Category Archives: Arts & Music

Transition Time

Expanding how I tell Appalachia’s story

At the beginning of 2019, I wrote that I would no longer be doing news reporting. I did warn, however, that I might be back.

Well, I am. To learn what I’m doing now to tell Appalachia’s story, visit the Art, Hillbilly Highway and Hillbilly Highway Chapter pages.

It is my intention to be far down the road of the transition by March 1. In fact, I’ve already begun by the addition of the art page. You can read more below. In any event, I’ve concluded it is time to transition to telling Appalachia’s story through Folk Art, storytelling, poetry and more. Of course, I will write about others doing it, including naturally the incredibly talented musicians that populate Caldwell County, Western North Carolina, and all of Southern and Central Appalachia.

To learn more about my workshops: “Community of Writers” and “Gathering a Family History,” or my story-telling and poetry reading, please contact me at lenoirvoice@gmail.com.

Now, about that art:

The Hillbilly Highway

The Hillbilly Highway

The word “hillbilly” is often used in less than flattering terms. However, as a West Virginia native and life-long Appalachian resident, I consider the Hillbilly as Hero.

To many, the term “Hillbilly Highway” refers to the roads Appalachians once used to leave for the industrial north and now the Sunbelt, looking for work. I, however, takes another view. Born and raised in the heart of the Mountain State, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles along the back roads of Central and Southern Appalachia chronicling the history and stories of Appalachia. This informs my view as the Hillbilly as heroic.

Try traveling it for yourself! Doing so will allow you to slow down, see some of the oldest and most beautiful forests in the world, and make some new friends.

© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019

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The #MeToo Movement is Tone Deaf

Demanding ban of Christmas classic is a disturbing display of censorship

Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief
MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

LENOIR, N.C. – It was inevitable I suppose. While I generally support the #MeToo movement, I knew it was only a matter of time before the intolerant extremists that are part of it would turn the movement into thought police.

They have. They have proven to be tone deaf in demanding that radio stations ban the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as reported by NPR. The demand is based on the belief that the song encourages date rape. You can listen to a cover of it by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

I guess you hear what you want to hear.

The censorship must stop here. Before long, classical poems such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (written in 1681) will be banned. Read it. You’ll find it incredibly offensive if this song bugs you.

So, I’ve got to oppose the #MeToo movement on this. Censorship seems totally inconsistent with the movement’s values. Perhaps not, but I am an ally because it is consistent with my values. Decades before the #MeToo movement was born – before most of those involved in it were born! – I was working hard in North Carolina in the second half of the 1970s to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If the #MeToo movement cares about keeping its allies, it needs to avoid ridiculous debates such as this.

Courting METoo

Finally, I wish to remind the #MeToo movement that there are sometimes attractions between members of the opposite sex and persistence doesn’t always lead to rape; sometimes it leads to a lifetime of commitment and maybe even a family. It’s called courting and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t today. I’d just be a committed bachelor. There was once excitement and joy in courting. If the #MeToo movement has its way, you’ll have to read about it in the history books. Or, you could read Marvell’s poem above. But prepare to be scandalized. It seems that for centuries, this desire has always existed. There is nothing desirable about being metaphorically stiff-armed before you get a chance to say, “Nice to meet you.”

Yes, courting is a delicate dance. But it is a dance. Sometimes, when you dance, you get too close. Other times, you get pulled closer. What do you do then? Keep dancing and take your chances.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Wheeler’s Book a Colorful Appalachian Narrative

Many stories, but one theme – relationships are everything

LENOIR, N.C. – Recently, as I wrote, I had the opportunity to hear Billy Edd Wheeler of Swannanoa, N.C. tell one story after another, many which are straight out of his book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly’s poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale to Writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Wheeler CoverThe title’s a mouthful, but it’s appropriate, because so is every page; one sometimes wants to take a breath for Mr. Wheeler as he – with the wide-eyed excitement of a child – takes you on his journeys. An excellent story-teller – whether through songs, poetry, plays, books or simply sitting on a stage – Wheeler’s tales and songs have universal appeal. Some for their humor, some for their somber reality, and some because of Wheeler’s genuinely positive outlook on life. It seems he has been determined – whether consciously or not – to learn from every traumatic life event how to survive, even persevere.

