Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat
By Berk Bryant

Mitchell, Ind. The Lewis Family is playing in this 500-seat auditorium. The building is – well, I wish I could tell you how many, but since my deadline for the paper is the day before the show, I can only guess. Every time I have been there for the Lewis Family, Doyle Lawson, Dry Branch Fire Squad or whoever, the place has been FULL. Barring every bad weather, I don't see why it would have been any different this time. As I am writing this, I am looking forward to being there. Seems like the folks up there are a lot more supportive of the bluegrass shows, especially their favorite performers, than many places I go.

Turkey day has passed and it is time for the Santa Claus season. I do hope you had a very fine Thanksgiving and it was spent with special friends and family. Back when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was just about as big an event as Christmas. In some ways for me, it still is. Too bad it has been relegated to a day that is just a word and a day off from work on the calendar. Just doesn't seem to have that same special-day impart. Well, maybe Christmas will be different. Truly hope yours is.

This past month brought Josh Graves and Kenny Baker to Shepherdsville. This was really the first time I had listened and watched their show. It was the first opportunity I had to visit with Kenny Baker. Without knowing it, Kenny did about three fiddle tunes and started them with one of my favorite tunes, an old tune called "Denver Belle." It's a nice tune, a very comfortable melody and just pleasant listening. Their show was good and I don't think "Uncle Josh" has lost a thing on the dobro.

I remember so well seeing him years ago with Flatt and Scruggs, stepping in between them to take a break, turning the dobro almost straight up and down as he squeezed his way up to the one mike they were all using. To watch them and many other groups of that time work a mike, in and out, never missing a note, never getting in each other's way and turning out the music that set the standards for the real thing was a real pleasure. Their ability to perform smoothly in that manner was very much a part of the show. [They were] well rehearsed and operating as a unit like a piece of fine machinery. And no monitor, either, I might add.

Of course, Josh and Kenny didn't have to do that at Shepherdsville. All too often there are so many mikes and mike stands and wires and monitors and who knows what else on stage you can't hardly find the bands back there. Does it sound any better? Well, that's one you can stir around in for a long time to come. I know one thing for sure, it doesn't improve on the individual talents and abilities.

As I try to encourage you each year at this time, make someone's Christmas special with that new Bluegrass tape or CD they want. If you are not sure what or which one to get, ask for a list and pick on or two from it. That way, it will still be surprise. There's a lot to be said for this kind of gift. It is always the right size, the color doesn't matter, and normally, it will not take too long to shop for it. Easy to wrap and/or put in that stocking. If you want to go a little extra, there are many terrific box sets by different artists. Some in one set will contain everything that artist has recorded and others come in two, three or many box sets. Blue Moon Records in Louisville and Old Homestead Records in Brighton, MI are two good sources, among many others. You can reach Old Homestead Records at Box 100l Brighton, MI 48116 or call 810-227-1997 and talk to John Morris.

Another good idea for bluegrass lovers is a video of some of their favorite groups. There are quite a few of those available now, including some instructional videos by various artists. The High Lonesome video, a bluegrass documentary, is very good. Of course, it has a lot of Bill Monroe and lot of rare footage and scenes. For example, there is a quick shot of Don Reno playing banjo for Bill.

The Sand Mountain Boys will be at Shepherdsville on Dec. 6. On January 3, Ralph Stanley returns and Dry Branch Fire Squad will be there on Jan. 17. Let's all go see 'em.

I suppose this is it for this time and this year. Not only do we wish you a wonderful Christmas, but we wish you to be safe and knowing the true meaning of the Christmas celebration. It is not just me, not just how much I can get wrapped up on the morning of December 25. It is more of what we all have and what we can all give. Rethink this season, think again what Christmas really means and be better for it. Keep tuned into Sunday Bluegrass on WFPK FM 92, Sunday nights from 8-11 p.m. If you call him enough or write him enough letters, maybe Santa will bring us some more time or even another show.

And to everyone, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.