Merlefest: Bitten By The Bluegrass Bug

Leva-Doyle-Thile

Chris Thile joins James Leva and John Doyle at the Merlefest Creek stage.

It’s been a little over a week since the end of the 25th annual Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC, and the blogs and photos of this year’s festival are now being posted online. Since I was not there, this is not one of them, but it made me realize that this marks ten years since my first music festival at Merlefest 2002. I was completely absorbed by the cascade of music from the stages, but it was the community that I saw around the campfire jams that made me want to learn the music at a deeper level. With ten years hindsight, here’s what I remember from those fateful days when American roots music became a driving force in my life.

Memories of Merlefest 15

One of the first bands I came across that Merlefest was the Krüger Brothers, Jens on banjo, Uwe on guitar and vocals, and their bassist Joel Landsberg. I remember being right up close to the stage and hearing the power of the banjo as it rattled off notes like a machine. Their medley of classic television theme songs was hilarious, but they didn’t rely on gimmicks and gave serious treatment to Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” among other songs. Tim O’Brien was a highlight performance on the first night of the festival. He was one of the few performers I was a little familiar with, and his band The Crossing included John Doyle, Karan Casey and John Williams, who I knew form their work with the Irish band Solas.

I got to see John Doyle again at the Creek Stage, as he played rhythm behind fiddler James Leva, who I have since met several times. Nickel Creek was still together then, and Chris Thile stopped by to jam a few on stage with Leva and Doyle. Although I was a bluegrass newbie, the name Tony Rice was known to me, and was often mentioned with reverence by others at the festival. My first chance to see the legend in action was when he sat in with the Nickel Creek on their set. Another great memory was walking near the main stage when I got hit by “The Voice” of John Cowan. It’s a special gift to be able to stop someone in their tracks by the power of your singing, and Cowan has it.

Sewerfest

My friend Resophonic Rael at the “Sewerfest” campground.

In Doc Watson‘s main stage sets I saw a line of musicians eager to join the revered guitar master. Then there was a double dose of Gillian Welch, which along with “O’Brother Where Art Thou” had been my gateway into American string music. One of my favorite moments was the first time I heard Sam Bush back at camp, listening to the live broadcast of the main stage on the local radio. By the time he sang “Howlin’ At The Moon” and hoots erupted across the campsite, my conversion to a bluegrass fan was complete.

The music was enthralling, but my lasting memory of my first festival was the community around the campfire jam. Being so close that you could almost touch the music, seeing how the musicians who may have only just met each other seemed to draw from a common pool of music with ease, seeing the faces of the crowd while they enjoyed the music and outdoors together. That is what really compelled me to learn an instrument and become a part of this community of traditions.

How about you? Is there a moment that you can pinpoint when music or art had altered the course of your life? Was it momentary inspiration or a life-defining moment? I’d love to hear your “eureka” stories in the comments.

The Local Time Traveller: 8 Historical Sites in Frederick County, Maryland

Display of a wounded solider being tended to from the Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Display of a wounded solider being tended to from the Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Spring is a time for growth and revival, so what better time to pull the South Mountain Media blog out of its recent doldrums. Although it’s been quiet here, I have been writing monthly “heirloom” articles for hyper-local news site Want2Dish Frederick, covering historical sites and stories of Frederick County, MD. I’ve always been a student of history, and enjoy learning about the past of the places I live and visit.

Writing for Want2Dish has been rewarding on several levels:

  • Getting my first job as a writer.
  • Meeting other writers who cover a diverse set of subjects.
  • Writing on a regular schedule.
  • Using my history degree for the research I was trained for.
  • Honing my photo and video skills.

To catch you up on where I’ve been, here is a summary of my posts for Want2Dish up to now:

1. BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELDS: NON-COMBAT CIVIL WAR SITES IN FREDERICK

Frederick County is rich in civil war history, but for my debut article I wanted to set a greater challenge for myself than the well known battlefields of Monocacy River and South Mountain. These included sites like Barbara Fritchie house, Landon House and War Correspondents Memorial, and trivia like Lee’s Order 191 and Stonewall Jackson being bucked off a horse given to him by a local Confederate sympathizer.

