Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 23, 2017
Monroe Crossing sign travels everywhere with the band
   MONROE CROSSING USED THE BIG HAMMER AND NAILED IT in Paragould, AR, at Bluegrass Monday (4th Monday of each month) in the beautiful Collins Theatre, 120 West Emerson Street in downtown Paragould. Oh boy! Did they ever! The weather in northeast Arkansas was perfect for a change on a winter's day. As this Minnesota-based band of five heads back north from their ABM (Anywhere But Minnesota) Tour, they expect to run into plenty of ice and snow. We wish them well in their travels. We are sold on these folks, in case you cannot tell from reading below. I have enjoyed watching them perform for several years now. They are a credit to the music we all love. Thanks, Monroe Crossing! Come back soon!
Marquee at Collins Theatre
features Monroe Crossing
Marty Scarbrough introduces at left
Matt, David, Lisa, Derek (at back)
and Mark to the audience
MARTY SCARBROUGH, Program Director at KASU 91.9 FM from the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, handles the introductions and mentions the sponsors for Bluegrass Monday shows throughout the year. Marty and the crew at KASU do a fantastic job of covering all aspects of news and music programming. They know their bluegrass and gospel music over at KASU, let me tell ya!
       That being said, the band was in the South and in rare form! As you could guess, Monroe Crossing is heavily influenced by the Father of Bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. They hit the stage with fire in their strings! We must introduce this talented fivesome (is that even a word?) and let you know who sings and what they play.
Lisa sings
from left is David, Matt, Derek, and Matt
       LISA FUGLIE was born in Nigeria, Africa, of parents who were there doing agricultural research. They later returned to Minnesota to be closer to those Norwegian bachelor farmers that Garrison Keillor used to mention on "A Prairie Home Companion". Lisa plays fiddle and guitar and she handles vocals in a wonderful way! It's really fun to watch her face as she sings and plays. MARK ANDERSON is from Minnesota, where he met his wife, Lisa Fuglie. Mark plays the upright bass in a frantic, whirlwind manner! He goes all over the stage and all over that bass. He is such fun to watch! Mark and Lisa are the parents of 15-year-old twin boys.
Matt explaining this mandolin thing
to fans in the front row
       MATT THOMPSON is from Mankato, Minnesota (Ya, sure, you betcha!) and he is the right guy for that mandolin. He is the major spokesperson for Monroe Crossing. His humor is delightful. Matt also handles his part of the vocal harmony in their show.
Note: Apology for an awkward-looking block here. I couldn't get rid of it. Use your imagination that it's Derek singing "Joy, Joy, Joy" for his mom! 
       DEREK JOHNSON is originally from Washington State. He plays guitar and can sing a song like nobody's business. The band's new CD is heavy on covers of some great old country music songs from people like Hank Williams, Sr., Peter Rowan (formerly Bill Monroe's singer-guitarist), George Jones, Ray Price, Dave Dudley, and even Kitty Wells. Lisa Fuglie handles the Kitty Wells number.
David is the 'cool daddy' of the show
       DAVID ROBINSON won my heart the day I first saw this Muncie, Indiana, native. With his height, black suit, fedora, and black-and-white wingtip shoes, he is a smooth operator on banjo and Dobro(r) and even bass vocals. He's young and definitely a keeper!
Lisa on fiddle, Matt and Derek in back
David on guitar, Mark at right
       Here is their program in which you can find a lot of hard-driving bluegrass and also country, rock, and something called mo'grass (Motown rhythm and bluegrass in combination). If you weren't there for the 'live show or you would like to hear it again, you can hear the replay of Monroe Crossing this Sunday on KASU 91.9 FM or www.kasu.org, at about 12:30 p.m. with Marty Scarbrough hosting the show.
