I think there’s an old archetype in America, a musical archetype. I’m not sure it has a name. Troubadour comes to mind, especially in the sense that folk singers are often thought of as troubadours. In France and Northern Italy, where the term seems to have originated in the 11th century, troubadours wandered around singing love songs. But the archetype I’m thinking of is neither restricted to folk singers nor love songs.
I’m thinking of artists who bring their music to people. And in their music a message resides, a message of peace, sensitive appreciation, kindness, pain, compassion, joy, inclusion, social conscience, forgiveness, acceptance, as well as a poignant recognition and depiction of the human condition. Certainly Woody Guthrie comes to mind. As do the Weavers. Son House. Harry Chapin. Joan Baez. I’m thinking of musicians who represent the goodness of man, who are willing to get their message directly to the people, even if it gets them in trouble with people in power. This archetype isn’t necessarily overtly political, these people often just bring the message home with their powerfully genuine music.
From my perspective in this little outpost of rural Western New York State, it looks to me that there is a resurgence, almost a Renassaince if you will, of these wonderful musicians traveling around, bringing their music directly to the people. Our most recent Rolling Hills Radio episode featured two more examples of that archetype, if it exists.
Meeting David Roth, one is struck with the ageless wisdom of a man with a well-calibrated moral compass. He knows of what he speaks, and like many of his peers, his incisive intellect isn’t something he needs to put on display, but rather, it is simply and obviously the foundation of everything he says and sings. Like Woody Guthrie, he can be blithely funny but he eventually lets you have it with profound insights, calls to action, and words that require you to sit down, listen, take stock. I had the good fortune to visit with David over breakfast a few days after his appearance on Rolling Hills. In person offstage, I was struck with how real this man is. The breakfast went on for a very long time; hanging out like this without beer is not something the Ol’ Otto normally does. I think I found a new friend in David, as has all of Jamestown.
Kristine Jackson also personifies the archetype of which I speak. She tours often and far. She drives around getting to know people, playing her blues, and moving on. While it would be easy to say politics and social conscience aren’t her bread and butter, I would point out a few things. First, what is social conscience other than wisdom and compassion? Kristine brings the beauty of pain and insight into every word she sings. No one could really listen to her and not hear pleas for kindness. The agony she poignantly depicts, the resolutions and the observations, are messages for humanity. Like Bessie Smith. Like Mother Maybelle. Like Billie Holiday and Koko Taylor. This is real pain, real love, real empathy. One more thing – while Kristine sang a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during the encore, something happened I had never seen before. A row of people in the audience held hands and swayed to the music. Only a genuine musician can make that happen.