2. MEET YOUR LOCAL BATTLEFIELD: SOUTH MOUNTAIN

My first article was a light survey, but for my second post I wanted to get into more detail about my subject, and turned to this blog’s namesake for inspiration. But the Battle of South Mountain is already well documented, and I wanted to go beyond another account of the battle that preceded Antietam and connect it to the present world.  I thought about what information might be

3. TRAILS & TALES: MOONSHINE AND MURDER IN THE CATOCTIN MOUNTAINS

Soon after I moved to Frederick County, my wife and I went for a hike in Catoctin State Park, and I was captivated by this interpretive walking trail telling history of distillery in the region, including the true story of a large-scale, prohibition era moonshine production at this site, that ended with the killing of a local deputy during the raid to shut it down.

4. GHOST OF STONE: RECONSTRUCTING THE CATOCTIN CREEK AQUEDUCT

Another popular local hiking and biking trail is the tow-path of the C&O Canal, which was once the main source of coal transportation along the Potomac from Cumberland, MD to Alexandria, VA. The canal required the use of several aqueducts to cross wide rivers and streams, and one of the most interesting of these stone waterways was one that crosses Catoctin Creek, between Brunswick and Point of Rocks. But its beauty was its undoing, as the oval center arch succumbed to the test of time and collapsed in 1973. A grass roots movement to restore the aqueduct and a grant from the Department of the Interior led to its reconstruction  in October, 2011.

5. SMALL TOWN HAS A BIG HEART FOR LOCAL VETERANS

Brunswick, MD is known for its annual Veteran’s Day parade, but the respect for veterans in this old railroad town goes back all the way to WWI, when an old howitzer stop at Veteran’s Park. The old artillery was needed again as scrap metal in WWII, but the Department of Defense came through on its promise to deliver a tank to replace it when the war was over.

6. MYTH BUSTING AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CIVIL WAR MEDICINE

A must-see attraction for any student of Civil War history. The museum comprises two levels of exhibits depicting life and death of the civil war soldiers, the challenges faced by the doctors and innovations they made in facing them. The museum gift shop contains a wealth of local Civil War history books. This piece also marked my first attempt at a companion video, where I mixed still images and Ken Burns effects with video motion action and panning. The soundtrack is me playing “Lorena”, a song of the era that was popular on both sides of the lines.

7. ALL ABOARD! IRON HORSE HISTORY AT THE BRUNSWICK RAILROAD MUSEUM

It being winter at the time, I stayed with the museum theme to give folks ideas of things they could see indoors. Among train enthusiasts and kids, one of the most thrilling is the giant HO scale train layout on the third floor of the Brunswick Railroad Museum. The model railroad depicts the tracks along the Potomac River from Union Station in Washington, D.C. to Brunswick (with an extension to Harper’s Ferry under construction). The second floor of the museum houses exhibits made from the donated railroad memorabilia from members of the community. I made another video of this trip, this time getting an interview with the curator that I played over the images.

8. LEGENDARY WOMAN: MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT BARBARA FRITCHIE

March was Women’s History Month, and an obvious subject was Frederick’s most famous woman, Barbara Fritchie. This patriotic Union woman waved her flag at passing Confederate soldiers as they passed by her house, and her story quickly rose to legendary status, culminating in the poem “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. The popularity of the story and poem obscures the actual facts around the incident for which no primary sources exist.

Frederick County has much more history to offer, and for my upcoming April article I will look at a piece of modern history – the President’s retreat at Camp David, in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont. Mystery and history will collide as I look at the sites origin and historical significance as it prepares to host the 2012 G8 Summit next month.

Every Meal A Feast

Having just completed the Christmas holiday and feast, I got to thinking about the ritual aspects of the holiday beyond the presents and sweets, even beyond Santa and Jesus. The philosopher Joseph Campbell described the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree as that of a sacrifice, and our ritual of adorning it with lights and ornaments and other pretty or personal tokens is similar to how many religions of the world bestow honors on their sacrifices.

In preparing the holiday feast and delivering two beautifully roasted chickens to the table, I realized that the act of cooking was also part of the ritual, and a ritual unto itself. Every meal represents a sacrifice of some form or other, and we honor that sacrifice by the way we prepare, cook and serve the food. When we cook, we try to transform the raw ingredients into something new and beautiful beyond the utility of fuel, and by doing so we respect the food with our labor, care and creativity.

