So, by weird happenstance, I won tickets to the Bill Monroe birthday tribute last night at Vanderbilt. I guess it’s not weird. But it felt weird to me, because I don’t often win things. And by “often” I mean “ever.”
I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on such short notice, but I’m getting old in my old age, so I just went myself. And with my lone ticket? People, I sat in the center of the second row. I could see and study how Del McCoury’s guitar was aging, how the varnish on the bottom has rubbed away from years of sitting on his knee.
I was close enough to determine if bluegrass hair gives bluegrass players secret powers, but not discerning enough to tell.
The whole evening was great. I had heard Dale Ann Bradley before, but I have to tell you, seeing her live was a revelation. They ought to just go ahead and give her IBMA performer of the year every dang year she performs. If there is an IBMA performer of the year. Maybe they should make one just to give to her.
But she also reminds me of one of the reasons that I think bluegrass–even as it fights about what it wants to be–is still so damn subversive. I can’t think of another form of popular music (and please, correct me if I’m wrong) where a woman who looks like someone you would be unsurprised to find in your back yard drinking beers and singing songs with your dad who is just bursting with talent can have success. It’s a reminder that there are a shit-ton of talented folks out there–in all genres–that you’re being cheated out of by our ridiculous ideas about what a “star” has to look like.
Everyone was great. Don’t get me wrong. So, now that I’m going to gush about the Del McCoury band, I don’t want you to think it’s because the other guys weren’t awesome. Everyone was awesome. It was a whole evening full of people at the tops of their games having a shit-ton of fun. Of course it was awesome.
But I thought that I couldn’t like The Del McCoury Band any more than I do. I mean, I already think very highly of them. But last night blew me away. I’ll admit, there are things I want to see in a live band that tell me a band is good that don’t have anything to do with how they play. I want to see people who look like they’re having a good time together. I like to see people who are generous with guest performers. And I like to see that people are really thinking about their craft.
Now, I don’t know them from Adam. Maybe in real life, they’re all jerks who beat their wives and kids and hate each other. But on stage, they seem to be having a blast. Watching them with their guest performers was amazing. They subtly moved a mic for the one guy who needed it. And when Del was doing harmonies with someone, depending on how strong a singer they were, he’d position himself either closer or further from the mic. And people moved around on stage a lot to change the sound by who was standing next to whom (though in all fairness, everyone did this).
It was just one of those moments were I felt like I was watching a masterpiece of a band. If everyone else could be said to have brought their A-game, it was as if the Del McCoury Band was not even playing that game, but subtly inventing a new one.
But I should also mention that the Nashville Bluegrass Band was amazing and they had this dude from Blair playing with them so they had twin fiddles, which was awesome. But at one point, they had three fiddles on stage! I wanted them to keep adding. Just have a million fiddles. It would have been so awesome.
Anyway, I am a lucky girl, sometimes.