Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Last Saturday I went to the hootenanny in Mountain View, Arkansas with my oldest daughter. For those who have never been to the hootenanny, it's an open air bluegrass concert held on the town square in Mountain View on Saturday nights. But I'll tell you this: the best music is not on center stage, it's along the side streets in gazebos and under shade trees or beneath shop overhangs.

We attended on a warm, early summer evening and stopped at a few different spots, sampling the music at each. These are local musicians and bands which makes the quality of the bluegrass singing and playing all that much more impressive. Fiddle players, guitar strummers, bass players and banjo pickers weave in and out of impromptu ensembles, find the key, pick up the beat and join in seamlessly.

We stopped to listen to one group comprised of about nine members - a lead guitar, bass, banjo, rhythm guitar, a mandolin, three fiddlers and one young boy of about ten or eleven who played a pretty mean guitar, sang several tunes and whooped, hollered and had about a fine a time as anyone there.

That's a pretty tough age to be so bold when peer pressure begins to emphasize conformity to whatever the group's standards are at the time. Picking bluegrass tunes is usually not one of those norms even in Mountain View. But watching that young man stomp his foot, shout, challenge the adult musicians and play his guitar with reckless abandon, I doubt he really cared what his classmates would think. We spent most of the evening watching that boy and his orchestra, and it was like witnessing a metamorphosis. The young man had found his passion in life and I truly hoped he would stay with it no matter what, even if he taught school, managed a business or changed tires for a living, I hoped he would stick with his passion.

And that is what is so attractive to me about a hootenanny. People walking around with their instruments looking for a venue to make music. Young people, old people, men, women, children, all pursuing their passion for music any way they can. I like bluegrass music all right, I have pretty eclectic taste in music and listen to lots of different kinds from classical to rock, country to jazz, but I can't say I choose bluegrass if offered up alongside other styles. It's more the being amazed at someone's fingers picking guitar strings so quickly the hand seems a blur or watching them close their eyes as they pull a bow across the neck of a fiddle.

For me, attending hootenannies is like watching American Hot Rod or Orange County Choppers on TV. I'm not much into custom rods or bikes but I enjoy watching for the sake of finding builders who will give anything to follow their dreams. They have discovered their passion, and they are living that passion in whatever shape it takes.

Any of us lucky enough to find our true passions in life, those things that make us so joyful our souls whoop and we sing no matter who is listening, are the ones truly blessed. Anything could be waiting out there for us to discover about ourselves and what we find as our passion, our way to express our creative energy - bluegrass music, building hot rods, teaching, taking care of a family, writing, photography - the discovery is well worth the pursuit.