Celebrating trees’ gift of music

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, National Arbor Day is observed the last Friday in April, but it turns out a lot of states celebrate earlier or later, depending on when the season dictates the best time to plant trees. I just learned, for instance, that my state celebrates the first Friday after March 15 (seems random to me). If you’re in a cooler climate, like North Dakota, you can celebrate with your state this upcoming Friday. Here’s a handy map that lets you see exactly when your state observes this day of tree planting.

Not realizing I had already missed my state’s Arbor Day, I spent most of this past Friday celebrating National Arbor Day by sitting outside enjoying music that wouldn’t be possible without trees.

Every year (or as often as possible), my husband and I go to MerleFest, a four-day music festival in the North Carolina mountains that has some of the best bluegrass, rockabilly, blues, country, folk, jazz music and much more. I haven’t traveled around the country going to different music festivals, but I simply can’t imagine one that’s much better than this for the caliber of music you’ll hear. The festival closed out with an almost two-hour set from Alison Krauss and Union Station. Need I say more about the quality and talent the festival organizers bring in?

Most of the instruments you’ll hear during MerleFest require a variety of wood types to make them play beautifully. Some of the wood is now endangered and must be carefully harvested so that future generations will be able to enjoy new instruments. I’m grateful that there are luthiers trying to head up conservation efforts to ensure the future of their trade and great musical instruments for us all to enjoy.

There’s even a law called the Lacey Act to protect endangered trees and shipment of contraband wood into the United States. You may have heard about this act last summer when Gibson – arguably the maker of the best guitars in the world – got caught up in a sting operation regarding some of its imported woods. Instead of criticizing the Lacey Act, as you might expect, Gibson’s CEO called for the act to be strengthened.

I thought you might enjoy photos of some of the different instruments that trees make possible. You can see their beauty, even if you can’t hear the beautiful notes coming from them:

Dobro (Red Molly’s Abbie Gardner), 2011


Fiddle mania! (Dougie MacLean, playing with Alexander Fedoryka of Scythian)

A well-loved blues guitar (Roy Bookbinder)

A little bit of everything shows up on stage when Sam Bush joins Lyle Lovett and his band (2011)

A different style of guitar playing (Dougie MacLean, one of my Scottish music heroes)

Mandolin (Tony Rice Unit) is so popular at Merlefest that there’s even a “Mando Mania hour” with some of the top mandolin players on stage at one time.

Violin (Alison Krauss) and bass (Barry Bales)

Can you guess which instrument is my favorite? (Those of you who know me should exclude yourselves from guessing, as it’s the instrument I’ve played since I was in kindergarten).

How about the rest of you? What’s your favorite instrument that comes from trees? I’d also love to know if you think there’s another music festival out there I should try, though I’m still trying to recover from this past weekend. Not sure I have more than one music festival a year in me.

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