On Monday Chris and I drove about three hours to Morehead, KY for a free concert, Women in Traditional Music. It was quite a gathering, featuring ten different women who have labored long in the field. We went mostly because Ginny Hawker was going to be there, but also for our first chance to see Hazel Dickens perform. Just about anyone who follows mountain music would put Hazel Dickens in the first row of the pantheon, for both her excellent songwriting and her powerful, straight from the heart singing.
There was a morning performance at a local school which we missed because we had errands to run in Lexington on the way. But we arrived around 1:30pm for what was billed as a 2pm workshop. They decided to do a song circle instead, with each artist talking a little bit and then performing a song. Probably the better choice; we heard some good singing and some entertaining stories about life as a woman in professional music.
The workshop ended at 3:30, and Chris and I went to fetch our instruments. When I had emailed Ginny to let her know we would be there, she asked if we would help her out on one of her songs at the evening concert; of course we said of course, and got to work studying her recording of it. A couple of days later she emailed again, asking if we would also be willing to provide backup for Hazel Dickens. It didn’t take me long to agree to that one, and so we spent the weekend beforehand working through the songs Hazel was likely to choose from. So after the workshop we went upstairs and first rehearsed Ginny’s song with her, then ran through some songs with Hazel.
The show itself went well. It was held in the Morehead Conference Center, a nice new facility with an auditorium that held a few hundred people. The format was for each of the ten artists to do two songs, except for Hazel Dickens who did three, and then led a last song with everyone on stage. It was a different sort of thing for us; wait backstage until about 2/3 through the show, come on for one song, come off until the last artist, come on for Hazel’s first song, come off again, come on for Hazel’s third song, stay for the finale. Fortunately there was no need to fuss with microphones or where to stand on stage, so it all proceeded smoothly.
During the workshop Hazel Dickens said that she is often asked what she did to get to where she was in the profession, and she replies that she didn’t really do anything except pursue the music as best she knew how; the rest just happened as it happened, and there was no overall career plan guiding her. I could relate to that. It’s way too early to guess how the “career” of the Ridgewood Boys will turn out. But since our gifts are modest enough, we decided early on not to make performing the center of our life, but instead to focus on doing as well as we could with the music within the limits of a life devoted to other things. And even so a number of good things have happened; we’ve met musicians we admire and gotten to be friends with some of them, we’ve performed at festivals, we’ve played at the Carter Fold, and now we’ve been onstage with a legendary mountain musician. None of it was planned. And we’re grateful for all of it.