January 5, 2019

Eighty-two Billion

According to a recent release by Forbes, revenue from the Virtual Interaction (Video Game) industry alone is expected to reach 82 BILLION dollars by 2017! Now that, my friends, is a lot of zeros, and certainly good news for a number of economies. But with this trend as background, I must admit that I am one of a number of folks who, contrary to the present tide of interest, encourage – and am deeply invested in the promotion of – what I consider a particularly high form of non-virtual interaction (otherwise known as playing music with your pals).

Now, I don’t mean to write a slam against anything, and given that this piece is appearing in NOTFA’s newsletter, it’s conceivable that I am, in part, preaching to the choir. But even while many of you readers may similarly place an elevated value on playing music with folks, one must live in a cave not to notice that this natural joy is immensely over-shadowed by a relentless and ubiquitous effort to get you and yours to substitute the real deal for any and all things “virtual.”

Okay, I suppose some of you know I founded and produce the Julian Family Fiddle Camp and, for those of you who don’t…I founded and produce the Julian Family Fiddle Camp. And yes, I clearly hope increased numbers will be inclined to get in on the fun of acoustic music camps in general, and the Julian camp in particular. But even though I’ve a personal stake in promoting this kind of activity, I must acknowledge that I’m a bit of a chicken. Indeed, thus far I’ve been afraid to nail an IPad to a tree, hang a “no cell phones allowed” sign, or put up any other kind of symbol that relays opposition to the use of these things at the music camp in Julian. And why have I not done so? Well, in truth, while my premise is that more and more folks are defaulting to electronic devices for communication and interaction unnecessarily, many of these things clearly enable contact and acquiring information when distance and time would otherwise make it difficult. Further, I must admit that I, too, use an intellectually-challenged cell phone for all kinds of personal and camp-related communications, and own up to the fact that electronic handhelds can be quite convenient for taking pictures and recording tunes you may want to practice and learn. So, rather than rail against new-age, interactive gadgets, I figure my job is to produce an acoustic music camp that is so darn much fun that the genuinity, authenticity and natural joy of learning and playing music with folks gives context and challenge to the seductive virtual stuff that abounds.

Allow me to digress. About nine years ago, my family moved into our present home. Soon thereafter I was working in the backyard when suddenly surprised by the sounds of the fiddle tune, “Rolling in the Rye Grass,” coming from my new neighbor’s window. About a week later, I saw the neighbor from whose house the fiddle tune had been coming, and took the encounter as an opportunity to introduce myself as well as inquire about the music that I had heard. After mutual niceties, he explained that his ten year-old daughter had been practicing a tune that wasn’t formally part of her music studies, but something she heard somewhere and particularly liked. I told him that I played the fiddle and, if he and his daughter ever wanted to accompany me to a weekly jam I usually attend, I would be glad to take them along. Several months later, I made good on the offer and, driving in their own car, the neighbors followed mine to the event. Once there, I introduced them to the host and a few folks, and then explained to the young girl

that, if she was inclined, she could take her fiddle out and stand on the outside of the jam circle and try to play along. I further said if she felt ready and willing to play a bit more strongly, she need only step up to join the circle and play the tune with us. What unfolded thereafter was common to those who frequent jams, but by no means common for the girl or her dad. In short, the girl seemed to get into playing a couple of tunes that, heretofore, she had only played alone (never mind that when it came to be my turn to call tunes, one just happened to be “Rolling in the Rye Grass”). Now with the jam being on a Sunday (i.e., a school night), the neighbor and his daughter left the jam much earlier than I. About a month later, I saw the girl’s father driving slowly down the street and about to pass my house. Being curious about his daughter’s experience of the jam, I waved him down and asked. With engine running, foot on the break, and the passenger window rolled down, he heard my question then, with the car still in the middle of our street, smiled thoughtfully and shut off the car’s engine. He slowly turned in his seat to face me and said, “Avery, I couldn’t believe it. As we were driving home, I asked her how she found the evening. You know what she said? She said ‘Dad, now THAT was better than Gameboy!’”

Several years later I went to Nashville to participate in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Leadership Bluegrass” program. It was an interesting experience on many levels, and while I came away from it with a number of new friends and a great deal of information, something said at our closing round-table review left a marked impression. In particular, when the younger participants in the program were asked what trends they saw on the horizon for the music business in general, and bluegrass in particular, one respondent said she felt there was an “increasing disdain for the ‘black box.’” When asked what she meant by this, she explained that the “black box” was a metaphor for the new-age electronic gadgets that are the focus of so much of her generation’s attention. Now while this young woman (like all of us selected to participate in the program) had a clear penchant for things bluegrass, she certainly seemed able to identify and separate her own interests from a larger picture. I, on the other hand, may not. Indeed, while billions are being made today by selling the fun of virtual this and virtual that, I’m vested in the belief that the pendulum-of-interest invariably swings two ways.

Interest in things virtual is a wave that grows larger and more powerful each day. But while this industry generates bundles of cash, I trust there’s no offense if I and a handful of others try to eek out a few coins by pushing some non-virtual alternatives. Granted, there’s little reason to expect the simple, unadulterated joy of learning and playing music with your pals to compete with the Madison Avenue glitz of Xbox or PlayStation, but when folks of any age grow tired of – or seek to escape from – “louder, brighter, faster”, we’re there amigo, we’re there.

This article was written by R. Avery Ellisman, Producer/Director of the Julian Family Fiddle Camp,

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