Latest Posts

Chatham County Line: Not your father’s bluegrass

Chatham County Line is not your father’s bluegrass band. If you need some convincing, stick with me in this week’s edition of Saturday Soundtrack at least through CCL playing Mick and Keith’s The Last Time with the McIntosh County Shouters.

This is a band that has been playing music and entertaining audiences around the globe for two decades. Based in North Carolina, CCL is led by songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Dave Wilson, who draws inspiration for his work from a wide range of influences. John Teer rotates from mandolin to fiddle, Greg Readling plays standup bass and pedal steel, and Dan Hall on drums rounds out the group.

Chatham County Line 07 10 15
Chatham County Line at Red Wing III in 2015

While I’ve heard the band’s music over the years, I first caught them live at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival in 2015. I mentioned the tune Speed of the Whippoorwill from their 2006 album of the same name in my review. So we’ll begin with this 2011 version of the tune, dedicated — interestingly enough for a roots music band — to audio engineer and clandestine chemist Owsley Stanley, with a nod to John Hartford’s A Long Hot Summer Day thrown in as well.

Their 2010 album Wildwood — one of eight studio projects by the group — included Ghost of Woody Guthrie, performed here by CCL at a performance from the 2019 Oxford American: Landmark Sessions.

The band has pushed themes in their music and appearances — such as social justice and LGBTQ rights — not often heard in bluegrass music. From this 2016 show of Bluegrass Underground, CCL plays Birmingham Jail as a reminder of the lives lost and still lost because of “scared white men.”

“Four little girls tying their sash in the basement room that day / Poking fun and making jokes before getting on their knees to pray / Just so young with all their dreams and years to their end / Strewn away in the rubble by the hatred of scared white men”

I mentioned the various influences on Dave Wilson’s songwriting, and one can see the range on their excellent all-covers 2019 album entitled — appropriately enough — Sharing the Covers. Songs on the album extend from Wilco and Beck to John Lennon, Tom Petty, and John Hartford. I’ve always loved the preservation sensibilities of the Hartford tune They’re Gonna Tear Down the Grand Ole’ Opry from my all-time favorite album. We’ll follow the CCL version with their take on Tom Petty’s You Don’t Know How It Feels.

The band also has collaborations on both album and video that show the various dimensions of their musical interests. In 2019’s Winter Stories, CCL collaborated with the dreamy vocals of Judy Collins and Norwegian singer-songwriter Jonas Fjeld, as heard here on the haunting River.

And from the Sharing the Covers album, CCL is joined on this eTown video by Nick Forster, Anders Osborne, and the wonderful McIntosh County Shouters on The Stone’s The Last Time.

Chatham County Line is playing at The Hamilton in DC tomorrow evening, October 17th. We’ll end with a recent video of The Traveler from their 2014 project Tightrope to get your prepared.


More to come…


Image: Chatham County Line | credit:

For beauty, nourishment, and the celebration of life, Mohonk is one of our special places

Our entire family spent the Indigenous Peoples Day weekend at one of the great places on earth: Mohonk Mountain House. We gathered for the celebration of a significant birthday.

Blair, Claire, Candice, Mark, Andrew, and DJB enjoy the farm-to-table culinary delights at Mohonk Mountain House
Celebrating Candice’s birthday

We began coming to Mohonk more than a decade ago for work trips, family respites amidst the college tour, and major anniversaries. As a historic hotel set in the middle of a spectacular natural preserve, Mohonk reaches my soul as few other places do.

The family enjoyed a wonderful fall weekend hiking, boating, and just basking in nature’s beauty and bounty; being nourished by the food and wellness treatments; and celebrating all things Candice. Here are a few pictures of Mohonk from this visit for you to enjoy.

