I first heard Spirit Family Reunion when NPR covered their show at Newport Folk Festival in 2012 (a few months before they played the Tiny Desk). I really enjoyed their set which was vibrant and fun. And clearly Bob Boilen did too.
Spirit Family Reunion was my favorite find at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. The group makes music I’d call “new old-timey,” but which its members call “open-door gospel” — gospel music that’s not tied to any particular religious denomination.
There are 6 0f them plating–an upright bass, banjo, guitar, fiddle washboard (!) and drums. And they play three songs.
“Leave Your Troubles At The Gate” opens largely a capella and then just takes off with some wild fiddling and fast strumming from everyone else. For this song, the guitarist sings lead and the fiddler sings a higher pitched backing vocal—his voice is powerful and at an unexpected pitch. They finish up and he says, “first song of the day… that’s a way to wake up.”
For the second song, “Green Rocky Road,” the violinist sings this one. It changes the tone of the band since his voice is so different—strained and intense sounding. When the song ends, he says, I hope you like singing…. we need help on this one.”
Throughout “I’ll Find A Way” he tries to encourage everyone to sing along (it’s hard to hear if they do): “Its fun, don’t be bashful.” It is a simple song with an easy to repeat refrain. And it is indeed uplifting: “When we’re singing together we’re shining a light on the dark places between us.”
[READ: July 10, 2016] “Foster”
This is a story set in Ireland. It’s about young girl whose Ma is about to have another baby. The girl is being shipped out to a friend for the summer so that her mom and dad can have the baby in peace.
The story is about the girl, but it is also about the couple who have fostered her. They are much better off than the girl’s family–a far more successful farm with a much nicer house. But something about them seems a little off to the girl.
I enjoyed the story although I was unclear when it was set. The setting is quite rural, and there is talk of an outhouse and a chamber pot. But there is also a television and plastic washing up on the shore, so it’s not as old as I thought.
When the girl first arrives, she is very shy. The adults treat her kindly but also make sure that she knows what the rules are in their house. And then they realize that her dad forgot to drop of the girl’s clothes. So they have to make due.
The girl settles down but can’t sleep. And in the middle of the night when the woman comes in, she sits on the girl’s bed and mutters; “God help you child. If you were mine, I’d never leave you alone with strangers.”
The next day the man asks her to race to the mailbox and he times her. It becomes a daily routine with him having fun with her. He jokes with her about the mail and is very kind to her.
And the routine continues–they take her to town to get her some clothes (where she meets some of the local busybodies). She helps out around the farm. She is even called upon to attend the wake of a nearby farmer when he dies. At the wake, where the girl is visibly uncomfortable, one of the neighbor ladies offers to bring the girl to her house–she has a daughter the girl’s age. It’s a kind offer, although on the walk home, she asks the girl dozens of nosy questions.
There are two important lessons that the girl learns about the foster family: “where there’s a secret, there’s shame and shame is something we can do without” and “You don’t have to say anything. Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing.”
The man says this second quote to her while they are walking along the shore–she had never seen the sea before. I don’t know if Keegan intended for this scene to be as tense as it felt for me–I was sure he was up to no good. But indeed, no, he is just enjoying her company. And the girl feels even closer to him for it.
The summer comes to an and end and things must return to normal. But now she has grown to love these two people like her own family. How is a girl to cope?
This was a sweet but dark story. Although I’m not sure how much of the darkness was intended or if it was just the way I took it. I enjoyed that nothing really happened, but that the nothingness had such a profound effect on the girl.