Redefining Friday nights and honest to God entertainment word of mouth let me know of a place where blue grass music reigned supreme and folks who played it came from far and wide…and as they played others joined in the dance…a dance I call Appalachian Ballet.
Years and years ago a lady name of Hazel Ellis told me she clogged with a bunch of ‘gooders’ and how much fun they had. They were the Silver Eagle Cloggers and dance they did, here and there and all around. When the musicians took a break to get in on a ‘fifty/fifty’ was the only time there was no dancing on the hard concrete floor.
“Somewhere between your heart and mine, there’s a window I can’t see through.”…goes the lyric, and it’s real life unfolding as it did hundreds of years ago as folks immigrated from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales to the Carolinas and then north to the green, less hilly fields of Harford county….and the music came with them and to this day is as real as it gets.
It’s a world unto itself, without fanfare, shunning publicity, seeking the shear joy of making music and sharing a tradition steeped in heritage…worlds apart from the ‘politically correctness’ of today’s spirit of living.
Men with stiff, hunched backs who’ve worked the fields in younger days when it was a ‘seven day a week’ job, from sun up to sundown. They were tenant farmers and share croppers and if you don’t know those terms you can look ‘em up or hang out at the feed store, welding shop or old hardware stores.
‘Course the Royal Farm store sees the members of Appalachian Ballet too, from time to time. The men and women at these informal, clandestine gatherings struggle to walk and can’t wait to dance. Fingers snapping and slapping inside and outside of loose legs the man in the plaid shirt keeps time with his body and the sounds he makes with it. A lady in a walker moves whatever she can to the tune being played.
Not every day do you see an 81-year-old man tear into a Snicker’s bar, for a sugar jolt, enabling him to get back to dancing and keeping up with his partner. Dark blue jeans and cowboy boots, blend into a fashion show with Nike and New Balance sneakers…”faded love…head over heels in love with you…” the music goes on and on.
“I Just Crossed the River Jordan” is especially powerful to me as it’s played by a seven piece band…banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, bass,….no drums, just strings.
Looking around I see bandaged knees, a few folks are popping Advils and Aleeve’s and chasing them with chocolate. The audience, most of which are eating hot dogs and sipping Coke or bottled water, are happy to see this ‘live show’ of talented folk who are tossing caution to the winds that blow outside across the fields.
OLD FLAMES CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO YOU
There is no alcohol, no riff-raff, no profanity, and strict adherence to the ‘house rules’…no punks, no junk, no bad behavior, just folks acting like they’ve got good sense…like we were told to do when we were kids. The age difference is the only difference watching guys shyly go over to girls asking them to dance…the same as they did when they were teens, they still act the same and shyness becomes them in the innocence of social relief in the muse of fiddle and feet.
None of the bands have names, and some of the members play in someone else’s band…we see the shift from “Long Black Veil” to “Sittin’ On Top of The World”…and the folks sing along in the audience as some get up to leave, tired of having so much fun. It’s not a late night crowd; it’s a working class gathering of good hearted souls who share a love of their roots. They didn’t learn the dancing at Arthur Murray and you won’t be seeing any of them on American Idol…they’re too real for that…it’s a secret, and it’s the Appalachian Ballet. And not everyone can get there unless you’re lucky.
“And many years ago a man by the name of William T. Hicks had a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face. Little did he know his love for country music and the association of people in an atmosphere of friendliness would become THE WILLIAM T. HICKS CULTURAL ARTS CENTER.
One evening as the music played on the stage a lady knitted while sitting at a table made from a used plywood door covered with a sheet of plastic. Her eyes rose to watch the Blue Grass style of dancers do their thing.“ from a note pad from someone at the ‘Center’.