From his simple beginnings in the deep hollows of Highcoal, W.Va., to his journeys through Nashville, New York and other places near and far and then settling in Swannanoa, Mr. Wheeler teaches an important lesson – a successful life is relationship-based. Every story Wheeler tells of his next step of success, is also the story of the person(s) that helped make that step possible.

Though clearly a motivated, talented and determined individual, Mr. Wheeler’s story is not one of self-reliance; rather, it is an account of the importance of learning from elders and working to establish and maintain lifelong relationships. There are dozens of stories of his friendships with famous people, perhaps most notably Chet Atkins and Janis Ian. There are far too many too name, but Mr. Wheeler’s view of the Nashville music scene – whether from a golf course or recording studio – provides fascinating insight into how the artist’s work must always be balanced with marketability anxieties. Because of raw talent and a congenial personality, Mr. Wheeler has aptly negotiated both worlds. Hence, his book reads like a textbook for the musician aspiring to write or perform at the highest levels.

Billy_Edd_Wheeler_6

Billy Edd Wheeler

It is also simply a narrative of a remarkable life. Mr. Wheeler’s artistic endeavors have often been interspersed with leadership positions with numerous organizations. His endless curiosity has ensured that he had multiple vocational experiences and opportunities. Those, in turn, informed the next steps in his life. In short, he has been a determined steward of his time and talents. He certainly values leisure, especially at 85, but throughout his life has never turned down a challenge.

Those interested in nearly century-old recollections of life in the coalfields of southern West Virginia will value Mr. Wheeler’s tales from his childhood, even the unpleasant ones. The challenge of bouncing from place to place during unstable periods in his childhood, and how he was determined to pave his own path through it all, is inspirational for readers of any age.

At the end, he thanks several people, including his wife Mary, “… for adding humor to the project by telling people I’m writing a book of fiction and calling it a memoir.” I suspect there is truth in both; that’s what makes for a great story-teller. Besides, one of the sweetest – and sometimes orneriest – thread through the book is the story of the lifelong love-affair between Billy Edd and Mary. They wouldn’t still be married after 55 years if either lacked a good sense of humor.

It’s worth a read to decide for yourself whether it’s fiction, a memoir, or something in between. You can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain, N.C.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Sweet Serendipity

Up close and personal with Appalachian legends

Note: This is the seventh installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.”  Learn more here.

By Michael M. Barrick

Wheeler Cover

Cover of Billy Edd Wheeler’s newest work

BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Considering the number of times that our family has seen Kathy Mattea in concert, it is a wonder that she does not have a restraining order against us. We behave, but we are enthusiastic. So, you can appreciate my delight at finding out that Ms. Mattea was going to be in Black Mountain this past Saturday at a legendary listening room, the White Horse Black Mountain.

My wife and I had a rare, impromptu opportunity to scoot out for a date, so I was snooping around on the web (it does have its value) and typed in her name. Up came up an event posting with this sign:

Wheeler Sign

White Horse Black Mountain marquee

Immediately, I realized this wasn’t “simply” a Kathy Mattea concert; in addition, there was going to be Appalachian story-telling. As the marquee said in shorthand, Ms. Mattea was going to be there to converse with Billy Edd Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler, 85, had written songs that Ms. Mattea used on her album “Coal,” released in 2008. Three of the eleven songs were written by Mr. Wheeler – “Red Winged Blackbird,” “Coal Tattoo,” and “The Coming of the Roads.” The lyrics to Wheelers’ songs (and the others) can be found here. You can listen to Ms. Mattea’s version of “Coal Tattoo.”

Indeed, when that album was released, we saw Ms. Mattea in concert. That is one of the joys of her albums and concerts. They are often thematic, but she doesn’t forget what other songs her fans love. In any event, when I looked at the lineup, I knew we were in for a treat even better than a concert. We were going to hear from Appalachian artistic legends – if I could get tickets.

