Tag Archives: music writing

Why Bluegrass Night is Unlike Other Nights

A real picture taken by a real person (nokapixel on flikr) of bluegrass night at Amnesia in the Mission

It’s a Monday night in San Francisco and about one month ago I ironed patches onto my skinny jeans to stave away the quite serious hole progression in the upper thigh area. The patches are not the same color as my jeans and they are huge. Are they a fashion statement? Are they hideous? It doesn’t matter. I can sit cross-cross-apple-sauce in them without exposing myself, and it’s bluegrass night and my boots are on.

For me, bluegrass night is also improv lesson night, and while we play games and learn to forget our inhibitions, my boots have a mind of their own, stompin’ and gearin’ up for the pluckin’ and strummin’ of the folksy tunes we’re about to hear. Somehow, improv and bluegrass go together quite well, based as they both are in community and doing something for the love of the game.

And bluegrass night is unlike the other nights of the week, no matter how special they are. Other evenings don’t hold the same perspiration-scented twang that homespun bluegrass tunes carry, or the madness inherent in the wild twitches of the banjo player’s hand. Other nights have 20% less stomping, 38% less twirling, and 72% less “yips” and exclamations of yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haw.

It’s a very present call to the past, an invocation of a time that may not have existed, a rootin’ tootin’ shindig.

At Amnesia, the bar that feels like the hull of a forgotten ship, which has an octopus in the corner and a selection of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle, bluegrass draws them in. Some don’t understand what’s going on, don’t quite get the spirit or understand how to stomp and clap at the same time and which foot and which hands to use. Some are caught up in the stereotype. But the energy is contagious, the mixture of nostalgia and booze, the fire-spirited fiddle and plum-drum bass brewing the night’s mood.

Sway a little to the beat, pick up your feet and set them down, in rhythm. Don’t be afraid to believe in the myth, in the fields and the honky tonk and the sweet smell of hay and betrayed love. Because it’s bluegrass night, where the music is too good for pretention. It’s only simple if you let it be.

Grab a Maredsous, pick a partner and do-si-do, if you dare, or at least stand a little closer to the stage. Biting is for afterwards.

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