I often say that my musical philosophy follows the counsel of the great Duke Ellington, who said, “if it sounds good, it is good”. Rather than saying, “I like jazz” or “I hate disco”, I try to keep the musical genre secondary when I listen to a piece of music. Doing so can prevent the ambiguity some people feel when their personal identity is linked to the kind (type) of music they listen to. For example, I don’t listen to a lot of soft jazz, and I cringe at the inspiration-free Kenny G., but I’ll crank up the Stevie Wonder every time. So don’t let your bias allow you to miss awesome music.
How about some polka — live? I went to the Middleburg Concert Series last Sunday for their Monterrey in Middleburg show, and the amazing band, Esencias, hailing from Mexico, blew away the packed house with their polka tunes. One band member played this small diatonic accordion, which looked impossible to master, and yet he was pumping out melodies, chords, and rhythms that would have made my fingers fall off. It was a great concert. My point is if someone asked me if I liked Mexican polka music, I would have laughed and moved on to a seemingly more desirable genre. Seeing music live can really broaden your musical perspectives.
Bluegrass is another genre that a lot of people have heard of, but few really know much about. It can be complex and simple at the same time, with wonderful melodies that stick with you. Our area of the Piedmont was a hotbed of early bluegrass. The great local fiddler John Ashby was born in the free state region of Fauquier county. With members of his family and some friends, Ashby was playing fiddle in his band the Free State Ramblers in the 1940s through the 70’s. They played tunes like Fauquier County Hornpipe and Ashby’s Breakdown. You can hear the band Furnace Mountain still playing some of these tunes today. Another great modern Virginia bluegrass band, Willow Branch, will be coming back to the Middleburg Area for Unison Heritage Day. Come on out to the Unison Store on October 29th and check them out!
I have a large collection of live music, much of which I have downloaded (legally) from the net. There has been a long tradition with music aficionados of sharing music. At the start, 40 years ago, it was in the form of cassette tapes, off the band’s soundboard, or from a recording made by a novice with their own microphones. Sharing these live tapes was a great way to really dig into a band’s performances. Some hardcore collectors would learn the ins and outs of every performance, knowing which shows held/contained the best versions of each song. Sharing tapes was an involved ritual, where you would send a fellow collector a tape of a show that they needed, along with some blank cassettes for them to return to you with the recordings that you wanted. With the advent of digital music, sharing the recordings became much easier. Both modern digital recordings and older converted recordings can be shared using peer-to-peer software called bittorrent. Unfortunately, many folks use this same technology to share pirated media, like films and commercial (studio) albums. This really is a shame considering how much free (and legal!) material that is available out there today.
I have three go-to sites for downloading live music: www.archive.org, bt.etree.org, and www.dimeadozen.org. Each one offers live and noncommercial music exclusively; commercial music is banned. Case in point: when Steely Dan asked that their 1974 concerts be removed from dimeadozen.org, the site promptly banned the shows from further distribution.
Archive.org has a sub directory called the “live music archive”, which currently has more than 157,000 concerts, including huge collections from major bands like the Grateful Dead, John Mayer, and Umphrey’s McGee. All downloads and streaming is free. the site bt.etree.com is a peer to peer site, with thousands upon thousands of fan made recordings of bands like Phish, Gov’t Mule, and Phil Lesh and Friends. Recordings from major festivals, like Lockn’, Delfest, and Telluride Bluegrass Festival all emerge on this site. New recordings are added all the time, so, check it daily. Finally, dimeadozen.org, a global site, has live shows from around the world. I have obtained hundreds of amazing shows from this site. It’s well worth checking it out.
This month’s Spotify playlist is a selection from my favorite live albums, inclusive of many different genres. Listen here: http://tinyurl.com/zu6zgpq