Kukla, Fran & Ollie: A Nation of Immigrants

Burr Tillstrom—the puppeteer behind the Kukla, Fran & Ollie children’s show—is my family’s claim to fame.

I missed his centenary last autumn.  Franklin Burr Tillstrom was born 13 October 1917 in Chicago, Illinois, and had an older brother Richard (1911-2008).  Their mother was Alice Burr and their father was Bert Frank Tillstrom, a doctor.  They lived on Lakewood Ave in Chicago when Dr. Tillstrom registered for the World War I draft in September 1918. At the time of the World War II draft in 1942, the Tillstroms lived on Sherwin Ave. in Chicago.  Bert & Alice returned to their native state of Michigan in retirement.

Bert Tillstrom’s grandfather, Nils Peter Nilsson, is my 3rd great grandfather, on my dad’s side.  Nils Peter was born in 1818 in Småland, near Kalmar in Sweden, and emigrated to Michigan in 1880.  Gunnar Karlberg, a Stockholm cousin and Kukla, Fran & Ollie fan, traced the family history in Swedish, Steenssons (Joen) attlingar fran Kristdala socken Norra Kalmar lan.  I don’t know Swedish, but Google translate & some online family history helped guesstimate the family tree back to Steen Danielson (c.1640-1702), with many generations between in military service to the crown when Sweden was considered a Great Power.

Nils Peter was a farmer, not a soldier, and his eldest son August Nilsson emigrated to Michigan after the Civil War, where there was good farmland to be settled.  August adopted the Americanized surname Tillstrom and crossed over the big stream to build a life on the shores of the Great Lakes.  Burr’s grandfather (Bert’s father) Frans Oscar Nilsson was the youngest son, and emigrated with Nils Peter in 1880, adopting the Americanized name Frank Tillstrom.  They also had two other brothers, Carl Johan and Sven Magnus, who emigrated to Michigan, and two sisters, Maria and Johanna, who stayed with their families in Sweden.

Burr Tillstrom was an inspiration to me and a heck of a lot of other people.  -Muppets creator Jim Henson in The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television (2004).

So Burr Tillstrom is my 2nd cousin twice removed.  He left the University of Chicago in the Depression to work for the WPA-Chicago Parks District Theatre, and later at the Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street downtown.  He pioneered children’s television programming, participating in the 1939 New York World’s Fair with RCA Victor, then on Chicago local TV, and in 1949 nationally on NBC with former school teacher Fran Allison (1907-1989).  His brother Richard was also a puppeteer and went on to host his own show in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In 1953, the show was one of the first experimental broadcasts in color television.  Kukla, Fran & Ollie won two Emmy awards, in 1954 and 1971, and inspired a generation (or two) of children and their families.


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Burr Tillstrom maintained ties to the family with a summer home at Saugatuck, a small arts & tourist destination on Lake Michigan. He passed way in 1985, in Palm Springs, California.  From the forests of Sweden to the farms of Michigan and live TV in the Windy City and beyond, each generation has spread their wings to find their own way.  Some stayed close to home, others ventured far afield.  All dared to live the American Dream.  We are all a nation of immigrants.

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JC’s Top Tunes of 2017

https://alisonkrauss.com/aboutThey say art thrives in the face of chaos, that genius requires difficulty that must be overcome. 2017 was a difficult year for many—to the benefit of roots music, and hopefully, eventually, to the greater good.  We lost friends like Glen Campbell and Don Williams, and met many new friends, here in Colorado and across the Americana landscape.

To answer the poet Robbie Burns, no, auld acquaintance should not be forgot, neither the artists nor their art. That’s what makes good roots music: We honor where we came from, we look to where we are going, and wonder how we do better today.

ArtistsTop 25 Artists Played in 2017

I scrobbled a LOT of music in 2017:  37,023 tracks played, most since I joined last.fm back in radio days.  That’s likely to abate in 2018, since the corporate masters at last.fm won’t update the Scrobbler app for iOS.  And their ads are increasingly spammy.  I don’t mind ads, when they don’t screw up the technology.  It’s like radio for the 21st Century.  But last.fm, and increasingly Spotify, really could step up their user experience other than trying to drive us to paid content.

