One of the most delectable, opulently opossumable things about living in the Ozarks is our access to superb bluegrass music. No, they don’t play it at the malls, and you don’t hear it at Ruby Wednesdays.
But if you go poking around at localities like the Hitchin’ Post down at Hartsburg, or Cooper’s Landing near Easley, or at several of our wonderful local church suppers and town festivals, you’re gonna hear it.
Sometimes it’s a bunch of old dudes in overalls sitting there, playing all this great music while wearing the taciturn expression I’ve come to consider my stereotypical “Missouri farmer” look. Sometimes, it’s hippies! (Hooray for hippies!) Or college students who’ve discovered something truly cool while attending MU. And sometimes, the musicians just look like . . . I dunno . . . editors. (I’m just sayin’.) Or MU professors!
But it’s all around us; it’s in the air; it bathes us, just like this doggone humidity that all summer long transmits the rich spicy scents of bottomland soils, of shiny corn stalks shooting toward the sun, of raccoon grapevines dangling from hickory trees down by the river, and of cattle pushing their noses into endless grasses. Sure, you might live in a city, in your boundaries, in your head, but your city lives in the country, and ’round here, its soundtrack is a bluegrass one.
Bluegrass “fits” Missouri. It’s appropriate music during any season, whether you’re snowed in on a February night, or it’s a swelteringly hot July afternoon and you’re sucking on a wedge of icy cold watermelon. It’s the perfect background music for leaf-peeping in October and wildflower walks and morel hunting in April.
I hope you won’t think this is too hokey, but when we first moved back to Missouri, we lived in Columbia, clear on the other side of town from my parents’ house, and at that time my Grandma Renner was living with my parents. We tended to visit them a lot on Sunday evenings, and drive back home late at night. Clear across town.
And there’s this long-running show on Columbia’s community radio station, KOPN, called the High Lonesome Sound. It’s bluegrass on Sunday evenings (9 p.m. to midnight, Central time). And somehow, as we drove home on those Sunday evenings, the car radio would get tuned to KOPN, and we’d enjoy that high and lonesome sound all the way home.
Don’t get me wrong—I never knew Grandma Renner to listen to bluegrass—but there is something incredibly honest, straightforward, and intense about this music, the sweet harmonies and the compelling, prayerful quality of the lyrics, that tended to touch me deeply those evenings, during that time while Grandma was alive but no longer really “with” us.
I do know that bluegrass, like elderberry jam, is an acquired taste, but I encourage you to sample it or revisit it. I’m lucky, since I grew up in Columbia and have listened to KOPN and its diverse programming since about as long as I could twirl a radio knob.
And I can think of no better way to get acquainted with it than to tune in to KOPN on Sunday nights, when the dinner dishes are done and all that’s left is to put the weekend to bed.
B. G. Brown, the DJ for this show, is a local bluegrass performer and has been playing bluegrass on KOPN since the 1980s. She knows her stuff, and listening to her comments between songs is a great way of learning who’s who in this genre.
And for those of you who are not in radio range of the KOPN signal, you can tune in via the Internet; just go to www.kopn.org and click on “listen live.”
Now, by the time you read this, it will be too late for you to tune in to this week’s program, because I’m listening to it right now! But don’t worry, I’ll remind you later on so you don’t miss next week’s show.
By the way, they’re taking requests tonight! (When’s the last time you heard of a radio station taking requests?)
Cheers to B. G. Brown and the High Lonesome Sound!
Mark it down: Sundays at 9 pm Central; streaming live at kopn.org.