Bluegrass bands face an annual challenge at this festive time of the year. And no, I don’t mean the challenge of coming up with money to buy gifts when your band isn’t working at all.
Though it is a traditional time of seasonal unemployment for many bluegrass acts, for those who do get a Christmas-oriented gig here and there, the biggest quandary they’ll face is how to fill a set with bluegrass Christmas material.
I’ve suggested in the past that if all else fails (“all else” meaning actually learning some Christmas songs), bluegrass songs and Christmas songs can be fused together. I suggested titles like “Frosty The Snowman of Constant Sorrow,” and “Pretty Polly, Pretty Paper.” It’s also possible to rewrite bluegrass songs to Christmasize them: “Little Manger Home on the Hill,” “Wassail Cannonball,” or everybody’s favorite, “Green Lights, Thick Nog, and Loud Loud Carols” are just a few examples.
Perhaps you’re thinking that this song Christmasization (try saying that even one time fast) is pretty easy when you just throw out a few song titles. That leaves someone else to rewrite the actual songs, which takes some doing. It’s a fair criticism, so I’ve decided I would dig deep and revise an entire bluegrass standard for you.
I chose that classic Bill Monroe racehorse song, “Molly and Tenbrooks.” The new version is called “Mary and Joseph”:
Run old Joseph run, run old Joseph run
Pay your tax in Bethlehem, doesn’t that sound fun?
Doesn’t that sound fun, O Lord, doesn’t that sound fun
An angel spoke to Mary, told her the good news
She explained to Joseph, he was a bit confused
Was a bit confused, O Lord, he was a bit confused
Mary said to Joseph, you’re not ridin’ straight
I’d like to get to Bethlehem before my child is eight
Before my child is eight, O Lord, before my child is eight
Joseph said to Mary, I know a place to stay
They’ve got lovely rooms there, or at least some cows and hay
At least some cows and hay, O Lord, at least some cows and hay
See the shepherds coming, coming round the curve
They might wake the baby, they’re straining every nerve
Straining every nerve, O Lord, straining every nerve
(I’ll admit this one is a little weak. In my original draft, I had the shepherds beating “the Memphis train,” which didn’t really work either. I just find writing about shepherds to be difficult, and I think it’s entirely the shepherds’ fault)
Wise men they came calling with some gifts in tow
Bringing frankincense and myrrh, frankincense and gold
Frankincense and gold, O Lord, frankincense and gold
(It’s a little known fact that the wise men brought way more frankincense than they had intended to)
Now take that child to Egypt, and hide him in the shade
Herod wants to put him in a coffin ready-made
Coffin ready-made, O Lord, coffin ready-made
Let old Joseph run, O Lord, let old Joseph run
As a tribute to the original, I thought it was important to include the phrase “coffin ready-made.” Besides, it’s so Christmassy!
Have a wonderful holiday, and remember, if “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” is a Christmas song, then so is “Footprints in the Snow.”