Back in March, I warned you Alison Krauss was going to dominate 2017 and she certainly did on my playlist.  Many of the trendy reviewers dismissed Windy City as a covers album. I don’t care though the multiple editions were confusing.  I’ve also got some other anomalies in the Scrobble lists:

  • Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams / Walden Wofford & the Hi*Beams / Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams—My favorite Colorado band and only band my wife & I both agree to see live whenever we can.  They are on Spotify now with “and” instead of Ampersand, a perpetual bane of consistent scrobbling.  I prefer the ‘&’ since that’s what’s on their album covers.  So, anyway, add in 249 scrobbles to #24’s 272 pushes them way up to 521 and the honky tonkers push Johnny Cash out of 4th Place Artist of 2017.
  • Zephaniah Ohora and The 18 Wheelers / Zephaniah Ohora—new artist debut with a catchy classic Country sound.  Spotify initially had the full band name, then changed it for most of the album. 142 for the band + 81 for the artist slots Zephaniah at 223, tied with Sand Sheff at #36 but he floats to the top in Album & Track lists.

AlbumsTop 25 Albums Played in 2017

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives brought it home for me with Way Out West, a net-traditional Country & Western album that evokes the scenery out my back door, deserts and mountains and the good and not-so-good in this life.  The AMA got it right recognizing Marty & the Superlatives for Americana Group of the Year.  The album isn’t so straight-forward as Marty’s Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota yet it clearly builds on that sonic experience.  And while I played one track more than others it’s not an album of singles—it’s an album of songs and stories.

  • Alison Krauss’ Windy City came out in multiple editions—regularly, crispy & extra crispy.  No, actually, but I have one version on my phone, another ripped from the Target Deluxe Edition, and other plays from Spotify.  So add 136 + 183 to 304 and #4 becomes 623 to take the #1 spot, by alot.
  • Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams’ Missing Link, add 101 played on iTunes with ‘&’ to 190 on Spotify for 291 at album #5.
  • Zephaniah Ohora‘s was a debut with no prior singles (at least not on Spotify) so the artist spins = album spins 223, which pushes Jason Isbell & his band out of Album #11.

With so much good roots music coming out this year, and playing so much music all year long, my year end list does strongly resemble my first-half of the year album list.  This includes Marty Stuart, Aaron Watson’s Vaquero, and last year’s top album Left Arm Tan’s Lorene, which didn’t show up on Spotify until later this year.  Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton released good music that was recognized by AMA radio and many fans, but I think they can both do better.  Lee Ann Womack, Dori Freeman and Whitney Rose released VERY strong country/folk albums late in the year.  Lot of staying power that will form a foundation for 2018.

Tracks

Top 25 Songs Played in 2017

The Mavericks released another catchy album in Brand New Day and the title track became my optimistic start to many a band new day in 2017, usually followed by Alison & “Windy City”.  To counter that unnatural optimism, I counter programmed Lindi Ortega’s “Til the Goin’ Gets Gone”, Sunny Sweeney’s “Bottle by My Bed.”  and Amanda Anne Platt’s “Eden”.  Sweeney’s lament is just a darn good song.  Amanda Anne’s (of The Honeycutters) story of going home to the Midwest hit a nerve.  And fortunately Lindi decided to go back on tour and counter her own swan song, crowdsourcing funding for a new album this year.  The internets sometimes give as well as take away.

  • Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beam‘s title track “Missing Link” adds 20 from ‘&’ for 112 spins to push fellow Coloradoans Songs of the Fall‘s “Lucky” out of #5.
  • Zephaniah Ohora “High Class City Girl from the Country”, my favorite track on his debut, got 40 with the artist and 40 with the band, so 80 equals #14 on the singles chart.

I continued to spin last year’s top track, Dori Freeman’s “Where I Stood”.  Corb Lund’s “S Lazy H” actually got more love this year than last. Corb just struck a cord on a very difficult year with a classic Country & Western lament of doing your darnedest in the face of adversity.  That’s my country, too.

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2017 Blog Posts in Review—Political Order, Political Decay

Online traffic follows the new.  In 2017, JCShepard.com wasn’t so much of the new and our numbers reflect that.  But that’s OK.  I played a lot of music.  I read a lot of books.  I didn’t get out to play as much as I should, but that’s OK too.  Goals for next/this year.

