John Cowan kicked off the Wildflower Pavilion 2009 concert series at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons last night. Being a big fan of who I refer to as John 'Oh My Gawd' Cowan, I have seen him many times - from 3rd row at the Boulder Theater to a sea of tarps with 13,000 festivarians at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Last night John was at his best. Lyons is a warm crowd that loves John, and at the lack of sounding all gooey, John loves this crowd back. Doesn't hurt that he has a stellar band that is able to crank out traditional bluegrass tunes, some funky bluegrass jazz, and put their own twist on rock covers such as Tuesday Afternoon (Moody Blues) and Going to California (Led Zeppelin).
One of John's signature songs is 'Dark As A Dungeon'. The song tells of the life of a miner. What it is like to be below the earth without sunshine or rain. Without connection. With destruction of health. With risk of death.
No one does a better delivery of this standard than Johnny C. I've heard him belt it out many times. Have always loved it. But, last night sitting in the 5th row in such an intimate setting, the song struck a cord beyond appreciation of music.
It is this darkness and physical risk which is the everyday reality of a mining life that motivated my Mamaw (Grandmother) to be adamant her boys *not* follow the family business and enter the mines at an early age. That they not sign up for later years of black lung and a crippled body. That they create a life based on another livelihood.
Not sure she knew she was signing up for her eldest son, my Daddy, to be a career soldier and travel the globe. That his family would be far away from her and she would not have the joy of spending more than the infrequent vacation with her only grandchild. Even so, I believe she would have chosen it if she had known. Mamaw wanted a better life for her sons and their children.
With her encouragement my Dad created a life different than the one John sang of. He chose instead a path that lead away from the coal mining hills of Dante Virginia, to many duty stations across this country and world, and eventually lead to his daughter being in the Wildflower Pavilion last night listening to Johnny C sing about what about *used* to be the family business.
I am thankful to both my Mamaw and my Daddy. She for having the courage to see and encourage a better life for the generations to come. He for having the courage to make it so.
You can check out an early recording of John singing 'Dark As A Dungeon' with New Grass Revival...