Sunday, May 18, 2008
Bluebonnets Along That Lonesome Highway
The graceful beauty of these twisted Scrub Oaks laced with the buoyant beds of Bluebonnet and Paintbrush makes a Texas springtime something that everyone should try to see at least once in a lifetime. Then, the Live Oaks spread their majesty over the ever-warming sky and you see why some folks never leave this place, or not for long. No, I'm still a Kansas boy, but I am getting filled with the rough physical style of both the people and the land here, enough that I should be bringing some Texas standards to the campfire this year - "The Rivers of Texas" is one I've always wanted to learn and "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue" is one I learned back in the eighties when I hung out here a bit.
I hope everyone got to see the Smithsonian exhibit at the Winfield Library. Every bit as interesting were the two companion exhibits, one concerning Mossman Guitars, and the other displaying artifacts and photographs from the Walnut Valley Festival. It was from the latter that I finally found proof for my original theory - the thing that kind of got me started on all this - the idea that the flat-picking championship was born from that most magical night when David Bromberg and Dan Crary blasted their flat-tops into orbit from Stewart Gymnasium. I found it in the flyer for the first festival at the fairgrounds in 1972, of which I had never before seen a copy. Here is the exact text, I'm assuming in the words of Stu Mossman:
"We would like to invite and welcome you to the first annual Bluegrass Festival and National Flatpicking Championship in Winfield Kansas.
"The idea to hold a National Flatpicking Championship developed as a result of a small, unpublicized folk festival that was held at Southwestern College in Winfield last year. Appearing at that event were flatpickers Dave Bromberg and Dan Crary, and these two fine instrumentalists were asked to get together on stage and demonstrate the type of back-room jamming that audiences never hear.
"Within the first two breaks on "Arkansas Traveler" the audience was on it's feet, cheering. This continued for over thirty minutes, as the two instrumental wizards ran through a series of old fiddle tunes, playing harmonies and counter-melodies rarely heard on guitar. It immediately became apparent that handled properly, a National Flatpicking Championship could be one of the finest additions to the growing schedule of Bluegrass events."
Of course, I described it all a little more dramatically back in September at the beginning of this blog, but then, I wasn't writing copy for a festival flyer. Mr.Bromberg never came back, but Doc Watson and Norman Blake stepped forward to do the heavy lifting with Dan that first year down on the river. And fortunately, the festival over the years moved beyond being just a bluegrass festival and embraced other folk-based forms including old-time string band music, rural blues, and some of our best topical singer-songwriters like John McCutcheon, Tom Paxton, and Tom Chapin. But the Flatpicking Championship, as Stu expected, ended up being the rocket fuel that put this festival into the stratosphere, and I was thrilled to see Mossman Guitars displayed with such professionalism and historical accuracy at the Winfield Library. Sue Birney, who served as curator for all three exhibits, deserves the heartfelt thanks of all who have this music, and this festival, in their hearts. She used our photo from this blog of Stu's guitar-making workshop in 1967 and reported that she heard from many people who were surprised to discover that the festival roots ran back that far. In a way, that means that I have accomplished the first step of my intentions behind continuing this blog - bringing that simple past into the present, bringing some of those early faces into the light of this new century. Sue mentioned the possibility of making the Mossman Memorial concert an annual event, and this is something I believe we should strive for. Equally important, I feel, would be something during the festival itself, something to educate people about the roots of one of the best "roots" festivals in the country. A mention on the website wouldn't be too much to ask for, either, it doesn't seem like.
Either way, time will go on, guitars will go in and out of tune, folks will fall in or out of love either down beside the river or in memory of it. Each of us will hold on to what is most important and leave behind the things we must, making the small and large decisions that will carry us into a future where our songs are the vessels of all we cherish, all we hope for, and all we remember.
Tonight, the Bluebonnets have dropped their blooms, giving way to the Indian Blanket, the Mexican Hat and the Missouri Evening Primrose. The moon is full and summer is more that just a promise, it's soon to be a real relationship.