Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bluegrass-Gospel in the Piney Woods

I checked out of the Uptown Motor Inn and headed south on I-55 toward the Piney Woods region of the state.  My destination was the Magnolia State Bluegrass Association (MSBA) Winter Show. I was warmly greeted by Bertie Sullivan, MSBA president and nominee for bluegrass promotor of the year, at the Columbia Ag Expo Center.  Folks started arriving in Columbia days before, parking their RVs and setting up camp for a weekend of old-timey bluegrass and gospel.  Between MSBA meetings and more formal performances, pickers of all experience levels gather casually to play.  

Among the groups performing that Saturday (Jan. 24), were the Larry Wallace Band, Shallow Creek and the Mississippi Bluegrass All-Stars (Bertie's hand-picked selection of players). One of the state's most acclaimed old-timey fiddlers, Fiddlin' Bill Rogers performed with several groups, including the All-Stars.  He is a kind man who has served as a Master Instructor to many young folks across Mississippi as part of the MAC's apprenticeship program.  When Bill introduced himself, he was dressed comfortably in a baseball cap and jeans.  The next time I saw him, he was sharply decked in coat and tie, and burning the bow to the traditional tune"Roly Poley."  

(Please note: I have a new camera and shot this video holding the it vertically.  However, the video will only play horizontally.  Sorry for the neck ache, but its worth a watch!)

The bluegrass community in Mississippi is larger than I realized, with many groups playing both secular and religious songs.  String instruments ranging from stand-up bass, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and banjo are played in almost every group.  Because Mississippi's bluegrass community gathers so often, audience members are devoted and know much about the groups performing, including set lists, family ties and work life. 

Folks were especially excited to hear Shallow Creek, a bluegrass-gospel group out of Picayune. From what I understand, a group of three brothers make up the core of the band.  The brothers are all registered nurses who specialize in emergency room care.  The audience was truly taken with Shallow Creek.  Many sung along and swayed in their camping chairs.  The mood felt much like an unofficial worship service, and in many ways it was. 

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