Certainly not all food preparation is done as part of a ritual, and cooking is required simply to make foods some edible. But in cooking a decent meal, we often go beyond the basic heating needed to digest the food. Why do we go that extra step of preparation needed to add special flavors or change the texture? Why choose ingredients based on non-nutritional characteristics like color and appearance? Why do we present the food on a platter garnished with things that we may not even eat?

We go that extra mile enhancing and arranging the meal because as with the Christmas tree, we recognize it as a sacrifice that has been made for us in the circle of life. We also honor the food by using as much of it as we can: the drippings and giblets for gravy; the carcass for chicken stock; the celery and fennel leaves for flavoring; the stale bread that becomes pudding.

Of course not every meal receives the elaborate presentation of the holidays, but when we take time and care in preparing and cooking our food, we are not only enhancing our own enjoyment, but are participating in a scaled down version of the ritual feast.

The Christmas Twist: Some Alternative Holiday Songs

According to this XKCD chart, Christmas is music has been stagnating since the late 1940′s and early 50′s. Although I love to sing along with the classics, for the last couple of years I have tried to seek out some modern and alternative holiday music. This year I augmented my holiday playlist with some non-holiday songs that still fit the Christmas spirit, at least for me. My Christmas gift to you, music friends, is to share this list of modern holiday and non-holiday songs that you might enjoy as a respite from “Rudolph” and “Frosty”, and yet still be in the spirit of the season. I’ve tried to link to decent videos where possible, as well as noting what versions I listen to at home.

What would you add to this list? What would be in your personal list?

Modern Holiday
Sarah Siskind‘s 2010 EP “All Come Together Now” is among my favorite new holiday music, with original songwriting band Sarah’s beautiful voice. For example: “May Love Fall Like Snow“. Grace Potter also has a pair of freshly rockin’ holiday songs.

Nerdy Christmas
Among the songs on John Aneallo’s holiday EP, two stand out for the kid in me: “Batman Smells – A Rebuttal” and “The Millennium Falcon for Christmas”, a song with which I can truly identify since I never got one. Johnathan Coulton‘s Christmas card from the Anderson family is a favorite at our house: “Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime“. “Christmas At Ground Zero” by Werid Al Yankovic is a must have for all Dr. Strangelove fans. One more for the geek’s Christmas is Space Zombie Christmas” by Hecktor Zick Zack and Death Ray.

Dysfunctional Family Christmas
The Pogues great duet from Shane McGowana and Kirsty MacColl “Fairytale Of New York“. “Christmas In Prison” by John Prine – a great song for which I could not find a good YouTube of Prine singing it himself, but judging by the number of home videos I am not the only one who loves this one. “Merry Christmas From The Family“  – Robert Earl Keen. Mom got drunk and dad got drunk at the Christmas party…

Old Time
Breaking Up Christmas” performed here by one of several great fiddle players we lost in 2011: Benton Flippen of Mount Airy, NC.  Another is West Virginian fiddler French Carpenter’s “Old Christmas Morning“. A great version of “Hard Times Come Again No More” was sung by Mavis Staples on the “Songs of Stephen Foster” compilation,  but I love the Emmylou Harris version as well.

Folk Rock
The Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is quite at home in a holiday mix, though I like Johnny Cash’s version from American IV. Another from that album is The Beatles song “In My Life”, which bring out memories of family. Jethro Tull’s ”A Christmas Song” is a personal favorite. Hey, Santa, pass us that bottle, will ya?
Leonard Cohen’s beautiful “Hallelujah“ fits right in, but I prefer Rufus Wainwright’s singing or  Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele instrumental. “Ring Them Bells“, a Bob Dylan song performed beautifully by Sarah Jarosz, whose first two albums are always in high rotation at my place.

Other Spirituals
Several Gillian Welch songs fit in this section: “By The Mark“, “Red Clay Halo” and “Rock Of Ages” are in the mix, as well as her duet with Allison Krauss on “I’ll Fly Away”, though I also love this fresh version by Del McCoury & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band from “American Legacies”. “Amazing Grace” was an obvious choice. My favorite versions are an instrumental by guitarist Andy Falco, and Ani DiFranco jamming on it with a full orchestra backing. Hank Williams’ song “House Of Gold” is also in tune with the season of giving and receiving. I like both the Willie Nelson version from his recent album “Country Music”, as well as Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien’s duet on “Real Time”. I could not find a YouTube of either of those, however, so enjoy this one from the Secret Sisters. Another Hank Williams classic spiritual is “I Saw The Light“, with my favorite version by banjo innovator Earl Scruggs. Last but not least, the haunting vocals of Blue Highway singing “Wondrous Love“. Highly recommended.