Mohonk Lake

A panorama from a secluded alcove at Mohonk Lake

Views along the trails

View of the hotel from the Skyline trail
Andrew on the rock scramble
Followed by Claire and Blair
Andrew, Mark, Claire and Blair safely through the rock scramble

In the gardens

Until we return

Panorama of Mohonk Lake from near the Spring House

More to come…


Photos by DJB, Claire Brown, Blair Kittle, Mark Bailey, or Andrew Brown

Reckonings that are a long time coming

Michael Eric Dyson — a “Princeton Ph.D. and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two” — has written some of the most compelling and searing books around the issue of race in America today. His most recent, Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America, continues the tradition we’ve come to expect from this academic, sociologist and Baptist preacher.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to books and recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy.

Written after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Long Time Coming is a series of letters to other black martyrs murdered at the hands of white Americans: Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each chapter, Dyson looks at the genealogy of anti-Blackness and its impact on America today.

He begins with the slave trade and moves into a compelling chapter on the Blue Plague, where he chronicles in detail the snuffing out of Floyd’s life by an indifferent Derek Chavin. Growing up on the streets of Detroit, Dyson has seen it all before. But somehow, “Floyd’s death was arguably the most affecting murder by a cop that we have witnessed in the home-made cinema of Black death.”

The pandemic “made it easier to absorb his tragically prostrate form into the national conscience.” And for a fleeting moment

“…there weren’t white or Black screens, just American screens. Blackness had chanced on the sort of universality that only whiteness has historically enjoyed. The video recording of Floyd’s death broke our hearts and merged them all at once.”

Dyson grapples with the theme of White Theft, where each gesture of Black advance “or Black ‘next’ is opposed by a white ‘again.'” Where critics “refuse to draw lines of cause and effect between the white theft of Black futures, freedoms, and financial stability over the century” and the vulnerable position of the Black permanently poor today.

The penultimate chapter on White Comfort is especially troubling, as it hits at those who understand the issues at hand, but work to avoid being made to feel uncomfortable. It is the arrangement of the social order for the convenience of whites. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “my job is not to make people feel comfortable” when she described how white superiority deprived those of us who are white of the knowledge of Black life. We need to stop distancing ourselves from our racist past while embracing racist beliefs in the present day in order to maintain our level of comfort.

Dyson ends, in his letter to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, with hope joined by their shared heritage as ministers.

“How can folk say they love God and yet hate so many of God’s children — Black folk, poor folk, gay and lesbian folk, trans folk, and a whole lot more? Either you love God and you hate injustice, or you hate the folk God loves and therefore you don’t really know or love God. At least not the God I’ve come to know, not the Being I believe in, the uplifting energy and loving spirit that courses through this universe.”

And he ends with a personal commitment and a challenge to Americans.

“So, Rev. Pinckney, if you gave your life for it, the least I can do is spend my life in service of a love that never ends, a faith that sometimes crumbles, a hope that seems, somehow, forever to endure, in ways I can neither understand nor explain.”

“I will keep fighting and reckoning with our past and present to make a better future. I hope you will too.”

We can reckon with our past through understanding. On the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, historian Heather Cox Richardson tied the history that really happened there to events in her Letter from an American. In this short article:

  • She correctly notes that the war was fought between the U.S. Army and the Confederates. Southern apologists frame the war incorrectly by calling the two sides Union and Confederates. No. The southern states were in rebellion against the United States, and the army that preserved the union was the U.S. Army, an army that existed before the war and that exists to this day.
  • She notes that southern politicians were braggarts who assured their constituents that the war would be easy and painless. And so they convinced poor whites to go fight for the ability of the rich planter class to retain power and money through chattel slavery. The new medium of photography helped document that lie.
  • She uses the South’s own words to describe how the war was all about slavery. They said so in their constitution. Don’t ever let someone tell you that the Civil War was about states rights. If you need to help prove it to them, send them Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic article Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War.
  • Finally, she ties all this back to the push by white supremacists today to destroy the United States as we know it.

Michele L. Norris also has reckoning in mind in writing What America’s racial reckoning can learn from Germany’s atonement with the Holocaust in The Washington Post.

