Author: DJB

Saturday Soundtrack: Mark O’Connor

The 15th anniversary issue of Fretboard Journal* landed in my mailbox this week, just in time to reacquaint me with an old friend: Mark O’Connor. It was a welcome reunion. First, because I discovered that O’Connor — one of the most inventive string musicians of this era — has returned to playing guitar, after a twenty year break that was required by the pain of bursitis and tendonitis. Then I also found his Improvising Toward Democracy solo fiddle pieces on the internet. As he tell his listeners, “I am recording an improvisation on my violin each day, until our country is safe from the clutches of Trumpism, Cultism, Conspiratorialism, Racism and Authoritarianism. I will record a new violin improvisation each day as a form of a sincere musical prayer until Biden/Harris are voted in to the White House ensuring that Americans will retain our hard-fought democracy. I have been given a musical gift, so I will use this in service to my country and our Republic each day now. When I improvise in this manner …

Listening

Listen in order to move out of your comfort zone

For some unknown reason (he smiles), I had the urge — following last evening’s debate of vice presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Mike Pence — to return and read two of my previous posts* on listening. I had a special need to reconnect with my pleas for white men in power to stop talking and listen. Of course, if you follow the news or watched any of the debate, you know why this subject needs addressing. Vice President Pence talked all over the two women on the stage: Senator Harris and the moderator Susan Page. News reports suggest that he interrupted Harris twice as much as she interrupted him, and he repeatedly went over his time limit, ignoring the pleas of the moderator. Yes, he was marginally more “polite” than President Trump was in last week’s debate. But I personally find the Vice President to be very passive aggressive — standing as both victim and condescending persecutor — and he used that persona last evening to act as if the rules didn’t apply to him. …

Honoring Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer, who was born on this date in 1917, was a voting, women’s, and civil rights advocate from Mississippi who shared more wisdom, in fewer words, than just about anyone I have ever studied. Her bio is full of leadership roles and “firsts”: co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, organizer of the Mississippi Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office. These are exceptional achievements for anyone, but Hamer had to overcome steep odds all her life. She was the 20th and last child of sharecroppers Lou Ella and James Townsend, growing up in poverty. At age six Hamer joined her family picking cotton; by age 12, she left school to work. She married Perry Hamer in 1944 and the couple worked on the Mississippi plantation owned by B.D. Marlowe until 1962. Because Hamer was the only worker who could …

Let’s stop celebrating a past that never existed. Instead, let’s understand and honor the one that did.

I first stood at Jamestown as a history-enthralled 11-year-old. The picture of the 17th century ruin of the church tower, abutted to the 1907 Memorial Church, is seared in my mind. I also remember the water lapping at the nearby shore, serving as a reminder that the people at Jamestown had the most tenuous of toeholds on this continent in those early years. While I didn’t know it at the time, the narratives of life in early 17th century Virginia — told by the guides, the plaques that lined the walls of the 1907 church, and the books I devoured — were incomplete and sometimes egregiously false. White Christian Europeans were the focus. If they were mentioned at all, Native Americans, along with the enslaved African Americans who began arriving against their will at Jamestown in 1619, were small, dependent actors; impediments, if you will, to the greater story of the colonists and settlers and the shaping of what it meant to be an “American.” Those Europeans were not home. They were the outsiders. Yet …

Saturday Soundtrack: Matt Flinner

Matt Flinner is the top-shelf mandolinist and composer not enough people know. At least not in the way that music fans know that force of nature Chris Thile, or the Energizer Bunny clone Sam Bush, or the genre-bending trail-blazer David Grisman. But musicians have long been aware of this quiet master, who, in the words of the Associated Press, “blurs the lines between jazz and bluegrass, traditional and avant-garde” with the best of them. Flinner’s website bio showcases just how in-demand he is as a musician. “Multi-instrumentalist Matt Flinner has made a career out of playing acoustic music in new ways. Starting out as a banjo prodigy who was playing bluegrass festivals before he entered his teens, Flinner later took up the mandolin, won the National Banjo Contest at Winfield Kansas in 1990, and took the mandolin award there the following year. Since then, he has become recognized as one of the premiere mandolinists as well as one of the finest new acoustic/roots music composers today. He has toured and recorded with a wide variety …

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!

