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Americana beauty

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The University of Notre Dame is a beautiful place to be, but it is nonetheless enclosed in an artificial world that does not need to be explained, as much ink has already been spilt upon this subject. It is important to note that while we do live in a bubble, so does the vast majority of the modern Western world. In a world of stresses, pressures, and general nonsense, it is imperative to escape for some rootsy, organic fun. There is a great necessity for people to get back to basics and enjoy pleasures that are as simple and real as they are sublime. Enter Americana music, and especially Bluegrass.

Realizing this unquenchable lust for Bluegrass, four dear friends and I made the trip to the Second Annual American Folk Festival in Nashville, Tenn. Armed with two handles of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes, we roared down to Tennessee at 5:45 a.m. Saturday morning blaring Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album, unaware of exactly how incredible the experience would indeed be.

Bluegrass is particularly well suited for one looking to get back in touch with the simpler things of life, and ultimately the things that really matter. An eclectic amalgamation of country, blues, Irish and Scottish folk and even jazz, Bluegrass is able to produce a sound that can stretch across the ranges of human emotions going from crushing depression to frenzied ecstasy. Few can help from dancing and stomping along when a bluegrass band transcends into a raging flurry of banjo notes picked at a pace quicker than thought. At the same time, Bluegrass is able to produce slow songs of sorrow and heartbreak.

The human experience is made up of experiences both good and bad. While it is important to celebrate the better points of life and not dwell upon the negative aspects of our existence, it is crucial to recognize that both exist and to give each their respective dues. As an unfailing optimist, this was a great revelation to me. I realized that I was hearing the entire course of the human life wrapped up and packaged into one astonishing festival. It dawned upon me how beautiful this existence is, even the negative aspects have a certain tragic beauty that can be appreciated for what they are when given their due.

The festival atmosphere itself, even aside from the music, was most conducive for returning to the essentials. There was a great communal aspect that was so far removed from the profit driven nature of the world in which we live. The festival, was most certainly not vast enough for the large number of performers to make much of a profit, if many of the bands even got paid at all. Love of the music brought so many of the great bluegrass artists to Nashville. The arts and crafts tents were also removed from the complication of the profit motive. The artists were small-scale local artists selling the wares for generally modest prices that they obviously made out of love for what their chosen craft. It was refreshing to see the genuineness of their attitude, and it reinforced to me that there is so much more to life than the size of one’s bank account.

The communal nature of the festival was best embodied by the people who attended. There was a great sense of being a part of something greater than the self that truly liberated one. This is a feeling that is precious and often hard to encounter in a culture that places so much emphasis on the self and its wants and desires. The greatest sense of joy came from the camaraderie that I did share with my four fellow road trippers. As great as any experience is, it is truly the people that one shares it with that makes the moment most great. There are moments of true clarity where people are enraptured in a timeless state where nothing matters but the now and the bond of friendship of those who experience it. Bonds and moments like these make life truly worth living. They are the good times that we celebrate in Bluegrass, and indeed help us get over the sad times that we recognize in the same genre. Nothing could be more real and sincere in a world and society that too often rewards those who are ruthless, insincere and double-faced.

The American Folk Festival epitomized an organic spirit where things were not forced. A true love of a genre that is not the most commercially profitable brought together a great number of fans, craftsmen, and bands. As opposed to commerciality, there was a vibe of simple relaxation where worries and cares had no place. People could truly be at peace with themselves and see beauty stripped of the artificial.

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the Classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. Having retired from the college republicans and adopting independent politics, he has entered the private life of peaceful contemplation. He can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.