I grew up with a not-uncommon aversion to country music. In my midwestern high school, country meant Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, cowboy hats, chewing tobacco, pick-up trucks with Confederate flags stuck to rusted-out bumpers. For a time, I thought all music that featured a twangy singer was like this. My associations kept that terminally uncool genre at arm’s length. I listened to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Fugees, OutKast–and overdosed on classic rock.
As college and experience opened my world, however, I realized ignoring everything that features steel guitars, twangy voices, fiddles, and cowboy hats is to ignore a major, fascinating chunk of American music. It turns out that if you follow Garth Brooks back a few steps, you get Johnny Cash. Follow him back and you get the Carter Family.
Next thing you know, you’re reading books about toothless hillbillies in turn-of-the-century Appalachia, hard-living blues men in the South, and how they passed around songs that are now sung by Bob Dylan and the White Stripes.
Mike Seeger played a significant role in introducing American roots music to pop culture. He founded the influential folk group The New Lost City Ramblers in the late ’50s, a band that was on the crest of the ’60s folk revival.
The New Lost City Ramblers were traditionalists, and they found and recorded hundreds of old American songs that are now considered standards. He may not be as well known as his brother, Pete Seeger, or Dylan, who built off the foundations of the New Lost City Ramblers’ traditionalism and put his own stamp on it, but Mike Seeger’s legacy is substantial.
When Seeger stops at folk-friendly Swallow Hill tonight, he’ll play a generous program stuffed with a lifetime’s worth of studying and playing old-time Americana. He’ll sing, tell stories behind the songs, and play the banjo, the harmonica, guitar, and fiddle. Anyone with a curiosity about the origins of American music will be inspired by one of our living legends.
Fri, May 1, 8 p.m.
Daniels Hall @ Swallow Hill, 71 East Yale Ave., 303-777-1003
$16/adv, $18/dos, All Ages