Them thar hills
Stephen Bleach finds the evocative sound of old-time mountain music in the Appalachians
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,