Sunday, July 6, 2014
Clogging, Two-Stepping, and Western Swing
There was a dance hall and resort about 10 miles out of Sacramento called Wills Point; the dance hall had been known as the Aragon Ballroom until Bob Wills bought it in 1947 and moved his operation up from Fresno to settle in for a little while before he went back on tour with his Texas Playboys, leaving the dance hall operation to the boys -- Billy Jack, his youngest brother and Tiny Moore, his mandolin player and all around factotum.
During the War (WWII), the Aragon Ballroom was a hot spot for recruits out at the air corps base, McClellan Field as it was called then. The main gate was only a few miles away over rolling, oak studded ranch land. My parents met at McClellan Field in 1944 and I'm pretty sure they spent some time out at the Aragon dancing.
They might have gone out dancing to Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, for the band played in Sacramento many a time through the war years.
The dance hall burned down one night in 1956, but the resort carried on for some time thereafter, and when my family moved to Sacramento from Southern California in 1959, I would go swimming out there in the summer. They had a good big pool, though others were closer to where we lived. Didn't matter. There were the memories after all...
They were memories that I mostly didn't have, but my mother and sister did.
I would learn later how it all intertwined.
Yesterday, Ms Ché and I made an expedition into town (Albuquerque) because I saw a flyer at the local market out where we live announcing Western Youth Day, with Western Music and Cowboy Poetry on the Plaza in Old Town. Sounded like it might be fun. It was.
Kids doing stuff that old farts like ourselves enjoy. There was lots of Bob Wills' music to be heard, and what was even better than the old stuff was the new stuff, some of it written by the kids performing it themselves. Now how about that? I thought it was terrific.
It was almost as if time stood still for a few hours yesterday afternoon in Old Town, in a plaza that was laid out in 1706 (or maybe later, accounts vary). I noted much of the audience was of a certain age, not particularly young or spry, but still loving the music -- music which ranged from old time bluegrass and gospel to cowboy and Western Swing, to contemporary country. I noted that no one was clog-dancing or buck-dancing to the bluegrass, and nobody seemed to know how to do a decent two-step to the country stuff, but many were dancing their un-spry versions of Western Swing to just about anything that moved them.
And that was pretty cool.
The music was delivered by some pretty hot youngsters. The Sawyers, from Texas, were a girl fiddler -- who would later play with the headliner, Krystin Harris -- her little brother who played and sang, and their father who backed them up with guitar.
The Anslovers, from Albuquerque, are two sisters ages 19 and 15 and their brother age 17 who present quite an accomplished show. The oldest sister is the three time New Mexico State Fiddle Champion, and her skill was unmatched. I did lean over to Ms at one point and whisper, "They need to get that boy some sangin' lessons!" because on most of the numbers he sang lead for, he could not carry a tune. Let it be said, however, that cowboy singers don't always have the best voices, and on the whole he and his sisters were fine.
Olivia Hobbs, from Richmond, VA, played guitar and sang in a high, clear voice, mostly spirituals and cowboy songs, some of which she wrote herself. Her original pieces were very good.
Kristyn Harris, also from Texas, wrote a good number of the songs she sang, and she is very much a force to be reckoned with in this specialized but very popular genre.
This is the kind of country (and western) music I listened to when I was growing up. It's nothing at all like most of what passes for "country" today, and like many of the old codgers in attendance yesterday, it's one of the kinds of music I really like. I missed the clog-dancers and two-steppers, though, and wonder whether anyone learns those dances any more...
Cowboy poetry was presented between the musical acts by the Lyman Family -- five of Papa'n'Mama Lyman's six children from up Utah way. The kids were very cute -- four boys and a girl, ages maybe 6 to 13 -- in their cowboy getups, the kind of fringed and hatted outfits I wore when I was younger than they were. They even had the plastic cap pistols, chromed and shiny, that I had. Somewhere there are pictures of me all cowboyed up at the age of four. Most American kids went through that phase back in the late '40s and early '50s, but I also rode and tried to rope -- was never any good at it. One of the Lyman boys -- he was perhaps ten or eleven -- proudly announced that he was putting together his own "herd of cow" and he had ten already. Most of the poems the Lymans recited from memory were by "Grampa Quinn".
The day was hot and muggy down at the Plaza, and on the way back home from a long afternoon enjoying Western music and Cowboy poetry we got inundated by a downpour at Sedillo Hill, rain so hard that it pretty near flooded the interstate. Monsoon has arrived.
The Anslovers did "Wagon Wheel," announcing that it was originally done by The Old Crow Medicine Show before Darius Rucker made it into such a hit. Well, it had already been a hit with The Old Crow Medicine Show. Here's their version at Coachella in 2010:
Sounds something like Dylan... ;-)
Darius Rucker joined them at the Grand Ol Opry in Nashville in 2012, and the next year released his own version.
As someone pointed out yesterday, "Wagon Wheel" is pure bluegrass, gussied up just a little for today...
And if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die freeeee...."