For the Non-Believers
A trio of tunes for the agnostics, humanists and all-of-the-aboves in your life: “Let The Mystery Be” by Iris Dement, the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers, and the Grateful Dead acoustic classic “Ripple“.

Movie Themes
With so many TV specials and movies that come out for the holiday season, there are bound to be some that strike a chord of nostalgia. For me there is “Linus & Lucy”, the theme from the Peanuts. Probably because they both came out around Christmas, “May It Be” by Enya, from the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack and “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter soundtrack. It would not be Christmas at our house without a little Jack Skellington. We love the whole soundtrack by Danny Elfman, but the “Christmas Eve Montage” I find fits best in the playlist.

How about you? What are your alternative holiday songs? What are your favorite obscure ones?

7 Reasons To Pick Your Own Fruit

blueberries

Blueberries from Frog Eye Farm in Knoxville, MD.

Gathering your own food is a very basic human survival function that many people never experience in this day and age, but spending some time to pick your own fruit can have other benefits besides the ripe, delicious fruit you can eat straight from the vine. I recently wrote about blueberry and blackberry picking, and April Finnen has compiled a great list of pick-your-own orchards in the Frederick, MD area.

Why sacrifice some of your limited time to get something you can get at the store? Here are seven reasons why I think you should get outside and gather:

  1. It’s a great deal – pick your own berries are much cheaper than in stores, and it’s easy to wash and freeze them for later use so you can impress your guests with a local berry dessert in winter.
  2. It’s a great way to get natural, low stress exercise that will help offset the cobbler and ice cream you will have when you get home.
  3. You get to meet the farmer who grows your food.
  4. You will gain a lot of respect for folks who work the fields for a living.
  5. It puts money directly into your local economy and helps that green space continue to thrive.
  6. You will learn something about the growing seasons, the land and local ecology.
  7. It’s fun for families, groups and dates.
Blackberries

Fresh blackberries from Crooked Run Orchard in Purcellville, VA.

    With a mountain of fresh, local fruit at your disposal, who knows what recipes you might try? Let me know about your favorite places to pick fruit in the comments below.

Civil War? Farmer Fights Town’s Takeover

Stepen Mackey of Notaviva Vineyards, left, interviews Sam Brown of Crooked Run Orchard.

Stepen Mackey of Notaviva Vineyards, left, interviews Sam Brown of Crooked Run Orchard.

A gem of green space like Crooked Run Orchard should be cherished and protected by its local elected officials, but unless more citizens and business owners of Purcellville, VA rally to Sam and Uta Brown’s cause, they are fighting an uphill battle against powerful forces that desire their land for development. It is my hope that citizens of both parties can come together to help Sam and Uta Brown of Crooked Run Orchard in Purcellville whose land and business are under attack by town officials who seem hell bent on destroying the twenty five year old orchard on historic farmland. For the left, this is an issue of environmental impact and access to green spaces.  For the right, this is an issue of personal property and business owners rights against entrenched government power. For the Browns, it is simply a matter of survival.

Endagered apples at Crooked Run.

Many mature apple trees will be lost with the impending road.

Crooked Run Orchard contains acres of pick-your-own apples, peaches, plums, raspberries, blackberries and pumpkins, but seven acres of the Brown’s land have already been condemned by the town through eminent domain for construction of a road that will cut the land in two, destroying mature apple and priceless elder boxwood trees. For the last many years, the Browns have stoically bore the time and cost of litigation against the full might of the town’s legal assault, but allies are now gathering in support for the besieged orchard led by Stephen Mackey of Notaviva Vineyards.

Blackberries

Fresh local blackberries, but for how long?

Starting with a press awareness event on July 17th, Mackey interviewed the Browns for a video presentation of Crooked Run’s plight. While none of the invited Purcellville town officials were present, many of the press and bloggers stayed for a stroll into the orchard to pick their fill. Not only is Mackey helping to promote Crooked Run’s legal fund, but he’s also harvesting a small mountain of the Browns’s pesticide free blackberries for use in a Notaviva blackberry wine.

