Blackwoods and Farm Aid
I’m trying to get some non-bloggy writing done these days so while I’m away, here’s something to chew on from our longtime friend, RK.
Apparently, the Blackwood Quartet (Ron Blackwood’s tribe) did perform at yesterday’s Farm Aid concert in St. Louis, along with Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Mraz, and several others. And a Blackwoods’ website article alludes to a deeper performing relationship with Willie Nelson himself.
I find this fascinating on a number of levels:
I’ve never felt that the various Blackwood troupes who have tried to capitalize on the venerable gospel music family/quartet name (compounded by the fact that there ARE multiple groups concurrently striving toward that end) have done very much to stake any legitimate claim or resemblance to the James Blackwood/Blackwood Brothers quartet legacy. The name only places them at the front of the line of the lower- to mid-tier groups that currently overpopulate the southern gospel landscape. Had I heard that the Isaacs, any iteration of the Crabb Family, or even the Gaither Vocal Band had entered Nelson’s musical sphere, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But the Blackwood Quartet?
Farm Aid isn’t what it once was in terms of its cultural footprint, yet it—and its keynote performers/sustainers (Nelson, Mellencamp, Matthews, Neal Young, etc.)—remains significant and on the left of the American political spectrum. Conservative country acts have populated the Farm Aid stage many times, yet the aims of the charitable organization comprise a liberal agricultural agenda. Other political issues may have overtaken agriculture in the eyes of the activist left—climate change and the ongoing wars come to mind. Yet the “old hippie” nostalgia remains, and your average Farm Aid concertgoer is still more likely to be seen smoking a joint than licking an Erhlers ice cream cone. That the Blackwoods would grace such a stage that many top southern gospel groups would likely shun is noteworthy, and not necessarily a bad thing. Surely the irony is not lost on Blackwood tenor John Rulapaugh, who, back in his blogging days, loved to toot the conservative Republican horn at every chance he got.
Toby Keith wrote a song about touring and performing with Willie Nelson…he called it “Weed with Willie.” No word yet whether the Blackwoods will compose such a song…
The fact remains that aside from the Gaither universe and a few sets on the Grand Ole Opry from time to time, the only times Southern Gospel music gets exposed to a large-scale secular audience is when a secular performer (usually in the twilight of his/her career…Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson, et al) engages in enough self-indulgence to put it on a big stage. The same could’ve been said for Elvis Presley in the 70’s, though the genre then hadn’t slipped into as much obscurity as it has today.
Seeing a group like this one (some might call them a cheap knockoff of the great Blackwood Brothers) grace a somewhat-diminished-yet-still-culturally-relevant stage like Farm Aid says more about the Southern Gospel establishment and the insular, incestuous rut it’s in than it does about the lucrative bookings Ron Blackwood is getting from Willie Nelson.
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