You aren’t a perfect city (there’s the mess you have made of Wade Avenue traffic, for instance), but there’s a lot to love about you. This past weekend reminded me of the particular culture in this place I cherish, one that I’ll carry with me out west when I go.
You understand the importance of celebrating the musical roots of our great state, and this past Friday, you closed down one of your busiest downtown streets for a good old-fashioned street party. IBMA’s World of Bluegrass was making a return visit to town and bringing with it a host of world-class musicians. You scattered stages across several blocks and asked these talented bands to pick and strum and sing for us … for free. You invited vendors who played up a love of music and a love of this fine state. You made it feel like the state fair had landed a little early in downtown, and you made me a little sadder to be leaving just as you’re hitting your stride as host city to this annual festival.
I couldn’t be too sad, though. After all, when Scythian plays on the stage, how can I not be filled with joy? They know how to get a crowd up dancing, singing, bouncing up and down, and making friends with complete strangers.
As my husband and I wandered through the vendor area, we saw lots of music-inspired art, plenty of North Carolina shapes on tees and more, and even a stylized banjo made out of license plates.
Then I heard sounds of “The Old Cookpot” drifting down the street. The Duhks were playing somewhere nearby! We couldn’t exactly see them because of the sardine-packed crowd, but what a treat to hear a few songs, including their iconic “95 South” that talks about driving all night to get to Cackalack (that’s Carolina): “95 South, 95 South. That is the way to my baby’s house.”
I don’t think a bluegrass festival truly qualifies as a bluegrass festival unless there’s at least one “Paddle Faster!” t-shirt in the crowd. Clearly, Raleigh, yours passes the test.
Raleigh—I thought I would find time to return to the festival Saturday, but you had too many other activities I couldn’t miss.
I suppose it’s in part because of the universities here that there’s also a wealth of fabulous independent bookstores, too. You’re home to my favorite one, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this past weekend. On Saturday, I sat in the bookstore to hear and meet one of my longtime favorite radio hosts: Fiona Ritchie, the voice behind NPR’s Thistle and Shamrock. Her Sunday evening show filled me with joy and hope my first year out of college, and I timed my drives from Raleigh to the western part of the state where I was having a particularly tough first year of teaching so that I could hear the full hour of her Scottish voice and listen to the Celtic music I would grow to love.
Her show is celebrating its 30th year, too, and so it’s fitting that her book event would be part talk, part concert and part ceili (that’s Irish for “party,” y’all). Here she is with the book’s co-author Doug Orr, himself a mover and shaker in the North Carolina university community and founder of the Swannanoa Gathering, a traditional music camp held on Warren Wilson’s campus every summer.
Their book Wayfaring Strangers tells of the connections between the Scots-Irish music and the old time music of settlers in Appalachia and includes interviews with such greats as Dolly Parton and Doc Watson. I can’t wait to read it … and listen to it. As Ritchie said at the event, “You know I couldn’t write a book and not have a CD with it!”
Raleigh: I’m soon heading to a land where I may feel like a wayfaring stranger myself, but I carry your art and music and books with me in my heart. Thanks for a great going-away gift.
One of your native daughters