Music is a simple joy, a transcendent lapse in the illusory plight of time and change. In an age where ego and image are as important in music as the music itself – at least in our means of consuming it and being attracted to it – it’s hard to even conceive a time when music was a performance medium. There was no smoke and mirrors to hide behind. When I went to a folk festival last spring in Ohio, something struck me. There was a guitarist there, a member of the bluegrass band The Carolina Chocolate Drops, who said to my friends and I, “There are two types of music: dancin’ music and sit-down music.” He went on to further illustrate sit-down music as “Tear-in-your-beer” music. I knew the latter well.
At this festival, like all music of the world prior to – I don’t know – the 1920’s, the spotlight was on dancing music, music that got you off your self-reflective, angsty ass and exorcised the human curse of self-awareness…if only for a few minutes. While the bass fiddle throbbed out the low-end and the banjos rang clear and true, the crowd flat-foot danced, clapped, and sang as if they’d been waiting all year to do it. It was spiritual, it was entertaining, it was refreshing.
I posted this video today because it is a simple reminder of what the musician’s role used to be in society. Now, I’m not trying to turn back the clocks. I realize that the time of Roscoe Holcomb is long gone. And it’s futile to try and recapture that notion of true folk. Anyone who tries to throw on overalls and act like a “true folk” musician while at the same time going home and updating his myspace page and responding to a text message from his girlfriend is just as much guilty of “betraying” folk, if not more so. Roscoe Holcomb had no pretense – he just made honest music to make people dance, and maybe make a dollar while he was at it. As long as musicians are honest to themselves and to their audience – and don’t forget that, in the end, a musician should be a performer first and a demigod second – we’ll all be dancing. Even if it’s just in our head.