So, I called and was fortunate enough to score two of the last tickets. Sweet serendipity was in play now, so I was beginning to have a peaceful, anticipatory sense of what awaited us.

My instincts or whatever you care to call them were spot on. Douglas Orr, the president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, moderated a conversation with Mr. Wheeler about his new book, “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout: A hillbilly poet’s journey from Appalachia to Yale writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & more.”

Mr. Wheeler attended Warren Wilson on his winding path to Yale and a lifetime of writing hits for Appalachian legends. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wheeler has written hits for Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Neil Young, The Kingston Trio, Kenny Rogers and others.

He now lives in Swannanoa, N.C., but like Ms. Mattea, is a West Virginia native. So, the conversation meandered between the history and music of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Allegheny Plateau that constitutes much of West Virginia. He and Ms. Mattea discussed with compassion and wisdom the complexity of singing about coal mining, alluding to the love/hate relationship that so many mountaineers have with coal. If you’d like more insight on that, read the “Coal” liner notes by Homer Hickam, another West Virginia native who grew up in coal country (Coalwood). He gained fame for his book, “Rocket Boys” about growing up in late 1950s West Virginia. It was made into the movie, “October Sky.”

White Horse Banner 938 b

It was a lovely diversion, much like slowly chugging down a gravel road is from the insanity of interstate driving. In other words, it was a great stop along the Hillbilly Highway. I suspect that if during your travels you happen to run into any of the folks we saw Saturday night, you will understand why I consider being called a hillbilly a compliment and a term of endearment.

Mr. Wheeler was understated – humble – in his responses, but he was also typically blunt, a trait not uncommon to West Virginians. Ms. Mattea, meanwhile also exemplified Mountaineer humility, demonstrating once again why we love her so. She is releasing her newest album, “Pretty Bird” on Sept. 7, though she’ll be previewing it on Mountain State at the closing of the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, W.Va on Aug. 11. She never once mentioned either the album or concert.

It was clear that she cared about one thing – letting the 200-plus folks in attendance know just what Billy Edd Wheeler meant to her and all of Appalachia.

High Coal WV

High Coal, W.Va. (top right hand corner) ©, 2015 DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer of West Virginia

So, all ears were perked as Mr. Wheeler talked about his youth in High Coal (or Highcoal, depending upon who is spelling it). Though now abandoned, it is seen on the map in Boone County, near the junction with Raleigh and Kanawha counties – the heart of the deep, dark coalfields of southern West Virginia. It is near here that the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred a century ago and where Bill Blizzard, Mother Jones and thousands of others risked their lives to unionize the mines.

Between stories, Ms. Mattea and the band Whitewater Bluegrass would play one of Mr. Wheeler’s tunes after he had shared the history of it.

Essentially, it was what was once a typical summer evening in Appalachia. No air conditioning, lots of tall tales, toe-tapping music on the front porch and – at our house anyway – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. 

Note: I have no quotes from last Saturday, because I was there to enjoy time with my wife, listen to story-telling and music, and drink beer. At that, I succeeded. However, I’m not good at multi-tasking, so I couldn’t take notes. So, I will eventually write a review of Mr. Wheeler’s book – between PBRs. Or, if you prefer, you can get a copy at Black Mountain Books & Cases at 103 Cherry Street in Black Mountain.

Music along the Hillbilly Highway is ‘Handmade & Heartfelt’

Kay and Patrick Crouch have taught and inspired thousands of students and others in the region; they are also premier promoters of the music of Caldwell County and Southern Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the sixth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” It is an abridged version of an article originally published in 2017.  Learn more here.

6 Showcase Grand Finale

The Grand Finale of a Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

LENOIR, N.C. – Before we ride the Hillbilly Highway out of Caldwell County for now, our first leg of our tour along the Hillbilly Highway would be incomplete without first acknowledging a couple that have worked tirelessly to preserve and pass along Appalachia’s musical heritage – from Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.

