How Are Your Tomatoes This Year from Chris Burton

Sometimes the story of a song is so pleasing that you almost don’t care if the song itself is a good one. When it is also a well-constructed composition, it’s like you enjoy it twice as well.

So it is with the new release from Virginia singer/songwriter Chris Burton, a tribute to his grandmother, Doley Moss, with the intriguing title, How Are Your Tomatoes This Year?

Most of us grow up with a hearty respect for our grandparents. Whether or not they were truly accomplished people, their importance to us as youngsters was always outsized, and their wisdom seemed so great as to be unapproachable in the eyes of a ten year old child.

But it appears that Burton’s grandmother was, indeed, a gifted and talented person, and the story he tells of her life as an independent rural woman in the 1960s and ’70s is compelling in its telling.

Before you hear the song, here is its story.

“After my grandfather died at 46 years old in 1956, my grandmother decided to take my uncles and a few of their friends for a visit down to Elk Creek in Grayson County, Virginia. She had spent some time in Wytheville as a little girl, and had always loved the Elk Creek Valley. While out riding the roads, the boys came upon a lovely little farm for sale. She bought it and moved there part time for a few years, and then full time in 1968. A few years later she had a hundred year old cabin re-constructed on the property.

In the early days, it was a 12 hour drive from DC where we grew up, and my family spent many weeks there in the summer, as well as Thanksgiving and Easter. Friends would come visit to take in the fresh air, endless dirt roads, learn to ride horses, hike to the property’s amazing waterfall, and get to know the wonders of the mountains. We would ‘go to town’ once a week, a separate adventure in itself.

The Farm was our favorite place in the whole world (still is). As the song explains, my grandmother knew nothing about living in the mountains, but realized quickly that she had no choice but to learn. The cabin was one room with a Franklin Stove, and her dogs Sammy and George lived there too, providing great company.

At different periods she had hay in the front meadow, a horse and donkey, a few cows, and some nasty geese. It seems she had chickens at some point, and tobacco curing in the barn every fall. She drove an International Scout and would always say, ‘Don’t use first gear unless you are going up a brick wall.’

Nana put in a ‘cement pond,’ as the locals called it, fed by water from the nearby spring, filtered by a system she devised from a 50 gallon drum and PVC pipe. Boy was it cold. There were always frogs.

Then she decided to put a pond in the front meadow, and I suggested an island in the middle because, ‘that would be really cool!’ So she did.

There were frozen pipes, snow shoes, baling hay, goose husbandry, jelly, and applesauce production. She was welcomed by the locals who marveled at, and ultimately loved, this eccentric woman from the city.

She became an expert gardener as well. She simply had to.

The song title reflects a question my grandmother would hear often from neighbors, which showed that she had better figure out how to garden, and pick up the many ways of the mountains. As the song broadens to a larger picture, it shares a sentiment basic, yet meaningful, as the truly important things are more and more lost in the world today.”

Chris play guitar and bass, singing in his uniquely throaty voice, with help from Ron Stewart on fiddles and reso-guitar.

Have a listen…

How Are Your Tomatoes This Year is available now from popular download and streaming services online, and to radio programmers at AirPlay Direct.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.