Them thar hills

Stephen Bleach finds the evoca­tive sound of old-time moun­tain mu­sic in the Ap­palachi­ans

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HIS can’t be for real. They must be mak­ing a film. I can hear the di­rec­tor’s con­ver­sa­tion now: ‘‘ Hello, cen­tral cast­ing? I want some good ol’ south­ern boys for my movie. Yep, the more cliched, the bet­ter . . . dun­ga­rees, caps, ac­cents as thick as mo­lasses, eat­ing peanuts and play­ing ban­jos.’’

But it’s real. I am in the bar­ber­shop in Drexel, North Carolina, where twice a week a bunch of guys straight off the set of De­liv­er­ance gather to make the most en­thralling noise you’ve heard.

No en­trance charge, no posters, no playlist. They don’t do it for a film di­rec­tor, or in­deed for tourists (though any­one’s wel­come to drop in). They do this for them­selves, and that’s the joy of it.

Some call the sound they make blue­grass, some old­time, some moun­tain mu­sic: what­ever the name, it’s an anom­aly in a na­tion dom­i­nated by slick su­per­stars and cor­po­rate mar­ket­ing. It’s home-grown and small-scale, and it’s thriv­ing at hun­dreds of jams, dances and gath­er­ings like this, up and down the Blue Ridge Moun­tains of Ap­palachia.

Us­ing tunes and tech­niques handed down from the Scot­tish and Ir­ish set­tlers who came to th­ese re­mote hills 200 years ago, this is Amer­ica’s orig­i­nal folk tra­di­tion, the gen­uine sound­track of a cul­ture.

Find­ing it isn’t made easy. There are no pack­aged re­sort shows, no coach tours: to gate­crash the party, you need to do a lit­tle home­work and a lot of driv­ing. It’s well worth it. ON re­flec­tion, Drexel might not be the best place to start. It’s a com­mu­ni­ca­tion thing. There isn’t much. The one word of English-ac­cented English they will in­stantly recog­nise is de­liv­er­ance, which is the word you ab­so­lutely should not say. The film isn’t too pop­u­lar around th­ese parts: moun­tain peo­ple don’t re­ally make a habit of kid­nap­ping and rap­ing out­siders,

Il­lus­tra­tion: Tom Jel­lett

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