President Jimmy Carter turned 96 years old today, and that’s worth a celebration! It also brings back some personal memories. The 1976 campaign, when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter took on the incumbent Gerald Ford, was the first time I was eligible to vote for president. A few weeks before Election Day, I was in Philadelphia as a young college student studying history and historic preservation, attending the National Trust Annual Preservation Conference — the first of 41 I attended over my career. Philadelphia in 1976 moved me. I loved exploring a real city, a gritty city at the time, with my friends and classmates. It was so different than Murfreesboro or even Nashville. We ate food that had never before passed my Southern lips and heard strange accents that sounded foreign to my ears. I was able to see and touch Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall, iconic places that I had explored only in books as my interest in the past expanded and deepened. Being in the room where the delegates debated concepts such …

Dinos on the Montana Landscape

UPDATED: How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

Editors Note: Originally posted on May 5, 2019, here we are on September 30, 2020, the day after the first presidential “debate”, and this is the “egg on my face” update. Who knew that good old 77-year old Joe Biden would be JUST what the country needed in 2020 to face down a bullying, narcissist, misogynistic, racist con man? Apparently a lot of older, female, and/or black voters who understood that basic decency, competence, and a long career of public service would be an effective counterweight to Donald Trump. So I take back the concerns I was feeling because Biden wouldn’t step aside for the next generation and salute him for his courage and stamina. I feel he’s taking one for the country. While I still think the basic premise of this post holds, I will admit to both exceptions to the rule and errors on my part. Sometimes it’s hard to say good-bye. Last week, former Vice President Joe Biden—at 76 years of age and counting—became the twentieth announced Democratic candidate for President.  As …

Defining our democracy

“The good things in our nation did not come about by chance, and they will not be preserved by indifference.” The Rev. Dr. Deborah Meister I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Keeping a democracy takes work. Disuse of democracy by a careless majority is cause enough for worry in a world of constant struggle between tyranny and freedom. But when that indifference is coupled with a deliberate effort by a wealthy minority to undermine the public good for private gain, we find ourselves at a point where Americans are in danger of having government by the people smothered by an oligarchy focused on the enrichment of the few and the repression of those who disagree with them. America as an idea is a work in progress, with an eye on the prospects for the future. At our best, we are always growing, always becoming, as we move toward that more perfect union. But we are not always at our best. The history that really happened, as opposed to the history we’ve told …

Saturday Soundtrack: Mandolin Orange

I first heard the North Carolina folk duo Mandolin Orange at the 2014 Red Wing Roots Music Festival and was instantly smitten. I wrote then that singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz “crafted songs that were  simple yet compelling.” Over the years the band has continued to produce warm, intimate music even as they became more widely known and played larger venues such as Red Rocks in Colorado and The Ryman in Nashville. Their most recent studio project, Tides of a Teardrop, debuted at #1 on four different Billboard charts ( Heatseekers, Folk / Americana, Current Country Albums and Bluegrass) with Top 10 entries on 5 additional charts. Clearly, Mandolin Orange has a passionate following. When asked about the band’s unusual name, Emily told an interviewer in 2015, “It’s basically a play on Mandarin Orange, but when we first started playing, Andrew had this little beater, a mandolin that was orange, and I think one day we just sort of thought of that and it stuck.” Let’s begin our look at their music from those earlier years with the …

Keeping a democracy takes work

Author, educator, and lawyer Teri Kanefield writes very smart posts about the law, books, and politics on her Teri Kanefield blog.* This morning she posted thoughts on why those who believe in democracy need to educate themselves on what it takes to keep that system of government. To use one of my favorite baseball metaphors, she hits it out of the park. I’m working on a post that looks at different aspects of our history, but that makes essentially the same point as Kanefield: “Many liberals and Trump critics have the idea that the United States has always been a liberal democracy — and then along came Trump, pulling the wool over his followers’ eyes and battering our democratic institutions. In fact, America didn’t start to move toward a true liberal democracy until Brown v. Board, the 1954 Supreme Court case that declared racial segregation unconstitutional. Brown sparked the modern Civil Rights Movement, which in turn gave rise to the women’s rights movement. Liberals cheered these changes. Many did not. Trump is riding the backlash from those changes. For …