Posted by: jackslife | March 19, 2008

Cabernet and Billy Faier (No banana trees)

I have been meaning to write a blog post about this for a while now, but I kept telling myself I was going to do some kind of crazy, bohemian, beat-like prose piece on the event. Maybe I will eventually finish this composition, but for now I’m just going to tell you guys my story in my normal, bland fashion.

I attended a cowboy poetry gathering with my good friends Andy and Alissa a couple of weeks ago. Andy is a great folk musician and has been performing at these types of events since he was knee high to a Grasshopper (sorry for my folksy little colloquialism), and had arranged for a special guest to play with him during some of his sessions at this event.

Andy’s guest was a banjo player named Billy Faier. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott once wrote a song called “912 Greens” about a trip that he took to New Orleans to visit Billy Faier. We didn’t dance naked around a banana tree or anything like that, but we did have an awesome little Odyssey of our own. I have two main highlights of the trip.

The first was a drive that we made between Alpine and Billy’s place, which was about a 30 mile drive. We peppered him with questions about everything from his past romances to his associations with beat authors, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. I was really struck on that trip with the fact that we were engaged in a living folk tradition. We were hearing Billy tell us about the times he had lived in and the people and events that had entered his experience.

My other great memory was an impromptu jam session at Billy’s house with Andy Wilkinson and Bob Campbell (two more great folk singers). We sat around drinking Cabernet and singing folk tunes. We also heard the back stories being told to these tunes by someone who had actually spent time with Woody Guthrie and Jack Elliott.

I believe that these songs are an important part of our American tradition that is passing slowly away. Most people don’t really learn the depths of the American experience that is being expressed in these songs. I don’t ever remember being taught about the Los Gatos Canyon plane crash or the Ludlow Massacre in school. These are stories of humanity and should be remembered. Rapidly the folk tradition is being swallowed up in a sea of television programs and video games.

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