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Sunday, June 08, 2008
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Listening to:52 Vincent, versions by Del McCoury, Richard Thompson, others
Reading:Omnivore's Dilemma
Weather:already 75, not even 8am yet
What a precipitous change in the weather. A very cool spring with alternating rain and low humidity, nights in the 40's, and then bam it's 90 and muggy and not much below 70 at night. No a/c at my casa, except for the one window unit I put in my bedroom window every 3 or 4 years during the dogdays of August. But I wussed out and put that thing in my window a couple days ago. It'll come back out after this wicked spell. It was 90 on my porch at some point in each of the past 2 days, that's extremely rare.

Enough bitching about the unmoveable, let's move this thing along. So who wrote the bluegrass murder ballad 1952 Vincent Black Lightning? This has been my brewing obsession since I got home from Delfest. Del McCoury's fine band of coat and tie country gentlemen played it at the festival and it stunned me. Such a cool song. Just the title along is frickin cooler than . . . I don't even know, it's so damn cool. It's got all the elements that grab you and keep you hanging on: starts out with a dialogue between Red Molly and James about a sexy motorcycle, killer one liners like "red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme," those get-your-shit-together extra beats and measures that good bluegrassers can all do without counting, a bit of high lonesome in the melody including a very interesting emphasis on the 4th scale degree even over the tonic chord, a minor chord right when you want one, and of course, a bloody death and a dying wish. Frickin sweet! Here's a link to the lyrics:

You'll find plenty of covers of it on YouTube and Amazon and whatnot. [sidenote: one pretty sorry version by a female prompted a commentor to write: "Thompson had a baby with Natalie Merchant and they abandoned it in the Southern states." Um, ouch.] Many versions are Richard Thompson, and that is who Harry Fox Agency lists as the author. HFA is my most reliable source for who wrote any given tune, since they are the presumptive licenser for published music. But I think their database on older stuff is mostly taken from liner notes and whatnot, which is not necessarily definitive. But the best we got for most stuff. So HFA says Richard Thompson wrote it. Certainly seems more likely than Del McCoury, since the Vincent as well as most of the other bikes mentioned in the lyric are British. I guess since it's about a 1952 bike it can't be a very old song, it just has that old folksong flavor to it.

So I'm still under the Delfest spell. I've been posting a bunch of video I shot on my little digi still camera, and pix as well , downloading torrents of the shows (can't find most of the third day sets, dangit) and generally basking in the afterglow of a tremendous weekend. I promised a top ten list, so here we go:

Top Ten Things that Totally Rocked about the DelFest08:

10. The Weather. Absolutely spectacular. Not a drop of rain, but low humidity sunshine that let you break a sweat just when you were dancing. So nice to camp when there's no rain or wicked heat.

9. Beautiful Campsite Neighbors. I used my usual method for choosing a spot to camp: look for flat, grassy, and next to dudes with long beards. Generally I'm quite likely to get along with dudes with really bushy or long beards. Analyze however you want, it damn sure worked this time. We got the exquisite pleasure of living next to Obe and TP who cooked us elk burgers and fresh-picked shiitakes, and serenaded us with guitars and mando, passed us the peach moonshine, and we just fell in love with them. Neighbors just over a bit and across the way were wonderful, Terry and Corki, Logan and Anna, all friendly and shared music and groove all weekend. I miss them.

8., 7., and 6. Location, Location, Location. Not cheating on my list here, seriously, the location was magnificent. A mere hour and change away, for starters, ya got ta love not having to battle hours of Memorial Day traffic to go to or come home from your festy adventure. And this place was just beautiful. A couple miles below Cumberland, right between the Potomac River and a railroad track (nice train whistle for your alarm clock), with steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings just across the river. So steep people actually hangglide off them. And everything was that fresh yellowgreen of spring. Camp right by your car, keeps your clothes dry from the morning dew. Nice little stream to cross, trees for shade. A beautiful old grandstand around the track circa 1930. Flat, accessible for people who use wheelchairs. I miss it.

5. Groovy Festers. A really friendly collection, lots of families, all kinds of grassers young and old and in-between. I didn't witness a single episode of festy bullshit, like uberdrunken yelling or jostling or grievous loudness during a song. Lovely folks.

4. Righteous Security. Though the sign said you can't bring alcohol in, as long as it was not in glass you could stroll right through with your open can of Yuengling or whatever and get no hassles. You can carry a sixpack, no worries. Mellow and sweet, just like I like'em.

3. Flushable Toilets and Showers. That's right, plumbing. I did not set foot in a portapotty all weekend! Though they were a conveniently located option throughout the grounds, too. A mostly hot shower the morning after a sweaty footstomping jamgrass night, priceless. Oh, and combining 3. with 5., and sorry if it's TMI, but as I sat on the shitter Saturday morning I realized this particular stall was out of toilet paper. The height of misery. So I say "uh, anybody got any toilet paper to share, I'm out in here" and 3, yes I said 3 different people handed me under fists full of paper. Can you imagine? For real.

2. Awesome Vendors. Cool jewelry, clothing, art, other stuff, no 2 vendors selling even similar stuff, and same with the food vendors. There was sushi, wraps, pizza, all kinda food, and the coffee was Fair Trade delicious, dark, and strong. They even gave me a discount for bringing my own mug, only charge me a buck and a half for a big one. And the draft beer was $3 a cup! Dude, I've paid more than that in a bar with nasty tap hygiene. And they even had a microbrewed IPA for a mere $4. Take a minute, I know you need one.

1. Hot Players and Killer Sound. One of the main diffs between grass and oldtime is the hotness of the pickers. These bands were just loaded with smokin players, fiddles, guitar, mandos, pedal steel, dobro, banjo, all that. Just when you thought you'd heard the tastiest fiddle here'd come an even smoother one. And the sound system and engineers were totally top notch. If you know me you know I bitch high long and hard about why deaf people like to become soundmen, and these guys were the true exception. And acoustic instruments are the hardest stuff to do sound reinforcement for. I heard one squeal all weekend, one. Band after band, everything from totally unplugged in front of one fat condensor mic to fully plugged with a strip of pedals, and these guys made them all sound great. I never bitched about too much or too little or too flabby bass all weekend. That has never happened in history, alert the media. Every instrument was EQ'd clean and properly trimmed and nestled right in the mix. I'm getting choked up just remembering, it was such a rare beauty. And Oliver Craven, the fiddle/guitar/mando player for Adrienne Young's band, is my find of the fest. Totally smooth and groovin fiddle and mando especially, he's shiney and young and you will hear about him long after he's left the Adrienne young band.

permalink posted by cat 7:53 AM

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I always believed it was Richard Thompson. So my musician friend tells me, anyway.

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1952 Vincent Black Lightning