The United States is not the only country with an evil antecedent that was swept aside, forgotten or minimally examined. That list is long, but one country offers a powerful alternative path. Barely three generations ago, Germany hosted horrors that killed millions and left the nation split in two. This was not a legacy that most Germans were inclined to honor. And yet, today, less than 100 years after the rise of Adolf Hitler, Germany has made a prodigious effort to come to terms with its past with regularized rituals of repentance and understanding.

Germany faced its horrible past. Why can’t we do the same when it comes to slavery and racism?

More to come…


Image by Kalea Morgan on Unsplash

America could learn a lot from its first peoples. Let’s start with the truth

Quick quiz. Name five Native Americans.

If you got stuck at Pocahontas and Squanto, you are in good company with the majority of people who live in the United States. Unfortunately, what you know about Pocahontas and Squanto (not even their real names) is undoubtedly untrue. Especially if you are relying on Disney for your history.

Those with an interest in the west may know the story of Sacagawea, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who traveled thousands of miles with the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Some may remember Sitting Bull (again, not his real name). Bonus points if you recall Sequoyah and the development of the Cherokee alphabet. After that, most people draw blanks.

However, we all know the poem, or at least the first stanza: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Guess what? The underlying story told in that poem is also false.

As Megan Hill, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development puts it, Columbus didn’t really “discover” anything, in one sense of the word.

Not only was he lost, thinking he had landed in India, but there is significant evidence of trans-oceanic contact prior to 1492. The day celebrates a fictionalized and sanitized version of colonialism, whitewashing generations of brutality that many Europeans brought to these shores.

I’m not here to denigrate the legacy of Italian-Americans, which is multi-layered and complex, as are most American stories. However, there is ample evidence that the establishment of Columbus Day in the late nineteenth century was part of a concerted effort to help Italian immigrants become “white” in a country where one’s standing in the racial hierarchy could mean the difference between life and death. President Benjamin Harrison “proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892 — in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants,” writes Pulitzer-prize winning author Brent Staples in the New York Times. “The proclamation was part of a broader attempt to quiet outrage among Italian-Americans, and a diplomatic blowup over the murders that brought Italy and the United States to the brink of war.”

And there is a reason that so many people, and a number of states, have either de-emphasized or stopped celebrating Columbus Day altogether on the second Monday in October and instead honor and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in its place. For Native people and a growing number of non-natives in the U.S., Columbus Day represents a celebration of genocide and dispossession. 

Charles C. Mann put forth the thesis in his groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus that much of what we understand about indigenous peoples is wrong. Those who were here before the Europeans arrived were large in number (some 90 million – 112 million in the Americas) and they actively shaped their land as seen in places like Yosemite. “The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city.” Corn was created in a specialized breeding process that has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering, and the trapping of fish involved not a few scattered Indians, but hundreds and perhaps thousands of people in some communities.

And it was not the Europeans vaunted military might that crushed the indigenous peoples. According to some estimates, as much as 95 percent may have died almost immediately on contact with various European diseases, particularly smallpox. That would have amounted to about one-fifth of the world’s total population at the time, a level of destruction unequaled before or since. Letting a virus run rampant to do its destruction is a time-honored tactic than extends from first contact to communities of color in present-day Texas and Florida.

Trail at Mohonk

Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day, we are nearing the end of a family vacation at Mohonk Mountain House, a place with a long history of respect, increased learning, and growing recognition of those who were on the land before first contact. The name Moggonck appeared in early boundary records and was possibly derived from the Lenape, the Munsee, or the Mohican languages. From 1883 to 1916, annual conferences took place at Mohonk, sponsored by founder Albert Smiley, to improve the living standards of Native Americans. They included government representatives, members of Congress, educators, philanthropists, and Indian leaders.

It is important to remember and acknowledge that no matter where we are today, we stand on land that once belonged to indigenous peoples. That land carries a complicated and layered history over thousands of years. The United States’ land seizures were a project of physical and spiritual destruction that denied those people free and unhindered access to land that fundamentally shapes their identity and spirituality.