We had about 1,500 visitors give the blog 2,200 views, down from 2,000 visitors with 3,000 views the year before.  Most of y’all are from the U.S., too.  My civil war series pulled in a lot of traffic back in 2014-2015, though these numbers are more likely given I’m mostly writing these days about music and books, and occasionally how to built really cool places to live (my day job).

#1 post of 2017:  Repeat winner by far,  Cheyenne-Laramie County, Wyoming, Historical Timeline: a 2014 keyword-rich retrospective of the capital of the Cowboy State, which celebrated 150th Anniversary this year.

#2 Diary of Orrin Brown—Dec 15, 1864 / #7 The Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown:  Also from 2014, Pvt. Brown was outside Savannah, when John Bell Hood’s Rebels pinned down John Schofield’s Union rearguard in the Battle of Nashville.  Same post was #2 last year & year before.  The introductory post of the series is also in the Top 10.

#3 Behind the Bakken Boom: I really need to update my series on Oil & Gas drilling out here in the West.  We have a few natural gas wells here in Southwest Colorado, too.

#4 The Election of 1916: “America First” to First World War / #8 On the Brink of War — America’s Christmas 1916:  Post 2016 election look at the events of 100 years before.

#5 All Things Shepard:  History meets genealogy. Back up a spot.  Due for an update.  Rootsweb got hacked, though, and Ancestry has it down for the time so it may take a while.

#6 The Day the Music Died:  Bye bye Miss American Pie, 50th anniversary post from February 2009.  If 50th anniversary posts are this popular, I’ll have to do some retrospectives from 1968 this year.

#9 / #1 New Post of 2017 Political Order and Political Decay in the Time of Trump: Book review of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay.  A key examination of how effective states are built, and how they seemingly, inevitably, decay.

#10 Little (Lego) House on the Prairie (Style):  Perennially popular post from 2009, where Lego goes all Frank Lloyd Wright, down several spots from last year.

Last year’s Blog Posts in Review came in at #2 New Post of 2017.  Pancho Villa and the Declaration of a State of War from 1917 came in #3 & #5 new posts.  My review of Alison Krauss’ album Windy City ranks #4 followed by the rest of the new music posts for 2017.

2018 is a Brand New Day.  Thank you for stopping by and brightening my day.—

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Americana Radio Albums 2017

The Americana Music Association released their 2017 Americana Airplay Chart Top 100 Albums.

Jason Isbell's The Nashville Sound

I tend to track the AMA Radio chart fairly closely through the year.  Spotify helps feed the new music habit—or is that “enable the new music habit”? While I’ve streamed most of these albums, my spins for 2017* may tune a different frequency but are mostly on similar bandwidth.

(*They do technically chart 6 December 2016 – 4 December 2017.)

