saturday afternoon working on school projects … The Levittown Public Library.
Matthew R. Coleman
Host of: The Acoustic Eclectic Jam (Internet radio show), Fridays 6 – 8 pm PST
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