Historian Patty Limerick writes in The Legacy of Conquest, her history of the west, that we need to think as anthropologists, because “humans live in a world in which mental reality does not have to submit to narrow tests of accuracy.” What we know about indigenous peoples grows with each passing day, and we do well to understand, recognize, acknowledge, and respect that history.

“America could learn a lot from its first peoples, Megan Hill notes. “But it must start with the truth.”

More to come…


Image: Mesa Verde

Adia Victoria is making the blues dangerous again

A Southern Gothic, the new album released on September 17th by South Carolina-born and Nashville-based blues singer-songwriter Adia Victoria, contains an “ode to Southern Black folk” and music to back up her claim that she wants “to make the blues dangerous again.”

Let’s examine that dangerous music this week on Saturday Soundtrack.

Growing up in a strict Seventh-Day Adventist family, she moved around the country testing her wings before settling in Nashville where she has generations of family. In 2014, following the shooting/murder of unarmed teenager Treyvon Martin, Victoria wrote

“Stuck in the South,” a song weighted with personal and regional history. “Don’t know nothin’ bout Southern belles/But I can tell you somethin’ about Southern hell,” she sang.

New York Time, February 27, 2019

That unvarnished look at her native South, through the eyes of a Black woman, comes through in Magnolia Blues from A Southern Gothic album.

The Bluegrass Situation included this quote from Victoria about the song:

“Often the only view of the South beyond my window was the magnolia tree in my backyard. It blocked the rest of the world from my sight. I limited my gaze to its limbs, its leaves and the obscene bloom of its iconic white flower.

“The magnolia has stood as an integral symbol of Southern myth making, romanticism, the Lost Cause of the Confederates and the white washing of Southern memory. ‘Magnolia Blues’ is a reclaiming of the magnolia — an unburdening if its limbs of the lies it has stood for. This song centers the narrative of a Black Southern woman’s furious quest to find her way back home to the South under the shade of her magnolia.

“‘Magnolia Blues’ is an ode to Southern Black folk — too often hemmed out of what we mean when we say ‘Southerner’ — and it is also an ode to the South itself. To rescue it from — in the words of William Faulkner — ‘a make believe region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed.’”

Her unapologetic perspective on the South has shown through Victoria’s music since her debut album Beyond the Bloodhounds, which references the book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, and includes songs like Howlin’ Shame.

We need to talk about Addie Mae
I seen her walking out the other day
And I been watching that girl wilt away
Bruised back blisterin’
There ain’t no end to her sufferin’
And any good she had has gone to gray

It’s a howlin’ shame
A howlin’ shame

Her 2016 Tiny Desk concert is from that same period, including a live version of Stuck in the South.

Different Kind of Love is from Victoria’s second, critically acclaimed album Silences. The sonic texture differs from her debut, but the poetic nature of her take on Southern life remains.

South Gotta Change is a powerful 2020 single produced by T. Bone Burnett (who also produced A Southern Gothic) that Victoria described in a release as “a prayer, an affirmation, and a battle cry all at once. It is a promise to engage in the kind of ‘good trouble’ John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union.”

You’ve been running from the ghost

You keep it hidden in your past

The veil before your face is falling, and it’s falling fast

I won’t go blindly in the night

I would drag you to the light

I stood up to the mountain

Told the mountain, “Say my name”

And if you’re tired of walking

Let the children lead the way

‘Cause I love you, I won’t leave you

Won’t let you slip away

Come what may

We’re gonna find a way

The South gotta change

The South gotta change

The electric You Was Born to Die from A Southern Gothic features great vocals by Victoria, Kyshona, and Margo Price as well as a stinging slide guitar solo by Jason Isbell.

Mean-Hearted Woman from A Southern Gothic tells you that Victoria means business when she says she wants to make the blues dangerous again!

Finally, Adia Victoria is also a strong interpreter of songs by other artists, including this version of Fiona Apple’s A Mistake.

