a little levity
Of saws, electricians and others things musical
By STEVE LANG
“If all the world’s a stage, where does the audience sit?” – Anonymous
I am not a music critic, except of my own.
However, I consider the recent Viva Big Bend music festival a lights-out good time. From saw to banjo, mandolin to fiddle, harmonicas to keyboards, the nearly 50 performing groups and solo artists brought considerable energy and talent to the various Alpine and Marfa stages.
In this centennial year of Woody Guthrie’s birth, I remember attending my first major concert, or at least a concert that involved ordering tickets, jumping into a vehicle and driving more than an hour to see. (This does not include the time we spent an hour trying to jump-start our car in sub-zero weather and were late for a high school band concert seven miles away.)
The concert to which I refer occurred in the 60th year of Woody’s birth and featured Woody’s son Arlo, about 90 miles away and in another state.
While I remember most of Arlo’s songs from that evening in the Fargo (N.D.) Civic Auditorium, I shall never forget the audience response when neon signs advertising “no smoking in the auditorium” blinked on.
Flames were touched to every tobacco (or other) product from Marlboros to pocket rockets. The concert hall was immediately transformed into a hazy, fog-like environment last seen in the Sherlock Holmes flick, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Had Arlo’s “City of New Orleans” run out of steam that autumn evening, the exhaust from several thousand sets of lungs would have propelled that melodic train steadily down the track.
Times change, and sometimes, so do the musicians. Arlo Guthrie made an appearance at Alpine’s Railroad Blues twenty or so years later. Perhaps because he was still choking from the Fargo concert, he requested a non-smoking venue.
About the same time, while I was enjoying a Bob Dylan concert in Sioux City, Iowa, another fan proclaimed her American roots by folding a sheet of typing paper, lighting it and holding it aloft, ala the Statue of Liberty. Based on prompt response by arena security, smoking objects in public indoor settings were no longer in vogue in Iowa, either.
Texas, as we know both from advertising and actual residence, is a whole other country, music included. If the Olympics offered musical competition, Texans could compete in numerous categories. (I mention this because of the present Olympic competition and keen interest in archery, trampolining led by Dong Dong of China, the women’s singlehanded dinghy and the infamous badminton scandal. In lieu of these potentially globe-altering events, a topic like Texas music – even to a Texas audience – could easily be overlooked.)
Even in non-Olympic years, Texas music remains a whole other scene. In fact, Texas has no need to import any music, given its wide variety of venues, ranging from electric to eclectic.
Eclectically speaking, I once believed the Scandinavian songbirds, Stan and Doug (semi-famous in Minneapolis and remote regions of the Upper Midwest for their “Christmas Goose” parody of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird”) topped the charts. Then, I heard Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, with “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?” Still later, Weird Al Yankovic made the rounds, and I actually met someone who once roomed with his girlfriend at Cal Poly. (This occurred in the days when Al’s weirdness was a work in progress.)
Texas offers a more than comparable company, though. We heard the Hickoids, cow-punkers from Austin, perform “Queen of the Barbecue” during their Viva Big Bend set at Padre’s.
We saw a saw not used (in my case) to cut a crooked path near a straight line or to mistakenly hack through a thumbnail. Guy Forsyth beautifully backed up his own vocals on “Summertime” at the Blues. I could not tell if it was a ripsaw or crosscut, but Mr. Forsyth coaxed as pleasing notes from the Sears and Roebuck as he managed on a Les Paul, Fender or Gibson guitar. In short, his carpentry music was better than that once heard from the Bo Conrad Spit Band.
As far as electric, Matt the Electrician is a Texas performer who can not only fix a short but play one. We missed his live show, but I did catch “The Bacon Song” on the ‘net.
Add energetic fiddle from Woodsboss, blues from Miss Julia and the Cruzers, rock from Uncle Lucius, wide variety from Sons of Fathers and the interchangeable instruments and players of Seryn, and Viva Big Bend deserves to keep on keepin’ on.
And those are only the bands we heard.
I did not find a tuba band on the schedule, but it’s a good bet the Tubameisters will be playing Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg.
If I get there, I will request a rendition of “Hound Dog.”
Musically speaking, Steve Lang strives to become an accomplished listener. Steve Lang is a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs.
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