Handmade & Heartfelt

When I interviewed Kay and Patrick Crouch in 2017, just a few of weeks before the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, they were relaxed – the kind of relaxed that is rooted in two decades of experience – as they discussed preparations for the concert during a visit to their home studio. (The 20th Annual Showcase was held in 2018, and the 21st is already scheduled for March 9, 2019).

Patrick explained the genesis of the theme for 2017, “Handmade & Heartfelt.” He said, “Some years I have the title in my brain and then get the musicians that fit. This year, however, I had this group of people who I love and admire as people and musicians that I’ve been wanting to get on the show. So, it will feature various styles of music – some is original, but all comes from the heart.”

Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language … .” – Patrick Crouch

The 19th Showcase included eight groups or individuals, including Strictly Clean and Decent, which is Patrick and Kay’s collaboration with Ron Shuffler. The total of musicians performing was about two dozen, in addition to members of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Pointing out that 19 years of experience of preparing and hosting the showcase has made it easier for them, Patrick shared, “Now we have a tradition established. I already know what we’re going to do for the 20th.”

Showcase SC&D

Strictly Clean and Decent (Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler) host the Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Patrick and Kay acknowledged that not every one of the more than 200 musicians that have appeared in the showcase as of this year are Caldwell County residents, but all have roots to the county. “It’s the traditional music that’s the connection,” offered Kay. She continued, “It’s good to connect with folks from outside Caldwell County. The real value is that these folks see what we’re so proud of.”

Patrick shared, “It is unfathomable to think that more than 200 musicians who live in or have ties to Caldwell County have performed. Our goal was 100. After 10 years, we had reached 128. When we started this, this was our stage that we wanted to share. It is incredible to think about how many musicians we have shared that stage with.” Smiling, and looking at Kay, he added, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have such a community of musicians here. It’s going to just keep growing.”

He continued, “Music flows. It flows from the performer. It’s not something you think about. It’s what we do. The sign of an artist is playing whatever they want.”

Patrick Crouch by David Cortner

Musician Patrick Crouch of Lenoir, N.C. always takes plenty of time to share a story or two about the history and music of Appalachia © David Courtner

That’s exactly what happens at the Showcase. Patrick sends out a schedule to the musicians, tells them how much time they have and how many songs they can play, but does not tell them what to play. He explained why. “Everybody truly loves music. It is the universal language. The audience knows that. The biggest challenge is for the musicians to limit their selections.” He continued, “I don’t give a lot of direction. Early on, we met a lot. Now it’s better to just let things be as they may.”

Besides the quality of musicians that play at the Showcase, Patrick says another reason for its success is how the community of musicians support it. “Those who don’t play in it still come out. Some come during sound check just to see folks they haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, we’ve enjoyed the support of the people of Caldwell County from the beginning.”

Sitting in a room surrounded by CDs, musical memorabilia, instruments and a recording studio, Patrick sat up in his chair and shared, “I stick my chest out when I say I’m from Caldwell County and am talking about our music.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017-2018.

 

Andrew Massey Living Lenoir’s Legacy

Pickin’ and playing on the porch as old as this Western North Carolina county

Note: This is the first installment in “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” I’m beginning as about to close as home as I can get – a neighbor of our daughter. Caldwell County is full of fascinating people and wondrous beauty, so many of our first installments will be from here, but I’m working my way up to at least the Mason-Dixon line over the next few weeks and months. Learn more here.

By Michel M. Barrick

Andrew Massey 1

LENOIR, N.C. – Since the first European pioneers explored the Yadkin Valley and settled Tucker’s Barn – our modern day Lenoir – music has been central to our heritage.

Above, my buddy Andrew Massey takes a few minutes to pick on his guitar on his back deck. Constantly writing, he played two new tunes. Pickin’ and singing on your porch is nothing new in Lenoir or anywhere in Caldwell County. It’s a way of life. Musicians thrive off of each other and the heritage is continued!