For readers in the Nashville area, Victoria is appearing on October 24 at the Ryman Auditorium.

Adia Victoria has much to say, and is worth your time.

More to come…


Image: Adia Victoria | Red Light Management

Time for a rewrite

Too many of those who write or report for the national media have lost the thread of the purpose of journalism: sharing information. One only has to look at the Washington Post’s White House reporter Annie Linskey’s thoughtless tweet earlier this week (that she quickly deleted…but not before it was captured via a screenshot) to see the truth of this statement.

It was a Sunday. Biden goes to church on Sunday. The hometown church he attends has a cemetery, where his first wife and two children are buried. Any thoughtful White House reporter — who operated from a place of empathy and understanding — would realize that fact. They would also know that legislation gets negotiated — endlessly — before it is enacted. Just because a Republican party that isn’t interested in governing would like us to believe that the Democrats are in disarray, doesn’t mean that good political reporters have to repeat Mitch McConnell’s self-serving talking points.

The best reply I saw was this one on Twitter:

Annie Linskey is the winner of today’s ‘Aw Crap I Forgot Twitter Isn’t A Cocktail Party At Sally Quinn’s House In 1982’ Award.

Please mess with Texas

Dan Froomkin at Presswatch — a site developed as “an intervention for political journalism” — began a new series to help journalists like Ms. Linskey who were having difficulty finding the correct lede. He recently wrote, “As a companion piece to my post on a tragically problematic New York Times article about Thursday’s delayed vote in Congress, I’d like to try something new.

I’ll call it: “Let me rewrite that for you.

I’m going to take a handful of recent articles that I felt badly missed the mark, and offer alternative ledes or nut graphs that I think do a better job of telling the truer story.

Froomkin spent 12 years at the Washington Post, where he served as editor of the website and wrote its enormously popular White House Watch column, which aggregated and amplified insightful political coverage. So he knows whereof he speaks.

He has several examples of bad journalism from this first post in the series. I’ll highlight parts of just one, an objectionable September 28 story in the Washington Post by Timothy Bella with the headline N.C. hospital system fires about 175 workers in one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”

Froomkin begins by sharing the first paragraph of the original story.

A North Carolina-based hospital system announced Monday that roughly 175 unvaccinated employees were fired for failing to comply with the organization’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy, the latest in a series of health-care dismissals over coronavirus immunization.

And Froomkin’s response?

“Let me rewrite that for you!

First, let me rewrite the headline, as per the suggestion of Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University’s school of communication: ‘N.C. hospital network employees accept vaccine mandate with 99.5% compliance.‘”

As for the rewritten top.

“A North Carolina-based hospital system is reporting a stunning level of compliance with its vaccine mandate, assuaging fears that scores of employees would quit and leave patients untended.

Novant Health spokeswoman Megan Rivers told The Washington Post that more than 99 percent of the system’s roughly 35,000 employees have followed the mandatory vaccination program. She said in a statement that Novant Health was ‘thrilled’ those who chose to be vaccinated have given patients and visitors ‘better protection against COVID-19 regardless of where they are in our health system.’”

See. Isn’t that easy?

In today’s world, those who control the narrative too often control the power. As we are beginning to see in the global revelations of the Pandora Papers, those who seek to divide us for their own self interest and financial gain do so in order to rise in strength. And they use media to help drive their agendas.

The use of power to divide and conquer has been on vivid display over the past two decades in America. Writing in Mother Jones magazine, Kevin Drum details how a desire for power and money by an Australian billionaire is The Real Source of America’s Rising Rage. Conspiracy theories, social media, and racism are all part of the mix, but Rupert Murdoch’s hold on the right wing narrative — with his push to create constant fear, anger, and resentment — is the one piece that has been in place since Americans began hating each other in ways not seen since the Civil War.

It is time we all tell our stories and help rewrite the narratives too many of our fellow citizens are receiving.

More to come…


Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay.

