On an August night recently when some of the heat had retreated with the day’s sun, I sat in the N.C. Art Museum amphitheater and listened to the Piedmont blues. The Piedmont blues swept through the South in 1920s and 30s and featured among its ranks many of the musicians from our area.
I got to hear a few of those old timers last Saturday – John Dee Holeman, and Algia Mae Hinton, who hails from Middlesex. They are both 80. And I listened to other blues and string band performers. (Lightning Wells, Phil Wiggins and Wayne Martin and the Buggy Riders).
Brian High, our on-line editor shot video, and I listened with an ear for something to write about that could capture that evening. How do you write about lyrics as rich as “I love my baby like she loves peach pie.”?
One thing’s for sure. As all the introducers of the music observed, the evening was a tribute to the best of the South, a celebration of a musical interplay between African Americans and Anglo-Americans.
The concert was part of the museum’s larger series about the southern plantation revisited. It preceded the showing of the movie “Midway, “by Raleigh native and New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire. It’s a moving tale of the relocation of Cheshire’s family home, Midway Plantation, from development along Knightdale Boulevard to a rural setting outside Knightdale. The house is better known in these parts as Charlie and Dena Silver’s home. (Charlie is Godfrey’s cousin.)
The movie not only tells the story of the house’s uprooting, but also tells the story of the myth of African Americans in film.
Wayne Martin, the director of Folk life at the N.C. Arts Council, said despite the long shadow that the antebellum period has cast on our culture, it also provided the seedbed for the development of great music -- the blues, country, bluegrass and rock and roll.
But it’s all better said by the music anyway.
From Lightnin' Wells, “Me and My Dog, we don’t have no friends now,” to Phil Wiggins “She’s gone, but I don’t worry cause I’m sitting on top of the world,” to John Dee Holeman’s “I am a stranger,” to Algia Mae Hinton’s “Why should I worry, it makes my hair turn gray?, the blues all tell us a story. And with music, at times, both plaintive and playful.
And then there was the string band, Martin and his Buggy Riders, old-timey fiddle music, and banjo and guitar. The lively plucking also has its roots in the early 20th century.
Algia Mae Hinton’s son, Willette Hinton, took the stage not only for a demonstration of some buck dancing, but of pure bliss. Later he and Haywood County’s Aaron Ratcliff, a student at UNC, danced together, Aaron’s shuffle, and Willette’s buckdancing, a style he learned from his mother who was a great dancer in her day. It also was the dance of Holeman before his back got too stiff, he noted.
Martin said Monday after the concert that this one was a one-of a time event. Having these blues artist together might never happen again.
The crowd broke into Happy Birthday at the announcement that it was Algia Mae’s 80th birthday and again when a birthday cake was brought out on stage, with candles flaming. Holeman, who also celebrated his 80th birthday this year, joined her and was added to the Happy Birthday chorus.
It, indeed, was a night worth celebrating