The Quest For Real Country Music

39. The Hospitality of Byron Roberts

October 21st 2016 9:52 am

Tents line the holler. Artisans hawking goods. A stereotype that one would expect in the Kentucky hills is overshadowed by tone of the metaphysical. Crystals, smudges, pendulums, and skulls are prevalent on multiple displays. Quartz, found in The Columbia Mine in Crittenden Country, used in the amplification of energy and thoughts, healing, channeling, meditation and overall spiritual protection. Agate, Kentucky’s official state rock, found exposed in the Borden Formation, gives courage, self-confidence, emotional strength, connects the body to the earth. Geodes, found at the formations of Warsaw-Salem and the Fort Payne, bridging communication with a higher Deity and assisting in astral travel. Fluorite, found in East Faircloth Mine in Woodford County, increases intuitive abilities and links the human mind to the universal consciousness.

The largest of the tents inhabit a corner plot acting as home and hang to Fire Pranksters, a more accepted nomenclature than Ash Punks. A loving hodge-podge of rope-darters, flame-whippers, and fire-eaters incorporating movement and dance into a spiritual testing of limits. Mastering the art of harnessing centrifugal force when in action and passing a blunt around on their downtime, mentally preparing for tonight’s ten o’clock performance. I hold a blue kyanite rock (mineral) and talk to a dog.

From stage the MC is polling the crowd in hopes of finding the oldest veteran attending the gathering. He identifies him as George MacIntosh and approbates the eighty-something year old as a personal hero. He continues by affirming the two rules of the festival; to treat everybody as a brother or a sister and have the time of your life. He introduces West Virginian William Matheny, complete with band The Strange Constellations. They hearken to brit-invation. The Hold Steady meets Bobby Bare. I have a soft spot for a Gibson Flying V and guitarist, Bud Carroll, runs a natural finish with black pick-guard through a Kentucky made Hall amplifier. His tone is defining as it resonates through the holler.

All four Horse Traders are peppered throughout the crowd as the MC walks into the mass and is stopped one person after another. Hands to shoulders, sincerity in face and ending almost every interaction with a hug and another in line. I’m holding a piece of fluorite, my intuition names the MC – Byron, buddy of W.B.’s. I set the fluorite down and continue poking around the artificers. Another West Virginian, poet and renegade graphic designer, Jimbo Valentine draws me in with his prints, pictures, and comic book. Issue One, $5.00, Coordinates Unknown – an Anthology of Space and Time. Heck yes. It’s neon pink cover has a singular eyeball with splashes of stardust, cosmic rays and underlying star maps. The more I open up and accept the ride, the more universal symbols appear in my day-to-day and synchronicity rewards the progress – all a challenge to conservative spiritual views I was initially raised with. Valentine’s abilities are unparalleled. A quick discussion about freelance work and I immediately dive into the comic book on the grass while The Strange Constellations interpret a Tom T Hall classic.

“That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis.”

Valentine’s vision is brilliant and I can’t deny finding his work is playing into a larger plan. His poetry spells out memories of formlessness and the transition into the physical world, innocent. His views challenging organized religion and science giving way to atomic destruction. Visuals of the crucifixion collocating World War I. Part Two; Epochs, dives into the concept of infinity, the alpha and the omega. His work in blues and pinks as an homage to anaglyph or stereophonic work of the 1950s.

“That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis.”

Moose Jaw Eric has kept and eye on me and approaches with an IPA, a southern gesture which I decline. He accepts my reasoning as trying my damnedest to keep it on the straight and narrow. If I change my mind, to find him. The end of the Strange Constellations set has The Horse Traders wandering, all except drummer, Wood Roberts. I hit the nail on the head with identifying singer, Patrick Stanley’s wife as they walk side by side in my direction – she’s as receptive to the compliment as he when expressing my enjoyment of their set. I’m enamoured by her as much as him. I repeat my small-talk to guitarist Travis Egnor and as indie musicians do, insists on giving me an album, feet away from the festival merchandise booth.

The most successful indies tow the line between ruthless hustlers and generous providers – it’s reading the expectations of the recipient and counter-offering. If they think they are entitled to free merchandise you hammer them for every penny they have, the opposite at times applies as well, however the ideal exchange at said value leaves both parties satisfied…well, the artist usually feels guilt for charging. It’s the new business of undervalued art seeping into the transaction. I have two types of “supporters” – unfortunately better described as “clients”, the ones who expect free tickets because they are your friend and the ones who insist on paying double because they are your friend. I’ve come to disclose these types to the initial that buddies-up and with a “c’mon, put me on the list man, I’m an old friend.” You know who’s on the list? My mom and pops. Which is funny – she insists on paying and he expects to get in for free. The ten-thousand dollar loan warrants his expectation.

Bryon is back on-stage.

Photo Credit by Senora Childers Photography

“We were drinking and I told Chris Stapleton, he’s my second favourite singer in the world to my Ma.”

William Matheny and The Strange Constellations are followed by The Jenkins Twins. Identicals, acoustic and banjo fronting a rhythm section. Their banter on the microphone discloses Byron as Uncle. It’s obvious at this point that this is whom W.B. has sent me to see.

A self-introduction, catching him between other attendees lining up to shake his hand. Thank yous and congratulations. Byron is soft-spoken and genuine – he immediately extends his appreciation for my presence. Word has reached him at this point that a lone Canadian has found his way to the celebration on his land – this celebration being a gift from father to son. He scans the area over my shoulder in search of his boy, Kenton. A twenty-fourth birthday celebration in the hills, bands and a thousand in attendance. The love between the two is paramount. Kenton is as sincere in his welcoming as his father. I’m pointed towards the house behind the stage asking if I’ve eaten – anything I need. It’s insisted that I’m family and with that, further introductions begin en route to the house. ‘He’s come all the way from Canada for Kenton’s birthday.’

I’m overwhelmed and comfortable. Family friends, volunteers and strangers are extending hospitality as we all make our way backstage. I find a camping chair beside Horse Traders bassist, Mooney, and singer’s wife, Emily. I fill a plate with beans, coleslaw and pulled pork. Mason jars labelled with their contained flavour of homemade moonshine available for the swigging. Emily assumes role as hostess and puts an Ale 8 in my drink holder calling it Kentucky’s nectar of the gods. That it is, I have two.

Kenton joining in on conversation is interrupted by his father pointing at him from across the yard – ‘son…son…’ – ‘I love you son.’ It’s a heartwarming moment that encapsulates the tone of this celebration. I feel I’m at the centre of it both physically and emotionally.

“I love you too Dad.”

Let the celebration begin.