The Best of Both Worlds

Alison Krauss, London, 11/13/11
Last night I went to the Royal Festival Hall to hear Alison Krauss & Union Station.  It was such an entertaining marriage of my two worlds.  Emanating from the stage was the most infectious, soul-stirring, toe-tapping, clap-inducing American music; looking out over the very British audience, I saw polite heads timidly bobbing back and forth, palms softly tapping on knees in time with the beat, smiles threatening to give way to grins.  They loved it; they just couldn't - or didn't - let loose the way an American bluegrass audience might.  At the end of each and every song, though, massive waves of appreciation spilled forth in applause and cheers.  Each time, I heard the English couple sitting next to me and my friend breath sighs of astonishment and relish, uttering "Wow" as they clapped.  The audience's reserve was partly just a cultural difference -- we're not in Kentucky anymore, Toto -- but I believe it was also simply the awed, adoring stillness that is sometimes the only appropriate response to excellence.

When it was all over, the couple next to me and my friend stood and turned to us.  The man looked at us very thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "What a wonderful gift your country has given us.  Marvelous." 

I laughed.  "Yes, we get a few things right now and then."  What I thought about later was the irony that we wouldn't be able to give the gift of bluegrass if we hadn't first received the gift of British folk music, brought to our shores by migrants with centuries of stories and melodies to share.  The best we can do is riff on what has been sung and played before, adding grace notes of thanks for the possibilities handed down to us.


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