1
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound
2
Chris Stapleton
From A Room:  Volume 1
3
Nikki Lane
Highway Queen
4
Ryan Adams
Prisoner
5
Steve Earle
So You Wannabe An Outlaw
6
Band Of Heathens
Duende
7
Justin Townes Earle
Kids In The Street
8
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
9
Son Volt
Notes of Blue
10
Old 97s
Graveyard Whistling
11
Willie Nelson
God’s Problem Child
12
Rodney Crowell
Close Ties
13
Mavericks
Brand New Day
14
Valerie June
The Order Of Time
15
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
Way Out West
16
JD McPherson
Undivided Heart And Soul
17
Pokey LaFarge
Manic Revelations
18
Jamestown Revival
The Education Of A Wandering Man
19
Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men
Prick Of The Litter
20
Gregg Allman
Southern Blood
21
Taj Mahal & Keb Mo
TajMo
22
Tift Merritt
Stitch Of The World
23
Slaid Cleaves
Ghost On The Car Radio
24
North Mississippi Allstars
Prayer For Peace
25
Rhiannon Giddens
Freedom Highway
26
Alison Krauss
Windy City
27
David Rawlings
Poor David’s Almanack
28
Dan Auerbach
Waiting On A Song
29
Secret Sisters
You Don’t Own Me Anymore
30
Ray Wylie Hubbard
Tell The Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can
31
Will Hoge
Anchors
32
Infamous Stringdusters
Laws Of Gravity
33
Drive-By Truckers
American Band
34
Alejandro Escovedo
Burn Something Beautiful
35
Tyler Childers
Purgatory
36
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Silver Tears
37
John Prine
For Better, Or Worse
38
Kasey Chambers
Dragonfly
39
Reckless Kelly
Sunset Motel
40
Sunny Sweeney
Trophy
41
Josh Ritter
Gathering
42
Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band
Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band
43
Brent Cobb
Shine On Rainy Day
44
Old Crow Medicine Show
50 Years Of Blonde On Blonde
45
Jason Eady
Jason Eady
46
Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer
Not Dark Yet
47
Chuck Prophet
Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
48
Shinyribs
I Got Your Medicine
49
Jim Lauderdale
London Southern
50
Hurray For The Riff Raff
The Navigator
51
Shannon McNally
Black Irish
52
Angaleena Presley
Wrangled
53
Wilco
Schmilco
54
Dustbowl Revival
The Dustbowl Revival
55
Margo Price
All American Made
56
Robert Earl Keen
Live Dinner Reunion
57
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
Souvenir
58
Bruce Cockburn
Bone On Bone
59
Gillian Welch
Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg
60
Mastersons
Transient Lullaby
61
Iron & Wine
Beast Epic
62
Hiss Golden Messenger
Hallelujah Anyhow
63
Jim Lauderdale
This Changes Everything
64
Eilen Jewell
Down Hearted Blues
65
John Moreland
Big Bad Luv
66
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
Kings And Kings
67
Todd Snider
Eastside Bulldog
68
Various – The Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris
An All-Star Concert Celebration
69
Neil Young
Peace Trail
70
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough
Mockingbird Soul
71
Samantha Fish
Chills & Fever
72
Blackberry Smoke
Like An Arrow
73
Ruthie Foster
Joy Comes Back
74
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
75
David Luning
Restless
76
Jesse Dayton
The Revealer
77
Old Crow Medicine Show
Best Of Old Crow Medicine Show
78
Paul Cauthen
My Gospel
79
Ray Davies
Americana
80
Wayne Hancock
Slingin’ Rhythm
81
Colter Wall
Colter Wall
82
Chris Hillman
Bidin’ My Time
83
Radney Foster
For You To See The Stars
84
Amanda Shires
My Piece Of Land
85
Jade Jackson
Gilded
86
Lucinda Williams
This Sweet Old World
87
Chuck Berry
Chuck
88
Jackie Greene
The Modern Lives Vol. 1
89
Govt Mule
Revolution Come…Revolution Go
90
Tim O’Brien
Where The River Meets The Road
91
Lillie Mae
Forever And Then Some
92
Yonder Mountain String Band
Love. Ain’t Love
93
Joan Osborne
Songs Of Bob Dylan
94
Dead Man Winter
Furnace
95
Seth Walker
Gotta Get Back
96
Jeffery Halford & The Healers
Lo-Fi Dreams
97
Dwight Yoakam
Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
98
Whiskey Gentry
Dead Ringer
99
Great American Taxi
Dr. Feel Good’s Traveling Medicine Show
100
Moot Davis
Hierarchy Of Crows

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Three Ladies and a Cowboy: Buy Good Roots Music for Xmas

Lee Ann Womack - Wikipedia

Black Friday. Small Biz Saturday. Sunday. Cyber Monday. Whatever Whenever.

There’s no good excuse not to buy somebody you love some good music for Christmas. Or Hanukkah, Or Kwanzaa, Or Yuletide. Or Whatever.

The Americana Radio Charts et al are bursting with late year releases of Roots and Traditional Country music.  New stuff is Autumn is good for stocking stuffers even if they won’t garner enough spins for many Top 10 year-long lists.  So while you wait for my Top 10 (or Top 20 or Top 30 or whatever) lists, here’s three ladies & a cowboy to start off your Xmas shopping:

Lee Ann Womack—The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone:  Lee Ann Womack, a Nashville veteran, goes home to deliver 14 tracks of country gold. Released in October, Wikipedia (where I borrowed the cover image) quotes (apparently Rolling Stone with unclear attribution) “I wanted to get out of Nashville, and tap the deep music and vibe of East Texas. I wanted to make sure this record had a lot of soul in it, because real country music has soul. I wanted to remind people of that.”

