Sunday, November 7, 2010

In the Back Row

Last night I went to hear one of my favorite bluegrass bands, "Blue Highway", at our local bluegrass hot-spot. Blue Highway is highly professional band; they have been nominated for two Grammy awards in recent years, and their dobro player is a twelve time national champion. All of the five members of the band have been together for the past 16 years, a rarity in the musical world. And, they can sing. All five of them. Together. In harmony. Wondrous harmony.

Redwood Bluegrass Associates, a group of bluegrass lovin' volunteers, arranges for bluegrass (and newgrass-gospel-country and sometimes jazz) related music once a month at a church in Mountain View, CA. Sometimes local bands play; sometimes groups come from Nashville. (And West Virginia-Kentucky-Virgina-Tennessee-Arkansas...) Some bands are youngsters just getting started, and some bands are well-known old-hands, at least in the bluegrass world.

Me, I came by myself, hoping to run into a friend or two as I often do. But, no one I knew was there last night, so I sat by myself, about two-thirds back in the church hall. Blue Highway was as good as ever musically speaking. And their jokes actually a bit better than I recall. But I was having a harder time than I usually do understanding the words to the songs. This I found quite vexing, and it was not the first time.

A few weeks ago, encouraged by a friend, I went to a political rally to support the Democratic candidate for governor of our great state of California, Jerry Brown. After hours of standing and waiting, my arches gave out and I opted for a seat in the back of the cavernous gym, in the handicapped section. After a near riot by the masses over seating, my friends finally ended up in the bleacher seats about midway back. When the speakers finally arrived (Gavin Newsome, Bill Clinton, and Jerry Brown), I found I could only understand what they were saying if I also watched their lips...on the BIG screen monitors. (I was too far back to even SEE their lips, even with my bifocals on, without the help of the large screens.) At the time, I blamed it on the "muddy" sound in the cavernous gym and my placement in the very back of it. My friends heard everything just fine.

My dad, who just turned 85, cannot "hear" you unless he can also see your face. I fear I may not be far behind.

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