Art Power! in Review: Far from Home

Friday before last, on the verge of a weekend that would set
the San Diego countryside ablaze and displace hundreds of its inhabitants, the
musicians of Virginia’s legendary Hwy. 58 (or, more sentimentally, its Crooked
Road) took the low-lit Mandeville stage, awkward through introductions and
stiffly scripted back-stories. The clammy sidenotes to their traveling roadshow
— which, thanks to the talent-sniffers at ArtPower!, took its very first
pitstop at UCSD — gave us spectators a hyper-awareness of our own location and
their contrasting displacement, this far-off band of locals on a history-lesson
crusade through the States, a noisy travel brochure for southwestern Virginia.
Thick mountain accents reported an unmatchable legacy of handed-down folk
songs, explained bluegrass’ African roots in the blues and declared the music
of their dearest backcountry more than a genre or art form — more a way of
life.

And that is musically apparent from the get-go.
Nineteen-year-old traditionalist Elizabeth LaPrelle devotes her life and voice,
with an eerily antique strength and twang, to preserving the original lyrics
(many of which are, somewhat humorously, directed from a male suitor to his
chosen maiden) and replicating the precise delivery methods of her ancestral countryfolk.
The small, starkly plain college girl stood as an interactive piece in a
regional museum, lending labored authenticity to the fiddles and banjos and
bass plods of her fellow Virginia
players, who seemed more interested in acheiving new levels of string-blurring
virtuosity.

One of these male instrumentalists — Eddie Bond, certainly
the showman of the bunch — used small-town anecdotes like the teenage
complaint-song “Furniture Factory Blues” to set the scene for us West-Coast
foreigners, even showing off a nimble-footed jig and multitasking as a feisty
vocalist from atop the chin-rest of a fiddle the size of one lung. Eddie would
later join award-winning banjo whiz Sammy Shelor — a lumbering man with fingers
like hummingbirds — and a gang of reliable neighors suited in plaid, never
without their trusty wooden counterparts, for an outback string symphony that
attempted to recreate the kind of impromptu community pluckin’ that one might
encounter on a Virginia roadside. Similarly, the Whitetop Mountain Band, a
family affair with an almost overloaded platter of versatility, set out to show
the SoCal intellectuals how a rip-roarin’ Christmas party goes down at the
Spencer household. All the community members professed mutual admiration,
bounced anecdotal wisecracks off one another and often stepped in when an extra
set of strings was needed to round out the almost circus-like bandwagon.

It’s understandably difficult for such musically instinctual
people to put into dry speech the kind of togetherness they feel and the ties
they feel to Virginia’s history-rich soil; but even their unfailing virtuosity
and joyousness in performance maintained the transplanted air of someone else’s
local love. Sure, our own Crooked Road is a five-lane highway touring a sea of
sprawling mansions, but with or without a family-owned banjo shopt, the
ArtPower! import gave us a new awareness of our own ties — an intimacy all
humans form with the land that holds them.


In the Pipeline
How to gather a group of education-wary college students for
a Thursday night of lecture, on the classical traditions of 18th- and
19th-century France? Throw in a little free food — or better yet, a barrelful
of wine! After a few glasses through the sprightly, formal talents of the
history-illustrating Paris Piano Trio, you’ll no doubt understand how the
burgandy-lipped French bourgeoisie enjoyed their instrumental and agricultural
studies so heartily. Taste of Art: Wines of France will take place at Wine
Steals in Point Loma on Nov. 8.

Going down right here in our own International Center, a
skirted Islamic troupe of traditional Whirling Dervishes is set to whip up your
Turkish appetite — think kebabs and those delicious little grape-leaf rolls —
with a holy channeling of all that revolves, and chef-white costumes fitting to
the feast. Earn culture points with a pre-performance ArtTalk. Taste of Art:
Turkish Feast will take place at the International Center on Nov. 16.

More to Discover
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