It’s an old, old story: Power doesn’t corrupt, it reveals

When wise governance is set aside for the acquisition of raw power, the effects can be startling and unsettling. Facts and events that are unambiguous suddenly become areas ripe for dispute. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors. Those who seek to divide us for their own self interest and financial gain rise in strength.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent books and articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy.

“Power doesn’t corrupt,” says biographer Robert Caro, “it reveals

It is a story as old as the history of the world, and one that plays out in the teachings of our philosophers and great religions. The contrast between destructive and uplifting uses of power came to mind recently while reading Anglican theologian N.T. Wright’s 2020 book Broken Signposts.

Wright’s work looks at seven signposts integral to every worldview, including justice, beauty, freedom, and truth. When we do not live up to our ideals in those areas, Wright suggests, our societies and our individual lives become unbalanced. As a priest and Biblical scholar, Wright makes the case that looking at these broken signposts through a Christian lens provides a vision and hope for ourselves and for the world.

Many of his observations from the Gospel of John bring to mind parallels of life today, especially in the final chapter on power. Wright’s telling of the well-known New Testament story of Jesus before Pilate, in a different political arena in a different time, nonetheless creates a clear link.

Wright asserts that there are two types of power. The first, designed to control others, most often happens by bullying and fighting. Casual onlookers consider Pilate and see someone who has the fate of another’s life in his hands, who controls ruthless warriors, and who maintains his power through violence. But Wright sees a weak politician in over his head, angry at being manipulated, and determined to get his petty revenge. Think of today’s U.S. politicians with authoritarian tendencies. Many see themselves as strong, but they too are in reality weak, confused, angry, and easily manipulated by their deep-pocketed donors.

So, what does power reveal about those who do not rely on bullying, violence, and revenge? Many ancient religious and philosophical systems have an understanding of appropriate political power where the world is governed wisely by humans who will be held to account for how they exercise that power. It is built upon empathy, understanding, and love for others. It is a paradox, writes Wright, that “humans are made to exercise power, but true human power was always intended to be exercised through self-giving love.” It is power that will be accomplished by “a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying,” and so producing many seeds.

The short-term outcomes may not be as easily attained as through bullying, threats, and violence. But power that is exercised through empathy and self-giving love has impacts that last well after the leader is gone, moving us from self to a focus on others. That is the type of power we should seek and support.

Grave of Gandhi (photo by DJB)

Fear is used to deflect attention from the undermining of democracy

In her Letters from an American series, historian Heather Cox Richardson recently wrote of the ways in which anti-immigration fear is used by authoritarians to retain power, deflect from their own scandals, rewrite history, and undermine democracy. Author and lawyer Teri Kanefield has a piece on her blog worth reading about power, and the difference between hierarchy people and fairness people.

New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, author of the book Dark Money — where she asserts that “the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy, using their money not just to compete with their political adversaries, but to drown them out” — linked to a recent Rolling Stone article and tweeted “All the tentacles of the ‘Kochtopus’ are aimed at killing Biden’s Build Back Better Bill on Climate, Welfare.” All aimed at keeping money and power.

And finally, David Runciman — who teaches politics at Cambridge — has a piece in the London Review of Books that points to what has really failed in America due to Trump’s unceasing push for power.

The institutions of the American republic withstood Trump just as the Founders might have hoped: since federal government is complicated and burdensome and organised around institutional self-interest…But the one institution that was not able to withstand Trump was the one the Founders thought might destroy the republic anyway: a political party. The Republican Party establishment indulged Trump and then discovered that when it was time to move on his voters were staying put….it turned out that they couldn’t undo what they had done.

Enjoy your reading this week.

More to come…


Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

What if we have it all wrong? Reality and the dislocation of joy

A mentor who is both an astute observer of life and an insightful writer added a comment to my recent post about the scourge of gambling in baseball. It made me stop and think.

What truly disturbs me about sports betting is the dislocation of joy. The joy is supposed to be in watching the game. Monetizing it, as you point out, changes the focus — as if there could be no simple pleasures which are not really about cash.

