Our most recent cruise was a voyage of discovery. The discovery was not the ports of call but rather a unique group of passengers that shared the Carnival Paradise with us. They were musicians and devotees of Bluegrass Music. To us their jam sessions and style of music was a look at something truly Americana.
We had a long interesting interview with Jerry Turner, who hails from Running Springs and has been the principal organizers of this gathering of Bluegrass musicians. Entitled Mexicocruise2 Jam this was the third year of the event which has gained popularity each year. The first year forty attended, last year eighty and this year they were over one hundred strong.
There was a lot to learn about Bluegrass music and found aboard the Paradise the perfect place for our education. The jam sessions took place both during the day and evening in various locations aboard ship and you generally needed to know one of the participants to find them. Strangely Carnival did not want the jam sessions available to other ship guests. As for this Writer well he is a reporter and refuses to pass up a good story as well as some mighty fine entertainment so we followed those carrying their instruments. Where they went we went.
We had to turn to our computer to find out the history of Bluegrass and the perfect place for this is the website of the International Blue Grass Music Museum located in Owensboro, Kentucky. Log on at bluegrass-museum.org. While the form of country music evolved over generations of Americans, many from Europe, others from Africa it was the first major artist, Bill Monroe in the 1950s that coined the name Bluegrass after his native Kentucky. By the 1960s Bluegrass had come into its own and who can forget the soundtrack of the movie "Bonnie and Clyde".
This Writer probably asked some silly questions about the jams we attended. Like why do the musicians sit in a circle with some facing away from the audience? Answer patiently given was that bluegrass is a community effort with each musician taking a turn with the melody, while the rest add accompaniment, then pass it on to the next musician. Bluegrass is basically string instruments, mandolin, upright bass, guitar, fiddle, resophonin guitars or Dobro and banjo. In one jam session we attended one man was particularly good with the mouth harp and harmonica. We recall owning a mouth or Jew's harp as a youngster but never produced any recognized sounds with it.
One afternoon there was a gospel jam with Curtis Wright. Later we had the opportunity to meet Curtis. Actually he is a minister with a congregation in 29 Palms and other Mojave desert communities. To me he put it most simply by saying his great grandfather was a preacher, his grandfather and his father also, so he is a 4th generation preacher. A soft spoken African American Curtis said the family spent some generations in Missouri.
During the jam Curtis spoke of how the time of the cowboy and the great cattle drives produced some interesting music as well and that he had a great uncle who had been a cowboy. He added that in that period one of every five cowboys was black. The gospel jam had a man-woman mix of fifteen people with some very lovely vocals by women. Curtis' comments on the music was most welcome and a learning experience for this Writer. I was ready to join in when "Hold My Hand" and "I'll Fly Away" was played and vocalized by the assembled.
Bluegrass music is here to stay. Today it is popular is all 50 states and 50 other countries around the world. We did note a lot of gray hair among the musicans and devotees on the cruise and this Writer added to that part of the scene as well.
Then there was an interesting conversation with Yvonne Tatar. She is part of two musical groups-- Tatar Patch Bluegrass Buddies and Virtual Strangers based in San Diego. Formerly she and her husband Mike lived in the Napa Valley and performed at many winery functions there. She plays bass and very well too.
She also told me all about the Summergrass San Diego Bluegrass Music Festival which will take place in Vista on August 19-21. It will be held at the 40 acre outdoor Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista. I promised her that if at all possible I would attend. For more information check the web at www.summergrass.net or 858 679-4854.
For the Paradise Jam the Bluegrass devotees arrived from near and far. We chatted with some from Missouri. And we learned that arrangements are already made for the 2012 event which will be on the Carnival Inspiration from Monday January 29 to Friday February 3. Humm, maybe, just maybe,we will have to discuss this with Jerry Turner.
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