As a reporter, it is sometimes necessary to step out from behind my voice recorder and camera and actually participate in the situation I came to cover. Other times, it is vital that I do no such thing.
When I came to watch some local bluegrass musicians rehearse on Saturday, the latter was probably the case — not for the sake of my integrity as a journalist, but for the well being of those in attendance.
I had spoken with Robert Simpson, the newly-elected Eastern Bluegrass Music Association president, about watching his band’s rehearsal for a preview story of the band’s upcoming concert. He said that would be fine and he asked me if I played guitar. “Well, I sometimes try” was my response, so he told me to bring it along when I came.
My guitar is of the electric variety, and while electric guitars are anathema to Appalachian music, I was glad not to have an acoustic since they are so much louder when unplugged. I figured I would conduct a couple of interviews, take a couple of pictures and strum a couple of inaudible chords in the back of the room if I absolutely had to.
Not that I don’t enjoy bluegrass music. I certainly do. I can crank The Osborne Brothers in my car as loudly as any old rock ‘n’ roll record. I just have a terrible time trying to play guitar or sing in front of people who actually know what they’re doing.
And these people know what they’re doing. I’m afraid I may have forgotten some of their names, but the band included guitars, a fiddle, mandolin, stand-up bass and harmonica. I hope to become better acquainted with this outfit.
I do remember Bobby Truelock’s name. He brought a spare guitar, a shiny blonde Taylor that played beautifully and projected loudly, and he was nice enough to let me play it. The group even sat me in their circle.
Long story short, I braved my way through a few of the band’s three-chord arrangements while more complicated pieces eluded me. I was then asked what song I wanted to play.
“Uh … y’all know ‘Big River?’ Johnny Cash?” I asked with some hesitation. I only about halfway knew it. All I had to say was “E, A, B” and the band was good to go.
I started singing the verse, and then I looked around and realized I was actually playing and singing with a bunch of bluegrass diehards. It was a brief moment, but it was pretty cool. I had never quite done anything like that before.
A couple of hours of cover tunes and scale-shredding improvisations later, it was time to go home. I failed to conduct a single interview but, after all, I managed to occupy a Saturday afternoon in town without just staring at a screen. And since I did more watching than playing, I may have even learned a thing or two.
It was a pretty good time. By the way, the show starts at 7 p.m., Friday at the fair barn. I hope to see you there.