“Fun” doesn’t follow me around all that often so when in Asheville, North Carolina the day after Christmas, the jazzy, up tempo beat of the Uptown Hillbillies was quite literally music to my ears. My wife and I paid the cover charge, showed proof of vaccinations and booster, and then waltzed into the pub where the air sizzled with the Western swing beat, a dance music that’s part country, part cowboy, part polka and part folk. It’s got a kick to it that lifts one’s spirits, leaving any tension or troubles behind.
Live music has been a casualty of Covid, but fortunately, we lucked out at the Cork & Keg. I was able to sit at a side table near the open front door, mask on, with two other gentlemen around my age, also masked up, nursing amber-colored glasses of beer. Nobody bothered me for anything just the way I like it. I was able to instantly settle into the rhythmic dance beats of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Ray Price, while my wife danced up a storm, as she’s known to do whenever and wherever there’s any music within earshot. You can’t keep a good woman off the dance floor during the classic country music of the 50s and 60s with songs like ”Love me Honey Now as I’m Too Young to Die”.
On December 26th while some patrons drank beer, a few couples got up, took off their masks and waltzed with their partners. Some of the men wore cowboy boots as did their partners. Children too, were at the pub and were handed dollar bills to stuff into the tip jar out front near the fiddler Kevin Kehrberg. Western swing music is family friendly though it was a surprise to see little girls about five or six years of age there with their moms.
I, on the other hand was just happy to nod my head and tap my feet to the band’s ensemble of rhythm and pedal steel guitars, snappy fiddle, quiet brush drums and bass. The music mesmerized me and transported me back in time to a memorable scene from the Peter Bogdanovich 1971 critically-acclaimed coming of age movie ”The Last Picture Show”. Hank Williams music, tumbleweeds and dust blew across the sparse, empty Texan town square while Billy, a mute, mentally disabled, young adolescent boy sweeps a broom back and forth for no apparent reason. In my early twenties I watched ”The Last Picture Show” numerous times as it spoke to me with its loneliness and clumsiness about two high schoolers coming of age. (Cloris Leachman, who died a year ago, won an Academy Award for best supporting actress, while Cybil Shepherd broke into the big screen with her debut performance as Jacy, the blond attraction of every boy in town).
What is it about music that gets one feeling good? It’s certainly a universal language that resonates with anybody, whether one dances, plays the music, or simply watches the musicians play and/or sing. It’s good medicine for the soul, a welcome respite from the stress of the pandemic and the stress of being on a roadtrip.
Music is a social phenomenon that connects people to one another whether listened to live, on Sirius, played on vinyl or heard on the radio. Scientifically speaking, music releases endorphins providing feelings of comfort, relaxation, fun and pleasure.
I don’t know if the musicians were enjoying their time as much as the patrons but it appeared so. Russ Wilson playing drums and vocals took the lead most of the time until a special performer, Rebecca O’Quinn, a female singer, around 30 joined in. She carried a tune that worked perfectly into the masculine-driven sounds of the original band in what appeared to be an impromptu occurrence. (Rebecca has her own band Rebecca and the Renderings, also known as Fancy and the Gentlemen).
If I ever find myself back in Asheville, and the Uptown Hillbillies are performing with Rebecca, or even without her, I’d certainly go out of my way to catch their show. It was a fun time in a fun town at a festive time of the year.