Opinion: CJ Opinion

The music nearly died. Let’s not let it happen again

Bluegrass band Special Consensus, Tuesday at the Pour House in Raleigh. (Photo by Lisa Snedeker)
Bluegrass band Special Consensus, Tuesday at the Pour House in Raleigh. (Photo by Lisa Snedeker)

“The day the music died.”

I thought about that song a lot last year. The music didn’t die then, exactly, but rather faded like that final guitar riff, the one before the band waves and turns its collective back on the crowd, who stay hoping the lights don’t come on. Not yet, they plead. One more song.

That band, a metaphor for COVID reality, left in March 2020. I don’t remember the day, and it doesn’t matter. Because, in my mind, the music died. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and others like him, made it so.

Don McLean wrote the iconic song “American Pie” in memory of Buddy Holly and the other rising rock stars killed in a plane crash. The song, at its core, is about tragedy and loss. McLean probably couldn’t imagine at the time the destruction caused by global lockdowns and suppressions of last year, but still …

The day the music died. Those words resonated so loudly then, some 1 1/2 years ago.

Music, as I write today, has found its breath, no matter how slight, how shallow. Taking small, quiet steps, though getting stronger, louder by the day. Live music, returning in fits and starts, burdened by mask mandates and proof of vaccines. But we can hear it, see it. Feel it.

The International Bluegrass Music Association festival has returned to Raleigh after a year of pandemic silence. Artists will play this weekend throughout the city and, to me, the music will never sound sweeter. Growing up, I learned about new music from what DJs played on the radio, from browsing through the stacks at National Record Mart, and later from MTV. Lately, I’ve found new favorite bands at festivals, such as IBMA and Merlefest. Hopscotch, Red Wing, and Rooster Walk.

Yes, we’ve lost much because of the pandemic. Every day, it seems, we discover something that, through the haze and confusion, we forgot we lost. I’ve found music again, and I’m not letting it go. I’ll find new bands, as I have with Scythian, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Billy Strings. Into the Fog at Lazy Days in Cary. Just walking by.

A couple of weeks ago I found Sabaton, which opened for Judas Priest at the Red Hat Amphitheatre. (That show was cut short, by the way, because of a ridiculous noise ordinance imposed by the city).

Refocus, Reconnect, and Reimagine. That’s the theme for IBMA this year, and it’s perfect, though not everyone is playing. Many artists declined to come, for myriad reasons, though some of those reasons should be obvious.

The heart is beating slowly, still finding its rhythm. Music is not yet sprinting, for sure, but it’s definitely getting up around. 

Special Consensus has played its own brand of bluegrass music for some 45 years. About 30 minutes before the band went live Tuesday at the Pour House — part of the IBMA “Ramble” — band members checked the sound of their guitar. Their mandolin, their banjo, and their bass. Fewer than 20 feet away from where I sat.

Check, check.

“Sounds crispy,” said one member.

“Kentucky fried,” said another.

Everyone who heard that laughed. That’s kind of what happens when things are real, organic. When we not only see and hear but also sense. Experience.

Check, check.

Live music is back. Let’s never let it go again. Government and so-called “experts” have used this pandemic to reach beyond their authority, to make decisions predicated on personal preferences and biases, regardless of the outcome. We’ve watched it happen. When things went silent.

Don’t let that band leave the stage. Scream, for as long and as loudly as possible, until it returns. Until we’re sure it will return tomorrow. And the next day, and the next.