Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: Getting Down with Bluegrass


Over the years, I've learned that whenever talented and passionate artists gather to share their skills with an appreciative audience, it invariably turns out great. And that's true whether or not I am "into" their particular art form.

I'm not a big fan of bluegrass music. It's not a style of music that immediately hooks me. But when bluegrass is done right, with talent and passion, "you can't help responding to its honesty. It's music that finds its way deep into your soul" (Allison Krauss).

Last Thursday, Marcie and I returned to Marsh Landing Restaurant in the tiny town of Fellsmere, Florida, with our dear friends Robb and Deana from Pittsburgh. A talented assemblage of bluegrass musicians has gathered there every Thursday evening for the past 14 years for an energetic and entertaining "jam session."

Part of the fun is watching the crowd shuffle in. About an hour before the music begins, a clutch of "groupies" well into their 70s and 80s shows up to claim the front rows of tables. I imagine they have been holding down the same seats every Thursday for a long time. They hug and high-five the other regulars and then get ready for the show. By the time the music starts, the whole building is bursting at the seams and rocking with anticipation.

A professional group called the Penny Creek Band forms the nucleus of the jam each week. They have great harmony and are seriously talented with the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and string bass. They are joined by an assortment of locals who bring their instruments and voices to add to the merriment. Here is a snapshot of the whole entourage playing "The Possum Song" while decked out in namesake headgear:


The belle of the ball is unquestionably Mary Pounds, the only female in the line-up. Mary sings lead vocals, plays a string bass much larger than herself, and "keeps [those] rowdy boys in line." There's no doubt who's in charge when Mary's in front of the room.

This Thursday Mary was upstaged (at least according to the women in the audience) by a tall, handsome guitar player in his 30s who showed up mid-set and proceeded to steal the show. When he stepped up to the microphone to sing and let loose on his guitar, the silver-haired ladies in the room were visibly smitten and practically swooning. They clapped, whistled, and cat-called like a flock of fawning pre-teens.

English art critic John Ruskin once wrote, "When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece." For two hours Mary and her "rowdy boys" had us laughing and crying; clapping, stomping, and singing along. They brought an audience - including some rather skeptical audience members - to life. They created a masterpiece in an unlikely venue.

We discovered the joy of watching talented and passionate people share something they love. We found the magic of old-fashioned, down-home music played from the heart with consummate skill.

So whether or not you "get" bluegrass music, if you're ever in the vicinity on a Thursday evening, I recommend driving down to Fellsmere for some good food and soul-satisfying music. It's a treat to listen to artists who have mastered their craft and who enjoy making other people happy. I promise you'll be tapping your toes during the show and smiling as you leave.

On the drive home, you may find yourself comparing the way you work to the way they work. You may find yourself asking questions like: Do I do my work with passion and professionalism? Do I put my whole heart and soul into what I do? Do I have fun at work? Do I continue to polish my skills and talents? Do others enjoy being around me as I serve? Could others say of me, "he does his work with love and skill; from him you can expect a masterpiece"?

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