Culture

Americana music

"Americana music" Continued...

Issue: "The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999

This is true for younger stars as well, such as Alison Krauss. "I'm trying to remember a [bluegrass] band that doesn't play gospel," she said. "I just can't think of any."

The veterans who survived, with great difficulty, the honky-tonk life-such as Johnny Cash-now often have strong Christian testimonies, which are reflected in their music. That's also true of a number of the newer Americana artists, such as Buddy and Julie Miller.

The music of Gillian Welch hearkens back to the Carter Family sound, and the songs she writes emulate their hard-edged mountain piety. In her album Revival, she has an orphan girl sing about eventually meeting her family in heaven, "at God's table." In the meantime, she asks her "Blessed Savior" to "Be my mother, my father, my sister, my brother." In "Tear My Stillhouse Down," she has a dying moonshiner warning the listener to "tell all your children/That hell ain't no dream." In "By the Mark," she sings about Jesus dying on the cross to pay for her sins, and that when she crosses over after death, she will know her Savior "by the mark where the nails have been."

The group 16 Horsepower has a sound more alternative than country. Our reviewer Arsenio Orteza has compared the group not to the novelist of shocking grace Flannery O'Connor, but to what is even more offbeat, a Flannery O'Connor character. But 16 Horsepower will sing about witnessing to a lost friend, with lyrics like, "Your eyes are as empty as my Savior's tomb."

At the Oklahoma festival, groups young and old kept up the tradition of including an "inspirational number" in their sets. The alternative country group the Red Dirt Rangers, though hard-driving in their regular show, gave some special performances at the children's tent, teaching the little kids folk songs and entertaining them with silly animal songs that had a point. ("Ya'll notice how when dogs play with each other, they don't care what color the other dogs are?")

The site of the festival, Guthrie, dates back to the landrush days and used to be the capital of the state. Back in the 1950s and '60s, the community wanted to seem modern, so the downtown stores invested in vinyl siding and sheet metal to cover up its embarrassingly old buildings. But in the '80s, they tore off the facades and began restoring the old structures to their frontier glory. Today, downtown Guthrie consists of tall red brick buildings, topped with cupolas and festooned with ornaments and bric-a-brac, still expressing the flamboyant, rugged attitude of the old west.

People, disillusioned with modernism, are finding that postmodernism, with its superficiality and its airy relativism, offers them precisely nothing. It is no wonder that they have turned Guthrie into a tourist attraction, that retro styles are the vogue, that the past is in again. Those burnt-out by the claim that nothing is true are hungering and thirsting for something that seems real. Artifacts that have grown out of a worldview far richer and deeper than that of today's slick materialism have a new appeal. This is an opening not just for Americana but for historic Christianity.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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