Opinion

It Occurs to Me: From green grass to bluegrass

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It Occurs to Me: From green grass to bluegrass

Frank Galligan

It may have gone under the radar, but Richard Hurst from Rossnowlagh will be travelling to the IBMA World of Bluegrass at the end of the month, as last year’s 25th Bluegrass Festival in Omagh has been nominated for the Best Event Award.
This is hugely prestigious as the gong rarely goes outside the USA. Richard was the brainchild of this annual extravaganza back in 1992 and despite budget cuts, travel headaches for musicians since 9/11 and other niggles, it has gone from strength to strength.
Last weekend’s festival was complimented by two dry days and representing Donegal were the fabulous Henry Girls who took to the main stage for the first time and wowed a big audience. The headline act was Dale Ann Bradley, pictured alongside with Richard and myself.
In 2004, when I first met this multi-award winning artist at the Bluegrass Festival in Omagh, she wondered about the origins of the surname and was chuffed when she found out that in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, there were no shortage of them. This time around, she was joined on stage by her bass playing son, John Fitzgerald Bradley, who was equally intrigued that his ancestors were most probably from the north-west.
I had the pleasure of having an hour’s interview with her as part of the annual MC Lecture in the Folk Park. Dale Ann’s is a real rags to riches story. Raised in the coal fields of Appalachia in eastern Kentucky, life for Dale Ann Bradley was much like her musical heroes from the same area in the southern mountains.
No running water or "safe" electricity was available until she was a senior in high school. "One light socket and an extension cord kept a 1950's "Philco" refrigerator, box fan, and radio going. Looking back now I know how dangerous that was. Tar paper will keep the roof from leaking and soup beans taste the best on a coal stove."
Along with living in an extremely rural atmosphere, there were heavy religious restrictions as well. "Primitive Baptist" was the church denomination where her father was, and still is, a minister and pastor. He also worked construction and is a retired coal miner.
No musical instruments were permitted in any service, and, in the churches in the mountains, no musical staffs would be found. They sang from a little hymnal called The Old School Hymnal. Television was very limited as well. Someone gave the family an old black and white TV. An aluminum antenna was the only way to obtain reception.
"We would pick up PBS and occasionally the Knoxville, Tennessee TV stations, depending on the elements." It's during this time that she was mesmerized by The Porter Wagoner Show. "That was entertainment," Dale says.
Due to lack of accessibility and religious restrictions, it was nearly impossible to get recorded music to listen to. A great uncle who had left Kentucky and did well in Detroit bought her an 8 track tape player as well as tapes from her favorite entertainers. She was around fourteen when she received her first guitar.

Finals
In the early '80s, a group she had joined called "Backporch Grass" got into the finals of "Marlboro Country Music Round Up" held in Lexington. Most of the acts were country bands so it was really special that a bluegrass band from southeastern Kentucky would end up in the last round.
The prize was an opening spot at Rupp Arena for Ricky Skaggs, Hank Jr. and Ronnie Millsap. Though their bluegrass band did not win, Dale Ann met an all- female bluegrass band that would play a big part in her career, "The New Coon Creek Girls."
After marrying, moving to Jacksonville, Florida, and giving birth to her son, Dale Ann returned to Kentucky.
She hadn't performed in a couple years. Knowing that she really craved making music, she called on former "Backporch Grass" band mate and friend, Harold McGeorge to assist her in starting her career again. They began writing and making trips to Nashville to knock on doors. On the way back home from one of these trips, they made a stop at Kentucky's famous Renfro Valley.
She dropped off a demo there and received a call before she got home that day asking is she could perform that coming Friday night on The Barn Dance. She was invited to stay and entered into an extensive contract with the entertainment center.
While at Renfro Valley, she performed on all shows and recorded on The Sunday Morning Gatherin', which still remains the second oldest radio show in America next to The Grand Ole Opry. Dale Ann also recorded two solo albums during her tenure at Renfro Valley.
"I can't put a price on all I learned at Renfro Valley." she says. She joined "The New Coon Creek Girls" while at the Valley and performed with them until 1997. She recorded four albums on Pinecastle Records with the band and the rest is history.
Eventually The Grand Ole Opry was offering her many guest spots as well.
After several nominations for the International Bluegrass Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year Award, in 2007 Dale Ann took home her first IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award. She has won it five times in total. Like her great friend Richard Hurst, she too will be on this year’s IBMA stage, as once again, she is nominated for best female vocalist. It’ll be a hell of a party if both win!

KIM JONG TRUMP?
There’s no denying Kim Jung Un is a dangerous wee header, As the prison guard says of a convict in ‘The Green Mile’....”I think the cheese is slipping off his cracker.” If Obama or Clinton was in charge of The White House, there would at least be some confidence of a measured response from the US, but it’s a nervous time globally.
I see where forensic psychiatrist Bandy Lee is consulting with Democratic members of Congress and other psychiatrists about setting up an expert panel to advise Congress about Trump’s mental health.
Lee, who said she is speaking out because of Trump's "dangerousness," edited the upcoming book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump’, to which 27 mental health professionals contributed.
"Narcissistic personality disorder describes a debilitating need to project grandiosity so as to fight the inner feelings of low self-worth," says Lee, who works internationally on predictors and prevention of violence. "
In extreme forms, narcissistic personality disorder is one of the disorders most associated with violence and is sometimes considered to be on the same spectrum as antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy."
Thank God, we’re well prepared in Ireland...remember Minister Joe Jacobs with Marian Finucane in September 2001?
"Alright, Marian, I'll tell you what you would do. We would say please remain indoors with your doors and windows closed. Switch off your ventilation systems.
“We want to minimise your levels of exposure to the levels of radiation that are now, God forbid, out of doors. Sheltering is most likely to be appropriate. The next thing is restriction of consumption of contaminated water or foods. Also bringing cattle indoors and using stored animal feeds."
Non-radioactive iodine tablets that reduce the uptake of radio-active iodine following post-nuclear exposure will eventually be available from the Department of Health, he added.
Asked how people could get hold of these, the minister said "That's one of the things that has to be tweaked in the coming weeks. That will be in the fact sheet when you get it. We mustn't be alarmistic."
Alarmistic? Who, me?