Nothing so much reminds me of my dad as bluegrass music. Not that he ever listened to it, as I can remember – he was more of a straight country music fan: Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Dolly Pardon – but more than any other country genre, I feel it represents musically his time and heritage.
As bluegrass innovator Bill Monroe once said “it’s Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.”
Highly influenced by the music of African sharecroppers in the south, and integrating elements of Scottish, Irish and English into the improvisational stylings of jazz, they offered hope, faith and most importantly the frenetic dance track that raised the spirit of Appalachians during the depression and throughout some of our country’s most desperate times.
I feel like each twang of the banjo, each forlorn draw on the fiddle bow, each “breakdown” helps me learn a little more about my mother and father’s, and grandma and grandpa’s deep Kentucky roots.
With this in mind, we jumped at the chance to catch an ol’ time fiddlin’ show at Byron’s Doublestop Fiddle Shop in historic Guthrie, OK. Byron’s is owned and operated by Byron Berline often considered one of the world’s last great fiddlers, and an exquisite mandolin picker. He’s recorded with almost every country music and pop icon you can name – from Bob Dylan to Elton John. If you hear fiddlin’, it’s probably Byron.
To our absolute amazement, once a month for only $10, you can sit only twenty to thirty feet from this country legend and watch he and The Byron Berline Band play a classic barn-style country show filled with humor, classic gospel and country songs and at least a couple regional guests.
They rolled through a dozen or so of their favorites and took a few requests from the crowd before breaking to intermission. Local ladies baked cookies, brewed coffee and made all of it available for a reasonable price, like some sort of church social.
A nice local lady sitting behind us in the hall grabbed me as I was heading up for a cookie and graciously introduced me to the band’s banjo player John Hickman who hails from Hilliard, OH, just outside Columbus where we live. John made quite a name for himself as a sought-after studio musician and member of the folk bands “Sundance” and “Berline Crary and Hickman.”
He was only recently regaining his strength from cancer treatment and open heart surgery, but cordially spent 10 minutes chewing the fat about his health, his career and his grandparents who live in Victoria’s hometown, before he had to rush back on stage for round two.
Even as they closed the show with the spiritual standard “I Saw the Light” I was hoping they had more, or that I could stay in Guthrie one more month to see just one more show! I guess I’m most surprised that we actually have a reason to someday return to tiny Guthrie, Oklahoma and so do you!