Monday, August 4, 2008

Soul feeding with Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Confluence City and much of my heart have been hijacked in the past twenty-four hours by the city of Asheville, North Carolina and its finest son, Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Stay tuned for lots of short items, with pictures, about this special place and this historic figure.

First, I'll do my best to make you care - about Bascom, that is. Asheville is an instant, easy sell: a revived downtown blooming with brewpubs and smart, sexy people, surrounded by mountains and elevated enough to keep it cool outside of an August evening. I think it's the best small city in America, rivaled only by Portland, Maine.

But, Bascom Lamar Lunsford. So what, you say? Here's what:

* He invented, and then franchised, the folk festival. If you have ever enjoyed a folk festival anywhere, of any kind, thank Bascom for that.

* He was a folklorist before the term was invented. He is one of the fathers of American folklore - more primal than even John and Alan Lomax or any of the Seegers.

* He was a multiculturalist long before that term was invented. He respectfully documented Cherokee and African-American culture (cf. way cool field recording image, above) when the white man was for all intents and purposes still engaged in race wars with Indians and blacks.

* He is the single most prolific performer to donate his work to The Library of Congress - 330 songs recorded purely from memory in seven days in 1949.

* He only bothered to write two songs, but one of them - "Old Mountain Dew" - was immediately absorbed into folk culture, as if it had always been there.

* He revived the square dance and is largely responsible for its enduring cultural status. Don't hold that against him, though, if you think square dancing is hopelessly corny and you would rather have been doing ANYthing else in gym class.

I could go on and on. In fact, I will, but not all at once.

I have been on the trail of Bascom for some fifteen years now. Finally, with the help of Locust Music in Chicago and the extended Lunsford kinfolk, I am in the last throes of curating a boxed set of the man's music drawn from his epic and epochal 1949 Library of Congress recordings. My trip to Asheville, in fact, was motivated by the need to pick out photographs to use in the boxed set.

Never was a trip borne of mere logistics more fruitful or fulfulling. As Bascom used to say, it fed my soul. Come back and read more; feed your soul.

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