       Set 1: Mule Skinner Blues, Heartache and Stone, The Race Is On (George Jones), Crazy Arms (Ray Price), Into the Fire (Lisa featured, story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), Cicada (David Robinson's frailing banjo number, available on CD called "The Road Has No End"), Georgia Piney Woods (written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant), Ramblin' Man (Hank, Sr., covered by David Robinson), The Walls of Time (Peter Rowan tune), Sea Cruise (ooh-wee, ooh-wee baby....), Makin' Believe (Kitty Wells, covered by Lisa), and Six Days on the Road (Dave Dudley, covered by Derek).
      Set 2: Life Is Like a Mountain Railway; Who's That Knockin' on My Door; Foggy Mountain Breakdown; Joy, Joy, Joy (Derek, written for his mother); In the Pines; My Girl (mo'grass style); Hobos in the Roundhouse (beautiful song written by Bill and Kate Isles); Doin' My Time; Purple Rain (a Prince number); At Last (Etta James number done by Lisa); Orange Blossom Special; Man of Constant Sorrow, and audience participation with Amazing Grace.
       We must tell you that Terry's Café is open at 4:30 p.m.'til about 6:45 on Bluegrass Monday nights, when they serve a delicious hot buffet with catfish, chicken, vegetables galore, desserts of all kinds, and beverages--all for a reasonable price! They are located a block from the theatre. Terry's Café is at 201 South Pruett in Paragould.
       Coming up at Bluegrass Monday: 2/27 Kevin Prater Band, 3/27 Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, 4/24 David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, 5/22 Nothin' Fancy, 6/26 Michael and Jennifer McLain, 7/24 Kenny & Amanda Smith, 8/28 Little Roy & Lizzie Show, 9/25 The Farm Hands, 10/23 The Jeanette Williams Band, 11/24 TBA.
Each person who attends the shows is asked to donate at least $5 when Marty Scarbrough passes the "Cat in the Hat" hat. All proceeds go to the performers, so give generously.
For more information:
Monroe Crossing  www.monroecrossing.com
KASU 91.9 FM  www.kasu.org  or Marty Scarbrough at mscarbro@astate.edu
Bill and Kate Isles  www.billandkateisles.com  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017
Friday night bluegrass jam in the Common Cup Coffee Shop
Collierville United Methodist Church
       BLUEGRASS AND OLD-TIME MUSIC is well worth the effort! Whether you play, are just learning to play, or are one who enjoys the listening and the fellowship of good friends over a cup of coffee or apple cider, it's all worth it.
       The Collierville, TN, Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Jam is rolling on into its 18th year! We find that remarkable! While we have taken our share of criticism and ridicule, we have pulled through and grown stronger for the effort. The jam began in 1999 with a small handful of pickers (encouraged by our late friend, mentor and musician Marty Kempke) and enthusiastic fans. The jam has met on Friday nights in a variety of churches during the fall and winter months, and we always anticipate our return to the beautiful Historic Town Square. Our current meeting place is the Collierville United Methodist Church at 454 West Poplar, where we gather at around 6:30 p.m. Bluegrass Standard Time from mid-October to mid-April. The church has many pluses, with the most outstanding one being their Common Cup Coffee Shop, where volunteers keep us supplied with coffee, hot chocolate, cider, and small snacks. The musicians pick in there, in the Missions Room across the foyer, and in the beautiful lobby of the church.
       With the blessing of late mayors Herman Wright Cox and Linda Kerley, and the encouragement of the current mayor, Stan Joyner, we gather at around 6:30 p.m. BST at the Square in mid-April each year and just pick to our hearts' content each Friday evening. Folks come out of the fine restaurants around the Square and walk down to see what all the music is about. We love that! We also love it when families bring their children and spread a blanket on the ground to listen and perhaps have a picnic supper. Folks bring a variety of dogs on leashes, and that just adds to the merriment.
       Wherever the jam meets, we remind musicians from time to time that we are an all-acoustic jam, meaning no microphones or amplifiers (not even little bitty ones). The instruments that are used in an all-acoustic jam are as follows: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, an occasional ukulele, an occasional bodhran for an Irish tune, and more importantly, the human voice.
