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Chapter 7 The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down Bluegrass, Folk Rock, and Outlaw Country “Don’t Give Up Your Day Job” It’s Tuesday, May 8, 2012, and I’m home from a trip to Cincinnati, where I met up with some old friends from California, Lynne and Keith Matheny . They’re great travelers and took a train from Northern California to Cincinnati to catch a riverboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Memphis. They had a layover in Cincinnati, and I drove down to spend the weekend with them. They’re bluegrass fans, and I knew Cincinnati was a good bluegrass town. One of my former students, Larry Nager, used to write about music for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and he told me the best bluegrass bar in town was the Comet. Sure enough, that weekend the bar was having its regular Sunday-night concert with the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars (Jeff Roberts, banjo; Tim Strong, guitar; Missy Werner, vocals; Ed Cunningham,fiddle,vocals; Brad Meinerding,mandolin;ArtieWerner, bass; John Cole, dobro). The show started at 7:30, and we got there about an hour ahead of time. The place was already crowded and all the tables taken.We picked up some folding chairs and started looking for a table with room for us.Lynne asked at one table, and the guy said yes, but his girlfriend said they were waiting for other friends. Because I’d already had a couple of shots of Jack Daniels, I overcame my usual shyness and asked at another table with as much insistent charm as I could muster:“Hi, would y’all be willing to share your table with us?We’re really nice people and won’t block your view of the stage.My 146 chapter 7 friends came all the way from California to hear the show.”The couple,who looked to be in their thirties,smiled and said,“Sure,go ahead and sit down.” “I’m Pat, this is Lynne and Keith; we sure appreciate it.” Somehow in such social circumstances, I slip into my Texas drawl and southern politeness, and it usually works. I said,“Where are y’all from?” He said,“Columbus,” and I asked,“What neighborhood?”“Bexley.”“I’m from Clintonville,” I replied, and we started talking about Columbus and its distinctive neighborhoods.Bexley is on the east side and is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Knowing that many Appalachian migrants had settled in a lower-income area on the south end of town and that the best bluegrass bars had historically been there on South Parsons Avenue, I said,“I didn’t think Bexley was much of a bluegrass neighborhood.” He laughed and tacitly agreed,“I didn’t really fit in at Bexley High School.” “What do y’all do for a livin’?” “Electronics,” he said. “I’m a teacher,” she said. “What subject?” “English.” “Me too.” Keith said he was a teacher too, so we had something else in common besides bluegrass.After several minutes in this vein, they asked Lynne and Keith,“What part of California are you from?” And we were well into an easygoing conversation. The woman turned out to be from Kentucky,“just on the other side of the river in Covington.” “So you grew up with bluegrass?” “Sure did.” And we proceeded to talk about her growing up in a bluegrass family.She said her boyfriend kidded her about being from Kentucky,which is a joking tradition in Ohio—ignorant hillbilly jokes and so on. Buckeyes call people from the mountains“briar hoppers”and other condescending names.Later she told me that a girlfriend of hers had a comeback for the insults,and she whispered in my ear,“It’s better to wipe your ass with a buckeye than with a briar.” I think all this camaraderie had something to do with the bonding power of bluegrass music. Aftertheshow,KeithandItalkedbrieflywithsomemembersof theband. Their playing was excellent that night: high,ringing banjo played with great The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down 147 dexterity as was the fiddle playing; beautiful guitar solos,and twangy dobro, which always makes me think of the mountains of eastern Kentucky; solid rhythm from the bass; expert mandolin picking,which is an important element in the bluegrass sound and all of it tightly played together. The group sang high harmony with the voices blending into one. Missy Werner sang the high tenor part, which is usually sung by a male voice, and...


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