I’ve written about joy on multiple occasions. But outside of discussions around out-of-socket joints — conversations known colloquially among the AARP set as “organ recitals” — dislocation is not a word I use very often. Yet Deborah found it to be just the right turn of phrase in her comment. Dislocation is defined as a disturbance from a proper, original, or usual place or state. The push to move joy in the game itself towards joy in winning unearned riches could be a poster child for the disturbance of focus from its proper place.

Commercialization is partly to blame for the dislocation of joy onto things and money. We are bombarded by 6,000 to 10,000 commercial advertisements each day. These ads seek to build up envy, dislocating our contentment and joy from what we have and placing it on the newest, shiniest object. Things and money — we are told from a very early age — are what give us joy.

But what we hear from a very early age flies in the face of what our shared experience actually tells us about joy, if we take the time to stop and think.

Another mentor and exceptional writer notes that our language would lead a careful observer to believe that what we see as real is always serious, harsh, and cruel. The words “harsh reality” stand as one word, one idea.

Yet, Frank muses, “what if joy, wonder, and peace are what life is really about?” Can the harshness and bitterness that we too often see as reality be a passing phase? Frank calls on a very personal yet universal memory to make the case for the reality of joy and hope. “All babies are born with the firm belief that joy, wonder, and peace are the norms of life….Babies are born with that understanding of life. And slowly, patiently, the elders of the world teach them that their view is wrong.”

The elders of the world work to dislocate our natural joy in living life and focus it instead on the belief that the acquisition of things and money will provide joy and happiness. But you don’t have to have lived very long to know the truth of the old adage that money can’t buy happiness. We all know, deep down, that road never brings satisfaction. Money can’t buy love or true friends. Money can’t buy back your youth when you’re old.

And yet much too often we accept the dislocation of joy as reality.

I’m on a hope-filled campaign to relocate my joy in the living, the doing, the being. In part, my campaign is a reaction against the forces that suggest we will only find happiness in things with a monetary value, see life as a zero-sum game, and then work to divide the world into the haves and have-nots. Joy is a way to support the work that hope demands.

Rebecca Solnit has written,

“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism.  And when you face politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”

My campaign is a personal act of insurrection.

There are many reasons to relocate the joy that has been too often dislocated by those who benefit from our misery. And yes, I’m with John Green. You don’t necessarily have to deal with pain to get there.

“Without pain, how could we know joy?’ This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”

Have a good week.

More to come…


Image: Mother and son from Pixabay.

The quicksilver guitar stylings of Bryan Sutton

Bryan Sutton’s career — which we celebrate this week on Saturday Soundtrack — is encapsulated in this one paragraph from his website:

Bryan Sutton is the most accomplished and awarded acoustic guitarist of his generation, an innovator who bridges the bluegrass flatpicking traditions of the 20th century with the dynamic roots music scene of the 21st. His rise from buzzed-about young sideman to first-call Nashville session musician to membership in one of history’s greatest bluegrass bands has been grounded in quiet professionalism and ever-expanding musicianship.

Sutton was born in Asheville, North Carolina — a hotbed of bluegrass and traditional roots music — and he came to fame in the field as the hotshot lead guitarist in one of the biggest bluegrass bands of the 1990s: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. I first encountered his clean, quicksilver leads and solid bluegrass rhythm, as seen in Bluegrass Breakdown, from that part of his career. His lightening fast guitar solo begins at the 2:55 mark.

After three years on the road with Skaggs, Sutton returned to Nashville where he became the top call acoustic guitar session player for artists ranging from Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift to Dolly Parton (The Grass is Blue), Dierks Bentley and The Chicks. On the latter group’s 1999 album Fly, Sutton takes off on Sin Wagon, first in some interplay with the fiddle beginning at 1:32 and then on a longer solo at the 3:04 mark.