       Whether you're young or young-at-heart, the jam invites you to eat at one of the restaurants on or near the Square or bring supper in a sack, bring your lawn chairs, and come for the fun. There is no beer or alcohol permitted in any of Collierville's city parks, so just pack the soft drinks or bottled water in case you get thirsty on one of those hot nights that will be returning soon. If you are just learning to play bluegrass or old-time music, or if you are a seasoned musician, you are welcome at the Collierville Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Jam. Find a group and pick with them. If you get tired of that group, walk around and find a different group to pick with. This jam is easy, relaxed, and welcoming.
       We will show you some pictures taken recently at the winter jam at Collierville UMC. You're invited to join us in the music and fun. See you soon! Pick away!
Old-Time musicians seated in a circle
Fans chatting and enjoying the music
Our favorite Ralph Stanley fan
Bluegrass with a country touch
Friends sharing a photo op
'Liberty' played on hammered dulcimer
The next generation of bluegrass
musicians -- It's why we do what we do

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

     No, wait! You don't understand! Don't call the Nashville Fire Department. It's Minton Sparks, spoken-word artist of the finest sort, and she appeared recently at Nashville's funky little bottom-floor entertainment spot called The Basement at the back side of Grimey's Records, located at 1604 8th Avenue, South, just across the street from Reservoir Park. The Basement is smallish, earthy, and unglamorous, and it's packed whenever Minton is in town. To say she has her fans is an understatement! They love her and her quirky style. And they don't care if the place is, um, a little shopworn.
Live Tonight: Minton Sparks

The Basement, bottom floor
She packs 'em in like sardines in a can. Her stories and reflections about life are like nothing you've experienced before, even if you are from the Deep South! Minton knows us well; she has family all over the South. The person who sat next to me was from New Jersey; however, she has the South in her background. She was torn between another spot in town, the one on Hillsboro Road in Green Hills, or The Basement. Good choice, Ma'am! She came to The Basement.
       Minton Sparks and her long-time guitarist, the multi-talented John Jackson, blew into the room  early with equipment and boxes of stuff, and they flew around doing sound checks and getting everything into place. There was a new gentleman standing silently behind his upright bass. Dave Jacques is certainly a force to be reckoned with. He is one fine bass player! His list of credentials on the 'Net is a mile long! Soon, the equipment and instruments and sound checks were to their liking, and the artists were in place so that the show began.
       First to be introduced was Ami Matteson, with whom I was not familiar. Ami is also an artist of the spoken word. Adopted and from Guam, Ami shared stories about herself and her lifestyle, which she described as "butch". She told us about cowboys and Indians. She went on to share an earlier TED talk called "The Incredibly True Adventures of an Old Lady Man".
Ami Matteson challenging us to be true to ourselves 
       She made us laugh and she brought some in the audience to tears. The last, and most poignant piece, was "When You Believe". Ami once taught school in Detroit, MI, where she spoke to sixth and seventh graders about believing, going for it, and showing love above everything else. Strong, powerful words that are in short supply these days.
       So, Minton, John, and Dave take their places and Minton starts singing "If I needed you. . ." and leads into "Fill 'er Up," which is a story about the female gas station attendant named Ethel (get it?). Many of Minton's stories are tinged with a hint of sexuality. Not indecent, not inappropriate, just kinda on the edge. Her gestures and body movements help her tell the story. Ethel is doing the best she can to support her family in hard times. These are school-bus drivers, lunch ladies, and gas station attendants. Life ain't easy for some here in the South.
Minton Sparks
John Jackson at left
Dave Jacques at right
Minton Sparks on "Gold Digger"
with Etta Britt at left
     Minton is full of surprises this night, and up pops Etta Britt, soulful Nashville rhythm and blues singer who brings another dimension to Minton's stories. Etta and Minton sing and speak their way through the familiar story called "Gold Digger". You've likely known a gold digger or two. Minton and Etta lead into the story of "Desperation," the juke joint singer. Desperation's name and her Southern feelings fit well together.      
