Author: Evans, Bill

But itís a DRY flatÖGreetings from Levelland, Texas

This is the time of year that I find myself making my annual pilgrimage to South Plains College in Levelland, Texas for Camp Bluegrass. Now in its 24th year, Camp Bluegrass was created by guitarist and mandolin player Joe Carr, Joeís wife Paula and banjo picker extraordinaire Alan Munde. Joe and Alan played together in the bluegrass band Country Gazette in the 1980ís before coming to Levelland to teach bluegrass music as part of the two-year degree program in Popular and Country Music at South Plains College. Alan retired from the college several years ago while Joe remains on staff as the point man for the collegeís very successful bluegrass program.

I teach at many camps literally all over the world, from the California Bluegrass Associationís Music Camps to the Sore Fingers Bluegrass Week in England and itís fascinating to note the geographical and cultural differences in the people that attend these various camps. These differences provide insight into how various parts of the world define and appreciate bluegrass music in different ways.

Sociologists and anthropologists often take into consideration how topography and weather determine how people interact and the direction in which culture, including art, is created. Levelland is named such for a reason: itís pretty darn flat in these here parts. As Alan Munde told us in our van ride on Sunday night from the Lubbock airport to Levelland, ďItís flat out here, but at least itís a dry flat!Ē As you can imagine, itís also hot. And of course, it is indeed a very dry heat, especially when compared to a hot humid Virginia summer at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Agriculture plays a big role in the economy out here and itís not unusual to have students at camp who are real farmers and real cowboys. Itís also not unusual to meet real honest-to-goodness preachers, preachersí wives and preachersí kids out in this part of the world, in addition to folks associated with the cattle and oil industries. Like the high tech workers that Iím more familiar with out here in California, these folks want to learn the music just as badly as anyone else and they carry a similar obligation to pass along the music to future generations. From year to year, lots of kids attend Camp Bluegrass, where they have a separate kids program of instruction. And like the young people out in California, the kids here in Texas are shaping bluegrass in their own way, adding their own individual stamp.

The legacy of Western Swing looms large in this part of the world. While bluegrass, with all of its unique qualities, is seen as something distinct from other country music styles, most of the good players around here also know well and love deeply Western Swing, the native music of Texas. As itís usually played among older musicians, Southwest bluegrass reveals the influence of Western Swing in song material, jazzy instrumental chops and a relaxed attitude towards performance that puts the emphasis on maximum fun (while still showcasing dazzling musicianship).

It all adds up to an irresistible combination Ė and even though the temperatures are hovering around 90 degrees, it is indeed a very dry heatÖand a very dry flat. But the music and people are anything but. Iím glad Iím here!

All the best,
Bill Evans
Posted:  7/23/2010

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