Monday, June 02, 2008

Dancing 'til Monday comes around

Building shit is so hard. And so necessary.

Especially in a town like this, where despite a legendary tradition for live music pioneers (everyone from Eck Robertson to Bob Wills to Waylon Jennings to the Flatlanders to Cary Swinney and the Supernatural Family Band and Terry Allen) the range of music that people know is quite narrow. If you play pretty much anything other than hard country or blues, the locals don't mostly know it; if you play anything other than the last 20 knuckle-headed Clear Channel "rock" songs, the college kids don't know it.

And yet there is still an incredible live music community here, mostly in pockets and mostly underground: Tex-Mex, mariachi, hip-hop, gospel, punk-rock, etc. But because the city is so stratified economically and racially, most of those sub-communities are unaware of one another. And almost none of them are familiar with music outside their own.

Especially the stuff we play. So that means that virtually every gig involves audience education, audience development, etc. You're never permitted, as in some "hipper" towns on Left and Right coast, to just sit back and bask in the adulation of people who already get what you do and have come out specifically to hear it. Instead, you're teaching people to listen to a new kind of music, or relate to it in a different kind of way, or to participate in a different and more responsible / responsive fashion. It's important and valuable work to do (as Simone de Beauvoir famously said "no Heaven for me; I'd rather be a missionary in Hell"--West TX, even in triple-digit heat, isn't hell--but sometimes I think you can glimpse it from here) but it's tiring.

First Monday of the month, which now brings the "First Monday" ceili dance: on the first Monday of each month since January, we've gotten together a few musicians and a set-dance teacher in the back room of a neighborhood coffeehouse to try to build a community of dancers. We've played the dance tunes in this town for the last seven-almost-eight years and we've now got several generations of good dance-music players. What we don't yet have--but are trying to build--is a community of dancers who know the social ceili and set-dances. These are the ancestors of both New England contra and Midwestern/Western square dance, but they are considerably more sophisticated, complex and demanding to learn. As a result, people can't just fall in and learn & dance them: they have to be taught over a period of time.

But it's essential for my learning students to play for the dancing. And I love to play for the sets, so self-interest behooves me to get people to learn the dances. So that's what we do, and it's always worth doing. My life has tended to put me in frontier situations, where there's nothin' built, but ground to be tilled. But damn, one wishes occasionally to just coast. Reckon it's just not my karma.

On the other hand: it wasn't Bo Diddley's or Utah Phillips's karma either. They both worked a hell of a lot longer in a hell of a lot more arduous conditions and neither one of them ever backed down. If I can even come close to living up to their examples, then I reckon I've got nothing much to bitch about. Or apologize for.

Back to work.
Albion Band - Dancing 'Til Monday Comes Around
Bo Diddley - Who Do You Love?

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