It’s always a joy to enjoy the creative offerings of Andrew and his many friends. Indeed, he is part of Sycamore Bones, a local band that plays regionally and played an electrifying set in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase.

visitlenoirOne thing I concluded for certain from listening to Andrew offer his latest creations on an unseasonably warm and beautifully sunny February afternoon – the arts community truly is the shining light of Lenoir. Lenoir, in turn, continues to play a vital role in the preservation of traditional Appalachian music. It is a must stop along the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. If interested, learn more here.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Still Something in the Water

20th Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase a tribute to its roots

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – More than 20 years ago, at a Christmas party at the home of Kay and Patrick Crouch, a typically spontaneous jam session broke out – not unlike the ones that have occurred in homes and on porches in Caldwell County for generations. Present that night was David Briggs, who was then the executive director of the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center.

Recalling that moment recently, Patrick revealed, “He turned to me and said, ‘Patty, why do we not have this on stage?’”

Showcase SC&D

Strictly Clean and Decent (Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler, r) are hosting their 20th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

That simple question led to the first annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase at the Civic Center. The show was titled “It Must Be Something in the Water,” a tip to the long, seemingly unending population of musicians living among the hills and hollows of Caldwell County. Now, the 20th Annual Caldwell County Traditional Musicians Showcase is scheduled for March 10, featuring a few of the musicians from that first Showcase and others since, several new performers, and Briggs making an appearance.

“The Showcase was David’s idea,” shared Patrick. “This is a tribute to the original show. This is a tribute to the longevity of the series. I’ll be delighted to have David on stage. Also, Donna Minton, who has helped so much from the beginning.”

Patrick and Kay are teamed up with Ron Shuffler as Strictly Clean and Decent; they will serve as the host band as they have each year since 1998. Also, Roger Hicks and Lyndy Johnson, who performed in the 2001 Showcase, will have a set. “Roger Hicks and Lyndy Johnson are finger-style guitarists who are listed in the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area roster of traditional musicians,” said Patrick.

Patrick also noted that the artwork from the original Showcase was designed by David Courtner, and also expressed deep gratitude to Jeff Bentley, the current executive director of the Civic Center. Bentley, Patrick pointed out, has been there for every show, having been promoted from sound technician to executive director since Briggs left. “We are on solid ground due to the fact that he works hard to promote the show.”

It (the Showcase) has created a greater awareness of music and the folk arts. Folks have embraced that. It’s not only an American music we embrace. It’s Southern music. It’s Southern Appalachian music.” – Patrick Crouch

Despite having familiar faces this year, Patrick said that the fresh faces are just as exciting to him. “It makes me step back and take a reflective look. We have 12 people who have never been in the Showcase. Over 20 years we’ve had more than 200 musicians, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. We have an unlimited supply of talent. That’s beautiful.”

Patrick sang high praises for Conrad Boudreau who is recognized in the Unifour area as a mandolin teacher of young musicians. “He has come into our community with such energy and enthusiasm that he is influencing and encouraging other musicians.” Joining Boudreau will be Minton, whose popularity is evident by the number of times she has performed in the Showcase – in 1998, 2001, and 2007.

A previous performer, Charlie Carpenter (2005) will be joined by first-timer Todd McCloud. “They are known for their unique and powerful duet vocals,” said Patrick.

A couple typically associated with Lenoir’s furniture industry, Alex and Anne Bernhardt will play Cajun music on their first showcase appearance.

Red Rocking Chair, consisting of Jack Lawrence, Tom Kuhn, and Dale Meyer, who have been playing together 12 years, play Bluegrass music, but other genres as well.

Sarah Seymour and Nick Seymour, both of whom performed in 2010 as part of Sweetbriar Jam, will appear as members of Rooted, an acoustic band that plays Americana and roots music in an acoustic setting. Band members with Rooted making their first showcase appearance are Jimmy Atkins, Drew Gray, Seath Gray, and Morgan Smith.

Audience members will be also treated to the excellence of the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians and the wit of Nancy Posey, taking her third turn as emcee.

