Giving Thanks for Bluegrass Blessings

Chris JonesWe’re entering the long weekend of Thanksgiving today, which is, if you look on the positive side, a time of feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, reuniting with family, happily braving the malls with other bargain-hunting Christmas shoppers, and giving thanks for our many blessings.

For the more cynical, it’s a weekend of aggravating and dangerous traffic, department store trampling incidents, rampant gluttony, and the rekindling of long and bitter family feuds.

Also, in keeping with the more cynical outlook, it’s a risky time for a professional musician to be taking a gig, even if your primary motive is avoiding the family feuds mentioned above. Unless you’re playing at an event that’s been happening annually since Harry Truman was in office, or you’re working a private party, you’re taking a chance that you will be playing a concert or festival that only 9 people are going to show up to, because — and this might surprise you — it’s the Thanksgiving weekend!

The two most poorly attended and money-losing bluegrass events I’ve ever played (or ever seen, for that matter) were on this weekend. Both were “first annual” (and last annual), and one was an outdoor festival, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. I managed to get paid for both (I used to have a very intimidating-looking dobro player named “Crunch”), but some weren’t so lucky. 

I would like to remain positive, though, so I thought this week I’d just jot down a few things that I’m especially thankful for, not necessarily in order of importance, or any order at all.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for:

  • People who have read these weekly entries of mine over the past year, spending valuable time that could have been spent on more productive things, like experimenting with the AA  AA  AG#  AA mandolin cross-tuning, arranging Goodbye Old Pal for hip-hop, or translating Pearl Pearl Pearl into Aramaic.
  • People who aren’t reading this while driving, especially this weekend.
  • Humidity under 90% at bluegrass festivals in July.
  • Workshops scheduled later than 12:00 noon.
  • Anything scheduled later than 12:00 noon.
  • Bill Monroe hiring a young banjo player named Earl Scruggs around this time of year in 1945.
  • Ralph Stanley hiring a couple of teenagers named Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley, then taking them into the studio to record Cry From the Cross in 1971.
  • Customs officials who don’t treat musicians like smugglers and/or terrorists. Though it’s true that some bluegrass instruments occasionally sound like they’re being used as weapons, surely there are more dangerous people out there they can spend their time hassling (like professional athletes).
  • The airlines and their employees who take a positive attitude about musicians carrying precious musical instruments on a plane. Even if it turns out the instrument won’t fit in the overhead compartment, it’s nice not to be treated like a criminal for having tried (and, not to be uncharitable, but for those who do treat us like criminals, may they have lumpy gravy tomorrow and pumpkin pie that’s just a little off).
  • Long johns available in tall sizes (for my northern Canadian winter months, but also possible future stagewear).
  • People who still buy CDs directly from artists, when they have various ways (legal or otherwise) to get their music for nothing.
  • The fact that it’s still okay not to participate in Black Friday at all.

And, finally, in anticipation of the coming season:

  • Thanks to Charles Dickens for starting a little story of his with “Marley was dead, to begin with.”
  • Thanks to Will Farrell for being secure enough to spend almost an entire movie dressed in yellow tights.
  • Thanks to Tex Logan for writing Christmas Times a-Comin’.

Oh, and thanks to Bluegrass Today for letting me turn in nothing but a “thank you” list this week.

Happy Thanksgiving.