Margo Price—All American Made: Margo Rae Price knocked Lucas Nelson off the top spot on the AMA radio chart this week with her sophomore album that features a duet with his father, Willie Nelson. Increasingly noticed as an outspoken critic around Nashville.  I like the first 11 tracks on this album (and unclick the title track that would be right at home on a Steve Earle album). Price is a great songwriter and performer. She may take her craft down Earle’s blatantly political track. I’m hoping she matures more subtle like Nelson. We’ll see. For now, this is a sure bet if you have cousins in the Resistance.

Dori Freeman—Letters Never Read: Dori Freeman‘s cut “Where I Stood” was my favorite (or at least most played) song of 2016.  Dori is also opinionated in an already subtle, quieter manner that strikes me as both mature and wise like an ancient murder ballad come to life (except this time the villain gets the knife). The Galax, Virginia, singer-songwriter’s follow up to her self-titled debut continues to draw on both Appalachian country-folk traditions and modern sensibilities.  The album has also drawn kudos from Rolling Stone and NPR.

Ned LeDoux—Sagebrush:  First off, yes, Ned LeDoux is the son of famed country & western artist and rodeo cowboy Chris LeDoux of Kaycee, Wyoming (pop. 263), and played in his father’s band.  Yet while he rides for the brand keeping that tradition alive, Ned wears his 0wn hat.  Sagebrush is a full-length debut building on the 5-song Forever a Cowboy EP released in 2016.  I’m partial to “Johnson County War” but you’ll find a variety  from rodeo to radio-friendly tunes that will keep your Christmas stocking two-stepping.

After you’ve filled your Amazon cart (or amazed your local record shop with your amazing good taste in music), go ahead and check out:

    • Folkish:  Nora Jane Struthers—Champion
    • Folkish Trio:  The Wailin’ Jennys—Fifteen
    • Jamin’ Country Folky (more country than Music Row):  Turnpike Troubadours—A Long Way from Your Heart
    • Neotrad Texas Country:  Whitney Rose—Rule 62
    • Pop Country (it’s Texas if you gotta): Granger Smith—When the Good Guys Win

 

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Americana Music Awards 2017

As autumn leaves turn golden hues, music awards season begins each Fall with awards for golden tunes.  Each September, the Americana Music Association bestows Honors and Awards on the previous year’s crop and the genre’s legends.

The Americana Honors & Awards show is fairly well established these days.  The Call for Nominees goes out in May to the membership—I was a member back when I was on KRFC, longer ago with each passing season.  Eligibility for “Of the Year” runs April-March prior, which is a bit of an odd growing season, but it gives a flavor for the later, more well known, awards shows.

Through the year, I use Americana Radio chart to watch for what I might want to listen to.  The AMA radio chart is getting a dust up next year, but the current iteration anyway is a pretty good indicator of pretty good music.  The annual AMA music awards are also a pretty good indicator, but they tend to be a bit more political and a bit more, well, “hippie” maybe, then my more Traditional Country Music leanings.

My 2016 favorite/most played music tended to encompass most of the AMA winners.  Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide showed up at #20 album scrobbled, and Amanda Shires scored #23 for her album My Piece of Land.  At the end of 2016, Sturgill took the top spot in the No Depression reader poll, followed by Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Margo Price and John Prine, with Shires at #10.  The Lumineers gained #4 on the AMA radio chart, with Sturgill at #8.  I’m surprised, otherwise, that the AMA radio chart didn’t predict the AMA nominees more closely, something to watch as the radio chart methodology is adjusted.  I don’t listen to the Riff Raff or Billy Bragg, and the Lumineers are on the Pop end of my taste.  Lori McKenna, as usual, turned in solid songwriting on The Bird & The Rifle, released in June 2016, but Rodney Crowell is an AMA institution.

