Author: Campbell, Bruce

Music for the Mountains

By the time you read this, I will be on my way to a brief camping trip in the Sierras. “But Bruce!”, you cry. “Where’s the bluegrass content?”

I have pondered this, and the connection is obvious. Is there ANY form of music so perfectly suited to the great outdoors than bluegrass? I think not. Being acoustic-based, it has an advantage over most other forms. Hard rock music doesn’t necessarily go well with hard rocks. Ditto electric pop music. I bet the guys in Steely Dan never even owned a tent or a sleeping bag! You know darn well Lemmy from Motorhead doesn’t have a Coleman lantern. Why would he?

Other forms of music are generally evocative of urban settings. Jazz, for example, may be played acoustically, but it’s a music born of city streets and smoky clubs. It’s nearly impossible to picture Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis camping in the mountains.

A lot of blues comes right from real country roots, but it rarely celebrates those roots. The earliest blues players were trying to get OUT of the country. Robert Johnson, a true delta blues pioneer sang longingly of “Sweet Home Chicago”. The fact that he thought Chicago was in California doesn’t even matter in this discussion.

Folk music has some good outdoorsy stuff, I guess, but it seems to lack the spunky ruggedness that bluegrass embodies. The defiant ring of Scruggs style banjo picking is perfectly suited to granite spires rising up, just as defiantly, from a mountain meadow. And the sweet tones of a fiddle are perfectly consonant with a meandering stream through the same meadow.

Let’s carry the juxtaposition even further. If I were to peer closely at an early photo of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and saw John Muir on the doghouse bass, well, I wouldn’t be surprised one iota. Sitting around a campfire, idly stirring the coals with a stick would come naturally to either Muir or Monroe. If Ike Turner or Benny Goodman suddenly joined the circle, we’d be awful surprised. They’d be welcome, of course, but you know they’d have to borrow marshmallows from somebody - they wouldn’t think to bring their own.

No, bluegrass lends itself to clear air, burbling streams, green valleys and craggy peaks better than any music I can think. I probably won’t risk one of my instruments on this trip, but I will be thinking of them. And when I come back, I will head straight for the Good Old Fashioned Festival, and you can bet I’ll be channeling some of that high mountain sensibility when I pick or sing.

Posted:  8/10/2011

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