Patrick notes that the Showcase is an important contribution to the rich arts tradition of Caldwell County. “It has created a greater awareness of music and the folk arts,” he said. “Folks have embraced that. It’s not only an American music we embrace. It’s Southern music. It’s Southern Appalachian music.

“It makes us a special place.”

The Showcase will be presented on Saturday, March 10, at 7:30 pm at the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Civic Center or by calling the box office at 828-726-2401.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Lindsay Barrick to Lead Caldwell Arts Council

Longtime Caldwell resident that benefited from the Council as a student is named Executive Director

Lindsay Barrick

Lindsay Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – The Caldwell Arts Council (CAC) is pleased to announce that Lindsay Barrick will become its sixth Executive Director, effective April 29. During her time as the CAC Social Media Manager, Barrick has overseen the creation and dissemination of content on various social networking platforms. She has been a long-time advocate and supporter of the CAC, other arts venues, and many individual artists, musicians, writers, and thespians.

She currently serves as Director of Programs and New Media for St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hickory as well as studio manager and printmaking instructor at the Hickory Museum of Art. A native of West Virginia, she spent most of her formative years in Caldwell County. Barrick is passionate about the arts and the people of Appalachia.

She said, “I am honored and thrilled to serve an organization I have loved since I was a young girl. It will be my great joy to continue the important work of Caldwell Arts Council: introducing school children to live theatre through our Artists in Schools program; preserving traditional Appalachian music through JAM; encouraging participation in poetry and acting through our annual competitions; supporting non-profits and individual artists in their vital efforts through grants; and presenting opportunities for artists and musicians to share in the thrill of exhibiting their craft.”

Barrick continued, “I also look forward to developing new ways to connect our community members and the arts. I have tremendous respect for former Executive Director Lee Carol Giduz and current Executive Director Adrienne Roellgen. I know much can be learned from their leadership.” She also praised the current staff, volunteers and board, adding, “Launi, Cathy, Bob, our dedicated volunteers, generous board members, and I already work so well together. I’m excited about the possibilities going forward.”

Barrick said, “Adrienne will continue to serve as Executive Director through April 28. We appreciate her enduring enthusiasm and love for Caldwell Arts Council. We wish her and her family the very best as they begin an exciting new chapter in Los Angeles.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.

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Now I’m Seriously Peeved at Donald Trump

Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family

By Michael M. Barrick

Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.

So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.

Ssmuppetgang1972

And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.

Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.

You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.

Sesame_Street_sign.svgAnyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.

We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.

Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”

So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.

So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.

Pbs-logo-800How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.

As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.

We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.

You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).

In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.

When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”

Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).

BigbirdnewversionI learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.

So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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JAM: ‘Building Community One Tune at a Time’

Inspiring program is preserving music, history and communities of Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick

strictly-strings-3

Strictly Strings. Photo by Martin Church.

LENOIR, N.C. – The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program says on its website “We’re building community one tune at a time.”

That’s a fact, as I saw it on display last night here at the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. There, among many other great musicians, we saw and heard the group Strictly Strings, which was born out of the Boone, N.C. JAM affiliate. (Learn more here: Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition).

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Strictly Strings on stage. Photo by Lonnie Webster.

Below each photo are statements from JAM’s website. We hope these photos and insights will motivate you to click on the links above and learn more about this vital educational music program that is preserving the history, traditions and communities of Appalachia. If you have a chance to see Strictly Strings or any JAM shows of the roughly 40 affiliates in southern Appalachia, do it! You’ll see and hear history come alive. 

JAM at Merlefest

Members of Caldwell JAM at MerleFest 2016

We envision a world in which all children have the opportunity to experience community through the joy of participating in traditional mountain music together.”

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Strictly Strings as seen on the cover of their album, ‘High on a Mountain.’ Photo by Martin Church.

Our mission is to provide communities the tools and support they need to teach children to play and dance to traditional old time and bluegrass music.”

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Caldwell JAM musicians perform for North Carolina’s legislators on ARTS DAY

 

We believe that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations.”

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Strictly Strings photo by Martin Church.

Read about Caldwell, N.C. JAM here. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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