Adjusting my last.fm stats to the eligibility period (4/16-3/17), A Sailor’s Guide rises to #15—I played Elizabeth Cook’s Exodus of Venus, and Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town twice or three times more and they are both June 2016 releases solidly in the AMA universe.  Jason Isbell’s new album with the 400 Unit was released after the nomination period, and will threaten all comers at next year’s awards.  Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter came out in March 2016, earned her recognition last year (her promising new album came out Friday 10/20/17).  MacArthur “Genius” Rhiannon Giddens and Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives are scoring in my 2017 charts (Freedom Highway was released 13 February 2017 and Way Out West was released 10 March, both fresh for AMA nominations).


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ALBUM OF THE YEAR nominees:

AMERICAN BAND by Drive-By Truckers
CLOSE TIES by Rodney Crowell
FREEDOM HIGHWAY, Rhiannon Giddens
THE NAVIGATOR, Hurray for the Riff Raff
A SAILOR’S GUIDE TO EARTH, Sturgill Simpson winner

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

JASON ISBELL
JOHN PRINE winner
LORI MCKENNA
MARGO PRICE
STURGILL SIMPSON

DUO/GROUP OF THE YEAR

BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES winner
THE LUMINEERS

EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR

AARON LEE TASJAN
AMANDA SHIRES winner
BRENT COBB
SAM OUTLAW

SONG OF THE YEAR

“ALL AROUND YOU” Sturgill Simpson, Written by Sturgill Simpson
“IT AIN’T OVER YET” Rodney Crowell, Written by Rodney Crowell winner
“TO BE WITHOUT YOU” Ryan Adams, Written by Ryan Adams
“WRECK YOU” Lori McKenna, Written by Lori McKenna and Felix McTeigue

INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR

SPENCER CULLUM, JR.
JEN GUNDERMAN
COURTNEY HARTMAN
CHARLIE SEXTON winner

Regarding the Lifetime Achievement awards, well, I don’t know much what to say.  I’ve never paid much attention to Van Morrison other than to recognize background music that’s not unpleasant.  And Hi Rhythm Section is R&B or Soul or whatnot but Americana?  C’mon, this is just more of what shoe-horned the talented  R&B artist William Bell into the Americana Grammy.

Sir George & Mr. Cray & Graham Nash (along with the late, great Tom Petty) are among the legacy R&B and Album-Oriented Rock musicians which Americana is adopting as they lose any place on commercial radio.  That’s fine.  I like them, yes.

It just feels like we’re claiming others’  glories when there are plenty of our own to tout.

Iris DeMent, on the other hand, is an obvious Americana treasure with a unique vocal style.  Her duets with John Prine are precious.  I’m not sure what music earned Charlie Sexton the Instrumentalist of the Year.  Knowing there’s always new (to me) music out there helps make the Sweet Old World worth exploring through another season.


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LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR SONGWRITER

VAN MORRISON

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT TRAILBLAZER AWARD

IRIS DEMENT

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR PERFORMANCE

ROBERT CRAY

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR INSTRUMENTALIST

HI RHYTHM SECTION

SPIRIT OF AMERICANA / FREE SPEECH IN MUSIC

GRAHAM NASH

JACK EMERSON LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR EXECUTIVE

LARRY SLOVEN AND BRUCE BROMBERG FOR HIGHTONE RECORDS

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Telluride, Bluegrass and the Cross of Gold (Repost #APACO17)

My first time into Telluride I was coming in from the East. The summer was hot and dry; the Colorado backcountry better suited to rattlesnakes than trout water. I had been camping up the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, some rutted jeep trail of a Forest Service road that would have seemed an interstate compared to the insanity of Black Bear Pass. That is to say, I drove in from the West, down Leopard Creek Canyon through Placerville by way of Ridgeway. When in doubt, go higher.

“I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability; but this is not a contest among persons. The humblest citizen in all the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke as such when he visited the town of Telluride in 1896, speaking in front of the New Sheridan Hotel while campaigning for the presidency. Telluride sits astride a narrow box canyon at the headwaters of the San Miguel River. It’s not the sort of place you happen across, that you wander through on your way from here to there. Telluride is a destination.

“Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been by the voters themselves.”

