Bard Edrington V, knowing the language of music
Performing Saturday night at Society Hall
ALAMOSA - When speaking to Bard Edrington V, award-winning songwriter and international touring artist (and yes, that’s his given name), certain words come to mind. Authentic. Organic. Deeply rooted. Soulful but not necessarily sorrowful.
Listening to his music, those descriptors are amplified even more by simple but powerful tunes influenced by the blue ridges and smoky mountains of Appalachia and the humble but heartfelt songs of its people.
Raised in the south and claiming Tennessee as his home state, Edrington is preceded in life by “many, many generations of cotton farmers”. Although he wasn’t raised in a musical family, he’s the descendant of “amazing storytellers”, starting with his great grandmother, a poet who inspired one of his songs, and continuing through Edrington’s grandfather and father.
“Growing up, we had lots of family get togethers, sitting around listening to my grandfather tell stories he’d already told,” he says in a deep, humble voice with just the lingering remnant of a southern drawl. “So, he’d embellish it more each time, usually with humor. We’d always wonder what he was going to add.”
With no musical instruments in the house, Edrington was drawn to music entirely on his own when he picked up the guitar, first in his teenage years and then when he started learning with a friend while attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. That’s where he “really got hooked.”
“The college is close to the Smoky Mountains and there’s lots of good music there. I went to see a band that was a string band, and I was just blown away by the music. I’d never seen people play mandolins and fiddles and been around people who wrote songs.”
Then Edrington and his wife, Zoe, moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, just down the road from Doc Watson. “I’d go to these old time jams so steeped in old time music. That’s really where I cut my teeth. I don’t play many of those old time songs but it set the foundation for me as a musician.”
That’s also where Edrington gained the skills to jam and play with other people.
“It’s such an important part of music. I talk about this with my family and friends. As musicians, we’re really blessed with knowing the language of music. I can go practically anywhere and sit down with another musician - people I have nothing in common with except for the instruments in our hand. It’s a very intimate thing.”
His songs can range from Taos Lightning to the steep landscape of Chiapas to a waltz titled “Spread Too Thin.” His music comes almost entirely from personal experience, he says. And in his case, that’s saying quite a lot.
In addition to performing, traveling, being an outdoorsman, recording albums (he’s working on his tenth at Howlin’ Dog Records) plus touring in the United Kingdom and Netherlands where he has a devoted and growing fan base, Edrington is also a stone mason, landscaper and degreed ornithologist. With all of that to pull from, he’s still occasionally mystified by the experience of writing a song.
“I think of songwriting like this passing thing. I know the song is there and sometimes I feel like it’s already written. I just have to find it. I have to take the time to sit down and clear my mind and start with the melody – some music coming out of an instrument to draw the lyrics out. For me it comes from the music. It creates this vision and emotion and feeling.”
And, sometimes, the song just won’t let him alone until it’s done.
“It’s like having a splinter in your hand. You can see it. You know it’s there and you might pick and pick at it. And then, one day, it just pops out, and you have this feeling of relief.” He laughs. “Yeah. Sometimes, I feel like writing songs are like splinters and I just have to work it out.”
Other times, the songs speak to him from the past, as happened when he stumbled upon “Poems of Life”, written by his great-grandmother, Mable Flannigan Edrington. That’s where he found a poem titled “Dog Tags 1942”, a moment he could envision so clearly he was inspired to write a song.
“She wrote it the day her son came home after enlisting and showed her his dog tags. And you know what those dog tags are for, right? They’re for identifying someone when they’re dead.”
That led to writing “Dog Tags 1942”, including these lyrics.
“Those brawny hands have nestled soft on her firm and white young breast/Those trusting eyes she loved those years and trained those thought the best/Mother come see my dog tags here, he called from another room/What do you mean ‘dog tags’, son, though my heart is filled with gloom.”
And some songs, even once written, will continue to haunt him. “I think of songs as photographs, as reminders of that experience. I feel it the most in certain songs, the ones that mean the most to me, and I feel like are the best ones. They’ll take me to that place exactly. When I’m singing a song like Dog Tags 1942, I feel like I’m standing right in that room while my great-grandmother is looking at those dog tags.”
While connection to the song is paramount, connection to people in a live performance is equally precious to Edrington’s music because of the profound emotion that can be found in a moment that is fleeting.
“You only have this one moment to enjoy it. Every note played in this song when it’s live will disappear. It’s gone and it’s not coming back. And when it’s that right recipe of notes and music and emotions…It’s almost like a scalpel that can cut right to the core of that emotion and pull it out so fast.
“I know I feel it when I listen to other musicians and I hope people feel that when they listen to my songs. I don’t know what makes music so powerful and profound. Maybe it’s just a combination of so many things. It’s quite a mystery to me.” And then, he laughs again. “If you figure that out, let me know.”
Bard Edrington and The Blackbirds, Society Hall, Saturday night 7:00pm, doors open at 6:00pm. Tickets - $20 in advance or $25 at the door and available at www.societyhall.org or the Green Spot, 711 State Ave in Alamosa.