From New England to Ohio: Everybody Loves a Banjo

Tuning up in between sets in the Madden Road music hall.

It is my deeply held belief, after growing up in Ohio and living much of my adult life in Massachusetts, that New Englanders and Midwesterners have a lot more in common than they realize. Maybe the populations of each respective state go in opposite directions at the voting booth (somebody has to vote for the other guy, right?) or fail to place quite the same premium on organic food, or the same premium on going to church, or…well, you get the picture. But what most of us fail to understand is that most Midwesterners are just New Englanders at heart, a few generations removed. My people, for instance, came from New Hampshire, just over the Massachusetts border, and my own grandfather was as Yankee as it is possible to be, cardigans and all — even though he was, technically-speaking, a born and bred Ohioan. As Midwesterners, our puritanical ways are your puritanical ways, only without the sophisticated veneer that people in New England have developed over the last hundred years or so, a polish on what used to be a hard way of life that involved livestock and growing food and a lot of Bible-reading, the things that occupied yesterday’s New Englanders every bit as much as they are perceived to occupy today’s Ohioans.

So when I go back to Ohio to participate in some sort of down-home activity, like hosting a local music festival, I don’t feel all that far removed from my life in Massachusetts. Everyone in New England loves the banjo as much as anybody back in Ohio — even if they’ve forgotten this fact. Making music, especially making music with acoustic instruments, takes all of us, every one of us, back to another time — a time when we had much more in common than we seem to have now. I realize this sounds overly simplistic, and no doubt it is, but there is an unmistakable ring of truth to it, especially when you feel the power of music in a setting that brings people together of different ages, political persuasions and even musical tastes — which is what happened at the festival in Ohio.

The 2011 Madden Road MusicFest took place on September 3rd in a little crossroads of a town called Mutual. We had a great time hanging out with old friends and strangers who came to make music. A few country touches (sunflowers and straw bales for seats) along with a building that served as a music hall in the perfect state of dereliction — somewhere between poetic and unsafe — made the day feel like it was supposed to feel: a community made of up individuals, usually cocooned inside their houses watching TV, coming together to make music, hang out, and eat grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread, Amish cheese, and garden-fresh tomatoes and basil. And the tomatoes and basil were organic of course. See how much we have in common?

For a great summary of the day, check out this lovely post from the blog Champaign Uncorked.

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Madden Road MusicFest photos courtesy of Allison Marie Photography, Adam Caouette and Tiffany Eckhardt.

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4 thoughts on “From New England to Ohio: Everybody Loves a Banjo

  1. great blog, sarah! a few phrases i enjoyed: “our puritanical ways are your puritanical ways”, only without the sophisticated veneer” , “some sort of down-home activity”, and “the perfect state of dereliction”…

    sorry i missed it. :-(

  2. […] There’s nothing like inhaling 150-year-old plaster dust and a fine film of dried bird droppings to wake you up to the realities of rehabbing an old building. The American vogue for tearing structures down to erect new ones lined with brand-new drywall and vinyl siding seems briefly appealing. And then you remember why you’re doing this: old buildings such as this one are truly irreplaceable. Entering the 19th century structure we’re working on, a two story brick Georgian-style with enormous windows, gives a sense of history not contained in any book. You recall another time, a time when the crossroads of Mutual, Ohio was vibrant enough to warrant a building like this as its own Town Hall and community center, where people came in from their farms to watch basketball games and whatever else took place at this spot. Watching the building come to life again is a privilege of local proportions, shared in the most modern, universal way possible — online — the community of Mutual expanding to include anyone in the world who stumbles on this site to see a small relic of our rural American past, emerging from under a thick layer of neglect and plaster dust. (Postscript: To read about the Music Festival, click here.) […]

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