       Many tall young women in the South played for their local high school basketball teams and aspired to one day play for the winningest coach ever (men or women), the late Pat Summitt, legendary coach at the University of Tennessee. Minton's height brought those thoughts to her 'back then more than right now,' as these days, she proudly claims the titles of wife, mother, and spoken-word artist. No time for basketball these days.
       The aunts in Minton's family used to sneak off down by the barn with their concealed cigarettes and matches. They would smoke and gossip to a fare-thee-well down there. Minton called these hens "Cluck, Cackle, and Peck". She has a great story about those women.
       Other legendary stories are "Fight Club" (family Bible verses and ass-whippin's); "Carnival" (a strip mall tradition) with rides like the Himalaya, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Bullet, and the Spider, plus the message 'Don't fall in love with the ticket taker'; the family "Streaker" (a close family member, shades of the '70's); and the tender story of her grandmother's purse.
Minton Sparks, purse on right arm
John Jackson at left and Dave Jacques at right
       Minton was awarded "Her Purse" after the funeral and the small things inside it remain in her heart today: A box of Chicklets, bottle of pills, pack of butter rum Life Savers, Chapstick, half a stick of Doublemint, a red rubber change purse that you squeeze to open and get out your change, and the love letter from the farmhand Howard McDaniel. Grandmother admired him from afar (Well, maybe not too far!) and never told Granddaddy. Howard was always in her secret heart and his letter was tucked inside her purse for safe-keeping.
      "Hi, Helen" is what happens when women of a certain age wave at a friend from across the way. There's that jiggle under the arm that just won't go away, regardless of the arm exercises at the gym.
       "Time Flies" says that we will never pass this way again. There are good times, bad times, disappointments, and 'Pass me that rejuvenatin' face cream'. She got in the fast-moving black Cadillac so as not to miss this ride.
       "Where Humans End and Birds Begin" is about Cheryl Lynn, something of a hummingbird, and often it's hard to distinguish where the human ends and the bird begins. There are fleeting thoughts of the high school French teacher..."Silence!" in the appropriate French accent which sounds like 'see lonce'. Hi Maya Angelou, Ani DiFranco, and are those feathers around Cheryl Lynn's ears?  
       Minton Sparks' wonderful Southern stories accompanied by John Jackson on guitar, Dave Jacques on bass, and Etta Britt's soulful voice, all made for wonderful entertainment and flashes of memories about this writer's own youthful experiences in the South. Minton knows us because she is one of us. We cannot get enough of her wonderful stories. Catch her somewhere soon and order her CD's and the DVD.
For more information: 
Minton Sparks  www.mintonsparks.com  
Etta Britt  www.ettabritt.com
Dave Jacques  www.jpshrine.org
Ami Matteson   Go to Google for her TEDx Talk
John Jackson  Go to Google
Minton Sparks' CD's: Middlin' Sisters, Sin Sick, This Dress, Gold Digger, 'Live at the Station Inn
Her DVD: Open Casket  
Minton Sparks' 2017 Appearances to Date:
1.21.17  Chattahoochee Hills, GA  Chatt Hills Music
1.28.17  Nashville, TN  Burn Through Your Story 
2.2.17   Houston, TX  McGonigel's Mucky Ducky
2.11-12.17 Nashville, TN  Move Your Story Through the Body
2.17.17  Franklin, TN  Franklin Theatre - Second Story Writers Night w/Matraca Berg, Marshall Chapman, Emily Saliers
3.11.17  Indianapolis, IN  Storytelling Arts of Indiana (Indiana History Center)
4.9.17  Tallahassee, FL  Word of South
5.16.17 San Antonio, TX  Festival of Homiletics (Masonic Lodge of San Antonio)
5.22.17 Minneapolis, MN  Tender Mercies with Kevin Kling