The mines of the San Juan mountains gave birth to Telluride in the 1870s. Zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold flowed from the Sheridan, the Tomboy, the Pandora mines. Miners mined the ore, the town mined the miners. The good times were good. The bad times were bad. Butch Cassidy began his career in crime in June 1889 when his “wild bunch” robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank. Eastern financiers dealt a much heavier blow during the Silver Panic of 1893. It was silver and gold that brought Bryan to town.

“But in this contest, brother has been arrayed against brother, and father against son. The warmest ties of love and acquaintance and association have been disregarded. Old leaders have been cast aside when they refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of freedom. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever fastened upon the representatives of a people.”

Over time the mines played out. By the 1970s, “hippies” had taken over many of the old union shacks. The search for silver and gold turned to the perfect slope. And the perfect music festival. According to the Library of Congress, the first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was organized by a bluegrass band, Fall Creek, for the 1974 Independence Day celebration. Telluride, acoustic music and the Festival have all changed a lot since then.

“we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities… The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.”

Author & professional contrarian Edward Abbey made his home downriver, past where the San Miguel joins the Dolores River and flows into Utah. He lamented the mining at Moab that followed the bust at Telluride. He lamented the rise of industrial tourism that turned desert towns and mining towns into meccas for the leisure class. Abbey’s Moab and Bryan’s Telluride are the same, yet different, than hundreds of others places in the high country. Built and broke on the back of mining and ranching. Reborn as recreational playgrounds, some might say they sold their souls to the new company store. Might say they’ve lost their souls on a cross of gold.

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke of literal gold, the heavy yellow mineral competing with Telluride’s silver for status as legal currency. Yet we still today find ourselves pressed down upon: Our crown of thorns is a gold record standard. The over-riding expectation that all that matters is the next hit on the radio chart, the next big thing on MTV, the next Girls Gone Viral on the world wide web.

Telluride is one of the few places that have staked out their own claim outside the Next Big Thing. Citizens of the town work hard to stand up for their land and historic fabric, looking for ways to balance growth and development—to make a place for a ski resort, summer recreation and a functioning community. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has done as well, balancing a broad and diverse lineup to stay funky yet relevant.

It is no easy thing to resist the lure of easy gold. To resist the urge to get yours while the getting is good. To do better. To go higher.

To go To Hell U Ride — Telluride.
 

(Repost from 2009, in honor of APA Colorado conference.)

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West County Line


Building permits required.  Archuleta-LaPlata county line, US Highway 160 east of Bayfield, Colorado.

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Neuromancer the Movie

Rumors are surfacing again that William Gibson‘s classic cyberpunk SciFi novel Neuromancer may finally be reaching the big screen.  The 1984 story—winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards—has had far-reaching impact on pop culture as Gibson fleshed out the ideas behind “cyberspace” and “the Matrix.”

You might have heard a bout a little movie series based on that last term, drawing heavily from Gibson’s prognostications. Even earlier, Keanu Reeves gave a preview of his role as Neo in the film version of Gibson’s 1981 short-story “Johnny Mnemonic”.

Many have tried and failed to adapt the Neuromancer dystopia.  Let’s hope this one’s a go.

P.S. Congrats to author N.K. Jemisen on her 2nd Hugo award for The Obelisk Gate, sequel to last year’s Hugo winner The Fifth Season, itself due for a TV adaptation.  The 3rd novel in the series, The Stone Sky, is now on your favorite bookseller’s shelves (and on my library wish list).  Both science fiction and fantasy authors, Gibson and Jemisen, are outspoken critics on social media, but I like their stories anyway.
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The Disease that Afflicts all Modern Institutions

Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Repatrimonialization

Modern state institutions, which are supposed to be impersonal even if not necessarily democratic, are particularly vulnerable to insider-capture in a  process that I labeled “repatrimonialization.”  As we have seen, natural human sociability is built around the twin principles of kin selection and reciprocal altruism—the favoring of family or of friends with whom one has exchanged favors.  Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts.  In the absence of strong institutional incentives, the groups with access to a political system will use their positions to favor friends and family, and thereby erode the impersonality of the state.  The more powerful the groups, the more opportunities they will have to do this.  This process of elite or insider capture is a disease that afflicts all modern institutions.

Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, page 464

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