Duets are where I most enjoy Sutton’s playing, as he supports fellow musicians with innovative rhythm work and is not afraid of unlikely detours and explorations when it comes to the leads. In 2006, he took his admiration for his fellow pickers to its logical conclusion, arranging duo sessions with favorites and friends for Not Too Far From The Tree.

He was joined on a range of styles and tunes by David Grier, Norman Blake, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Earl Scruggs…and Doc Watson.

The latter’s track, a take on the venerable “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” won the Grammy Award of 2007 for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Every bluegrass guitarist reveres Doc Watson, but for Sutton, their shared North Carolina roots made the validation that much deeper. Even coming amid a string of nine IBMA awards, this was a career highlight that cemented Sutton’s name next to Doc’s, and in his field there’s no higher honor.

Here are two tunes from that album, beginning with the Grammy-winning Whiskey Before Breakfast with Doc, followed by Lonesome Fiddle Blues in a blazing duet of the Vassar Clements‘ classic with Tony Rice.

I Am a Pilgrim is not the tune Sutton performed with David Grier on the duo album, but this live version from the Station Inn is pretty tasty.

Sutton does okay in trios as well (he says with tongue firmly in cheek), as seen here with banjoist Bela Fleck and fiddler Casey Driessen.

And what the heck. One of my favorite configurations with Sutton was on Mark O’Connor’s 30 Year Retrospective album. Here is the amazing Granny White Special with O’Connor, Chris Thile, Byron House, and Sutton.

The most recent major chapter of Sutton’s career had its seeds planted more than a decade ago when a call came from banjo star Peter Wernick. The legendary Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize was taking on infrequent reunion shows. Wernick, Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster asked Sutton to fill the guitar chair of the late Charles Sawtelle. Then about 2012 they decided to release a new album, tour harder and make Sutton a formal member of the group. In 2015 Hot Rize was nominated for two IBMA Awards including album and entertainers of the year. Fans from coast to coast and especially Colorado were thrilled to have this favorite 1980s era band back with the best guitarist in the business tossing out well wrought solos, as well as playing the deadpan role of Slade in Hot Rize’s alter ego band, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.

Here’s Sutton playing some straight ahead bluegrass guitar with Hot Rize on Nellie Kane.

Sutton is currently touring with Bela Fleck in support of his My Bluegrass Heart album and I was fortunate to hear this band recently at the Strathmore Music Hall. Here he is just a few days before the Strathmore concert playing Slippery Eel with Fleck, Sierra Hull, Mark Schatz, and Michael Cleveland. Sutton’s first solo comes in at the 1:42 mark, and then the soloists start trading fours (and more) at the 2:32 mark. Amazing!

And to end this Soundtrack, give a listen to Sutton and Chris Thile do a preternatural version of the old Delmore Brothers tune (which most of us know from Doc Watson) Lay Down My Old Guitar. I’d also “wish I could tie it to my side, and take it along with me”…if I could play like Bryan Sutton!


More to come…


Image of Bryan Sutton from

Touch the earth

With the passage of time, walking has become my favorite way to see the world. Walking is an act of citizenship, helping the citizen know “his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabit the city rather than a small privatized part thereof.” I see this through my daily morning walks.

A deliberate practice, such as that found when walking a labyrinth, can tell us, as Rebecca Solnit has written, that “…sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one.” You have time to think when you slow down and walk. What’s the rush? It was Edward Abbey who memorably said, “Life is already too short to waste on speed.”

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in the book Your True Home, has his own distinctive take on walking. As I read this passage over the summer, it immediately struck a nerve.

“Walking is a form of touching the earth. We touch the earth with our feet, and we heal the earth, we heal ourselves, and we heal humankind. Whenever you have an extra five, ten, or fifteen minutes, enjoy walking. With every step it’s possible to bring healing and nourishment to our body and our mind. Every step taken in mindfulness and freedom can help us heal and transform, and the world will be healed and transformed together with us.”

Walking is moving at the speed of life. Find time today to put one foot in front of another, again and again, and touch the earth.

More to come…


Image by chulmin park from Pixabay