Don’t forget to vote for Nellie!

Chris JonesThis will be my last column before the presidential race is all over, which means that one week from today, we in the bluegrass community can all go back to liking each other again.

Back in the early days of this election, which seems like years ago now (probably because it was), Bluegrass Today ran a story about Nathan Stanley’s public endorsement of Donald Trump. I wrote at the time that I didn’t want to know about any bluegrass artist’s endorsement of anyone, and I feel just as strongly about that today.

I also lamented the end of our era of political innocence in the bluegrass world, that more easygoing and apolitical time when we all cared less. As I said at the time, it wasn’t a criticism of Nathan, and I completely support people’s rights to their political opinions, of course, as well as their right to express them. I just don’t want to know about it, whether they support Trump, Clinton, or “Joe Exotic” Maldonado (the tiger trainer on the ballot in 31 states). I’m just afraid it will color my opinion of how someone sings Footprints in the Snow. Where once I might have felt moved by the heartfelt delivery of the line “I bless that happy day when Nellie lost her way,” now I might think it sounds uninformed and mean-spirited, almost as if the singer doesn’t truly care about Nellie or how cold she might have gotten through this getting-lost-in-the-snow experience. It’s just what I’d expect from someone supporting “Candidate X.”

This is why I’ve spent the last several months hiding both Republican and Democratic bluegrass music friends on social media sites. People are saying rude and insulting things to each other about Trump, Hillary, that guy running in Utah, etc., and in some cases damaging friendships over it (and possibly ruining Footprints in the Snow forever). And to what end? No one is enlightened by these discussions, and certainly no one ever changes the strong opinions they brought with them to the argument.

I feel, in a way, like we’re all being played. Real money is made by having the country divided, and by having elections as close as possible, and the more people are stirred up, the better. This keeps people tuned into cable news, and to whichever talk radio host they most agree with, which in turn sells advertising. Perhaps it’s all good for the economy, but it forces us into a 50% Team A vs. 50% Team B mentality in the process (and we all know those Team B people are completely misguided and/or evil!).

In this environment, I think St. Francis of Assisi could be running against the Sheriff of Nottingham, and it would still be a very close election. It’s the world we live in, but I still would like to know as little about my bluegrass music compatriots’ fondness for the Sheriff as possible, or my other friends’ nasty put-downs of anyone not supporting Francis.

Now I will fully admit to having opinions about matters political, too. I even occasionally share stories or even make some sort of statement, but when I do, it’s to a handful of fairly close friends that I know are likely to agree with me. It leads to a friendly exchange about issues sometimes, and that’s about it. Is it cowardly? Perhaps, but I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by the alternative of stirring up trouble. Those of us in the business of selling music and trying to entertain a relatively small audience can little afford to alienate even 20% of the crowd. So, aside from my feelings about gluten (I’m very pro-gluten), I try to keep this stuff to myself.

If what you’re seeking is lots of Facebook interaction, remember that you can always achieve that result (with little or no fighting) by simply posting that you feel a sore throat coming on (“Zinc, plus Echinacea and Coltsfoot tea!!! Works every time!!! Feel better!!!”).

So next week, in spite of what the banjo player in your band may be telling you, our democracy will carry on, notwithstanding a bump or two, and we can go back to remembering all we have in common: our love of Nellie, whether she’s across the sea or lost in the snow, our dislike of “new country,” and our appreciation of a really good pick. Fiddle and bass players wouldn’t understand that last one. Okay, maybe we’ll remain a little divided.