Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stumbling Upon Bluegrass in the Strangest Places

My gym is located in the Lincoln Square Mall here in Urbana. The Lincoln Square Mall is one of the strangest places that I have ever been -- it looks like a mall, and it sort of even feels like a mall, but there's no one there for the most part, except when there is (sometimes but not always) a sudden influx of people on the weekends. Much like I am not sure if I will ever stop saying, "Wow, it's really flat out here," when driving on I-57, I'm not sure if I will ever say, "Wow, this place is weird," every time I walk into the empty Lincoln Square Mall.

Today as I was leaving the gym, I heard a familiar noise. And I saw in the distance a circle. And lo and behold, there was a bluegrass jam going on -- in front of the empty Lincoln Hotel's mallfront entrance.

I only stayed for two songs, since I had to come home to write lecture notes -- and you can see how that's going -- but there was a good vibe, and I enjoyed what I heard.

1 comment:

Nick Garcia said...

I was just thinking today about the evening this past summer when I went to visit my mother in Urbana. We were cutting through that mall on my brief tour of the town, and I was thinking about how strange and empty the place was (and then too thinking about the "current economic climate" which early in the summer was still very much something to be considered as it hadn't been internalized so much just yet) and how it was eerily and sadly similar to many other blocky, beige and poorly-planned retail centers of its era all over the country -- and is that what commonality means now in our culture? -- and god just how withered it was, like a husk. And but so I'm thinking these things and trying to filter them because mother doesn't like it when I'm culturally morbid and I'm smelling the vinyl and listening out of one ear to her telling me about the yoga place she goes to and slowly into the other come strains of something familiar. And just as it registers we turn a corner and there, in a big circle of the sort of chairs you find in parish halls across the midwest, are maybe twenty folks playing slow and deliberate through -- I swear to god and A.P. Carter -- "No Depression." They were such a small group in the cavernous expanse of that fluorescent warren, and their sound didn't fill the corners or transform the gaudy mannequins, but glowed low and steadily like embers of a spirit waiting to be stoked to flame. There in the "strangest place," indeed; even the great bard of central Illinois himself couldn't have written and more surreal and encompassing scene to document and transcend the superficial emptiness of modern America -- so sincere it was ironic, or maybe the other way around? Absurdity and mundaneness drawing back and forth on a bow in four and playing the music of a better land, that's free from care.
Amazed and amused to find someone else bringing this to the notice of the e-ether.