KUAR Listening Party: Civil Rights Brothers

M and I recorded for the KUAR Arts and Letters – “Civil Rights Brothers.” The show “Civil Rights Brothers” is based on Allan Ward’s book Civil Rights Brothers, The Journey of Albert Porter and Allan Ward which accounts his life as a civil rights activist. Both Porter and Ward organized demonstrations, meetings and literacy training in Jackson, Tennessee and continued to help the community in Little Rock, working with foster children, the homeless, and volunteering for public schools.

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We worked on various versions of “Mr. and Mrs.” and “It Is Well.”

On “Mr. and Mrs.” we really focused on the lyrics –
“We’ll make the changes. We’ll say what needs to be said. And then we’ll do them in our hearts and our heads.”

Although the song was originally written about taking marriage vows, these lyrics applied to what the “Civil Rights Brothers” show was about. The idea that it can be difficult to stand up for what is right, but if you know it to be right, sometimes all it takes is the willingness to say what needs to be said – then your actions will follow your resolve. What was really great was that the song was played throughout one of the stories Ward tells of how they met with Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers who had resolved that he would die for this cause, but that the martyrdom was necessary to reinforce the necessity of the movement.

On “It Is Well” we really focused on how the song was executed –
We wanted something that would attack the resolve of what the song is about. We created the song based on an aggressive bass line. For the lyrics, Micah sang into a dying tape recorder and recorded the play back of the tape.

The hymn was written by Horatio Spafford in a response to his tragic life events (financial ruin and the deaths of all of his children). We didn’t produce the entire song, but did use the following lyrics:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Our version of the hymn was played during the show when Ward describes a very intense situation for Albert Porter during a selective buying march with students. It was an almost surreal moment when a man came out of the crowd with a pistol and violently threatened Porter’s life. Porter, who was so dedicated to the movement responded peacefully, “you must do what you think is best, and I will continue to do what I think is best.”

We attended the listening party at KUAR studios. We brought some white chocolate covered rice krispie treats dusted with coco powder and hot chocolate with marshmallows. Some of the other musicians that also worked on this show were there and we were given a private performance of “One Simple Prayer” written just for this show by Gil Franklin.

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We went to the studio and all listened to the show. We were able to talk about the show afterwards and it was a great discussion!

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Listen to KUAR Arts and Letters: Civil Rights Brothers.

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The Great Banjo Expedition

I started taking banjo lessons with Bill Nesbitt in February 2014. He was letting me borrow his banjo during this time.

Because I love playing the banjo so much and we had started using it in recordings and writings songs on it, M and I decided we should get our own banjo. In June we started “The Great Banjo Expedition” – which was basically a search on the internet to see what we wanted for a specific budget. We have a separate “band account” that we deposit any money we get from our digital albums, shows, and the KUAR Arts and Letters radio program. Our “band account” had been earning more than spending for almost a year, so we decided it was time to actually GO on this “The Great Banjo Expedition” to Nashville, Tennessee – known for its love of music.

We would have weeks to plan the expedition, and there were four shops we had in mind to look at and play from their banjo selection: Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage Guitar, Corner Music, and Nashville Used Music. That was the extent of our plans. The night before we left we used Hotwire for our hotel, which is a site that gives you a cheaper price than the actual hotel, but you only know the location of the hotel and not the actual hotel until you pay (nonrefundable). As far as food, we just looked up places on Urbanspoon and had some advice from friends.

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When we first arrived in Nashville we stopped for lunch at Fido.

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After a delicious burger and key lime pie, we started the banjo shoppin’. We went to Gruhn Guitars first. We bought some finger picks and starting trying out some banjos. There were so many banjos, but around 5 in our price range to choose from. I immediately liked the feel and sound of the Recording King R35.

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M played some guitars – there were so many beautiful instruments to look at!

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Carter Vintage Guitar had a beautiful mural on the outside wall. There was a smaller banjo selection here and there was only one in our price range.

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I wanted to take a little break from playing all of those banjo’s at this point, so we went to Crema for coffee.

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Corner Music was rockin’ and they had an acoustic guitar room that I could play banjo’s in – away from the rockin’ overhead music. I didn’t like any of the banjos I played there.

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Last stop was the Nashville Used Music, which was basically a music pawn shop. The music was so loud I couldn’t hear what any of the banjo’s sounded like. Also, I couldn’t be certain what condition the banjo’s were in, so we didn’t stay too long.

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We went to the Millennium Maxwell Hotel to check in. We didn’t get any chocolate covered strawberries on our pillows, but they gave us a room with a view for M’s birthday. We talked banjos for a bit and did some research on the Recording King R35. We decided we would go back to Gruhn the next day and purchase the RK.

The plan, which we made up right then, was to go to dinner and a show at the Grand Ole Opry. After discovering that parking was $25, we skipped dinner and had a leisurely walk with free parking. Once there, we got some corn dogs and enjoyed live performances by The Whites, Daryle Singletary, Sarah Darling, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Connie Smith, Jason Crabb, Chris Janson, and Mel Tillis.

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The next morning we went to Hermitage Cafe – a local breakfast diner for a $4 greasy delicious breakfast.

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We headed back to Gruhn Guitars to get our banjo!

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We had decided on the Recording King R35 – which we bought from Calvin.

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When we got home, we were so inspired by the music and entertainment in Nashville we wrote a song with a little twang called “Fishing at Midnight” for our new album – “The Umbrellas Here.”