Saturday, November 25, 2006


We started out in new Loudoun: Vietnamese dinner in a strip mall next to a Latino Mercado.

But soon we were driving (under a crisp crescent moon) west on Route 7, to the bluegrass jamboree now held on last Fridays in the Round Hill art studios. Based on the famous Friday night jam in Floyd, Virginia, this affair bore a close resemblance to its Blue Ridge Mountain predecessor. The Round Hill studios are housed in a building that is recognizably an old general store: a wide, two-story structure with dark, unpainted wood and a small overhang (but definitely not a porch) above some doubledoors which face the two lane highway. Downstairs there were three jam sessions going, one in the gallery room and two tucked amongst the printing presses in opposite corners of the biggest room; the latter space was also serving cold beer and hot dogs, soda, pulled pork, chili, and baked desserts. Upstairs there was Irish traditional music in the pottery studio, and in the farthest room, we found our favorite group of the evening.

At its largest I counted thirteen musicians, two dancers, and about eleven or so revolving onlookers in this tiny, second-floor painting studio. One older man brought his own portable "chair" (seating was scarce), which consisted of vinyl padding stretched across the mouth of a paint bucket, itself covered with bumper stickers from bluegrass music stores.

Most musicians stuck to their one instrument, but ocassionally there was some switching up or swapping around. The instruments represented: acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, stand-up bass, spoons. This room I more strictly considered Old Time Music (closer to Texas swing or hillbilly blues as opposed to simply banjo-based riffs), and the songs were mournful ones of lost love, heartbreak, and displacement; the singer was lamenting being kept apart from his lover or his home state or his mother or all three.

A certain fiddler showed up and pretty much took over the room. He was a good player but dominating, which is against the spirit of the jam and also quite common, as far as I could see. Once he showed up, the singing duo got quiter, and the songs were more instrumental, uptempo, and closer to bluegrass again. This did bring out two impromptu dancers, a fabulous middle-aged woman with bleach blond hair, crocheted purple shawl, swinging cotton purple skirt, and chunk heels (like old Loudoun art hippie meets Spanish gypsy), and a man whose wrinkled face and thinning white hair betrayed his age (70s or 80s), but whose fit, muscular frame packed into Levis and rolled up shirt sleeves still seemed designed to woo the ladies. They made an unexpectedly-sensual pair of partner dancers, but again, I think not so uncommon; as with the music, anyone who knows the moves is invited to the dance.

Back downstairs, a young group had formed in one corner; a number of teenagers who surrounded a young singer on autoharp and a tall fellow whose very first beard was an Abe Lincoln hipster masterpice. Mary, my father's secretary, is a regular at this jam and never misses a one; I asked her, "Who is here? Is this still old Loudoun County?" (I suppose I was incredulous that the self-taught farmers and hippie artisans of my youthful imagination might still exist, in this rapidly developing county whose private toll road has brought it dangerously close to DC.) Mary said it was true, these people were indeed Old Loudoun County, but that the event is getting a reputation; musicians and bluegrass lovers are travelling now from Winchester, Front Royal, rural Maryland, and West Virginia. She pointed out a towering guitar player who was the local Chamber of Commerce President for the last decade; she said that the place is wall-to-wall in the summers; and she told me she follows some of the musicians elsewhere when she can, like the ones who play at the old folks home in Leesburg on Tuesdays.

Eastern Loudoun again: Earlier in the day, we had seen the aging writer, Russell Baker, mowing his backyard; we had walked past the Laurel Brigade Inn, which after 220 years of serving tired travellers has become office space; and we'd run into Mrs. McGorry volunteering at the thrift shop that raises money for a battered women's shelter. She met my beau for the first time and as we were leaving, she whispered directly into my ear, "Don't forget this: Do something for him every single day."


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