Sunday, August 21, 2005

Shindig on the Green

Well, you asked that I report on any new fun in Asheville.

I just attended another evening of Shindig on the Green and it was certainly a golden time. This time I arrived early and set up a folding lawn chair close to the front of the stage. The sun was still up and I knew it would set around a quarter after eight. So I hoped to relax for an hour or so listening to the formal presentation on the main stage. Included were some motley ensembles and a few dance teams. It was enjoyable enough.

After sunset, I collapsed my chair and went in search of fairer game. Passing up the kielbasa stand, I toured the grounds at City-County Plaza park and casually took in what variety of picking was offered. But I knew where I would land: In the "old-time" section of the park, nearest the main fronting street. Apparently it is a tradition for the bluegrass jams to take place around the inner side of the park and the old-time jams to have their own area at the other end. Up to four or five ever-changing ensembles will strike up a tune or two of droning acoustic mountain instrumentals to be followed by nothing in particular; but perhaps some light conversation until another tune comes to mind and is take up with enthusiasm and a fair amount of onlooking.

With dusk securely behind us, the little bands slipped into a comfortable rhythm of playing and resting. During any rest, onlookers could take in another fine tune simply by pivoting in place and taking a few steps forward; where faint noise now becomes a rich concert with fingers and wrists bending strings with energy and feeling.

As I listened, arms folded, to one muscular ditty showcasing four fiddles, two guitars, one mandolin and a bass, I heard "the laugh." This is the most distinctive laugh in the burgeoning hamlet of Asheville: the rapid, mousy titter of Cary Fridley. Slowly I turned. Yes, it was her. Then I knew that the night had begun.

fridI hovered around her little grouping like a gnat and came close whenever they struck up another tune. Of course, she was there with another innovation: An old-time, dixieland hybrid music including a kazoo-playing banjoist. This time Fridley was on the bass, plucking out a strict rhythm for her fellows on fiddle, mandolin and guitar.

These spontaneous offerings were later punctuated by Phil Jamison's flatfoot shuffling. How did Phil accomplish this feat in a city park? Why, by bringing his own floor. While the band played on, Phil simply plopped down a thin four-by-four slab of wood in front of the players, and, child-like, hopped on it and tapped out with precision his own percussive beat. Afterwards, others were invited to trip the light fantastic on this four foot dance floor to the lead of the commanding hard beat of Celtic-Appalachian string music played by the anonymous stars of the unruffled mountain acoustic music community of Western North Carolina.

A half-pivot reminded me that the main stage was still churning with tight bluegrass and joyous clogging performances. And looking up into the far distance from time to time, I could see lightning silently flash-flashing; briefly suggesting the silhouetted mountain skyline that surrounds the valley -- this oasis that is Asheville in summer; where the loveliest mountain music plays hushed and steady underneath low trees.