Across the country, demand for fresh, local food is growing as knowledge spreads about the health consequences and environmental impact of industrial agriculture and processed food. At the same time, suburban sprawl and big box stores are eating up farmland at an alarming rate in pastoral Loudoun County, VA.

Please spread the word about the situation at Crooked Run Orchard, especially if you have any connections in the Purcellville, Loudoun County or Virginia State governments who may be able to help the Browns though actions or advice.

The Real Blueberry Hill: Frog Eye Farm

blueberry bushes

Frog Eye Farm

Gathering your own food is a task that is central to the survival of most species, but for many humans it is becoming lost knowledge. Celebrate this critical survival skill by picking your own berries this summer. For the last three years, my wife and I have picked blueberries at Frog Eye Farm, where row upon row of blueberry bushes droop to the ground with tasty fruit from late June to early August. A fun family activity, this pick-your-own operation is also a great value, where the pesticide-free berries are only $3 per pound.

blueberries

A bounty of berries.

Baskets are available from the proprietor, who is quick to offer a tutorial on how to pick the best berries. Although it is getting late in the season, we found plenty of berries in the lower rows and came home with 10 lbs. Some of that immediately went into this blueberry crumb bar dessert, some was cooked down into syrup for an ice-cream topping, and the rest were washed and frozen for later use, like in hot oatmeal.

Blueberry hill? More like blueberry mountain. Got any recipes to share?

Happy Twitterversary to Me

One year ago today, I joined Twitter. My growing interest in using social media for promoting my favorite bands and small businesses made me realize that I was being foolish to restrict myself to Facebook, so I finally created a Twitter account. I can see now that my reluctance to join Twitter was based on the way it is portrayed in the media with its focus on celebrity, which obscures the fact that it is a great tool for sharing information and making real connections to real people based on interest, region or nearly any other subject.

To commemorate this milestone, here are some observations and notes from my first year of tweeting.

  • One of my favorite bands, The Infamous Stringdusters, was the first “person” I followed.
  • Nora Jane Struthers, songwriter and lead singer of the band Bearfoot, was the first person to follow me back.
  • Laura Click was one of the first people to actually interact with me, when she suggested that I update my Twitter bio so that folks could know more about me.
  • The best Twitter advice I ever got was to actually respond to other tweets rather than just retweeting them as I did for the first several months.
  • The worst Twitter advice I ever got  was to reduce the number of people I follow, especially celebrities and others who don’t follow back, to bring the following count more in line with my follower count so that my “Klout” score would increase. It did not  affect the score at all, and I missed the entertaining tweets from folks like Michael McKean, George Takei, Wil Wheaton, Paul & Storm and Patton Oswalt.
  • The best result of joining Twitter have been the regional connections I have made, especially folks who support local agriculture, real food, roots music, craft beer, wine and spirits.
  • The most fun I have had on Twitter was a recent #bluegrassbeef with @eartyme.
  • Facebook is great for keeping in touch with old friends and family, but Twitter is better for meeting new people with common interests.

@SthMtnMike

Show Review: The Hackensaw Boys w/ The Founding Fathers

It’s not every day that one looks forward to the opening act more than the headliner, but that was me on Friday, July 8 at the State Theater in Falls Church, VA where The Founding Fathers warmed up the crowd for the Hackensaw Boys to party down. It was the excitement of seeing this first performance of the Founding Fathers that drew me to this show: a new project by Andy Falco and Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters.

With a set containing new arrangements of traditional tunes, original songs and instrumentals, a couple of covers and just a sprinkling of Stringduster sound, Falco’s guitar and Pandolfi’s banjo duets gave us a more living room style of performance than you get at the festival-like Stringdusters shows. Playing seated in center stage facilitated the interaction between the bluegrass jamming veterans as they started off with a vamp into “Angelina Baker”. Falco set the bass with a dropped D tuning while Pandolfi built the tune, enticing the crowd away from the bar and towards the stage. Soon the two were trading breaks back and forth, building energy and improvisations into the classic fiddle tune. They maintained that energy as they shifted rhythms to the highly danceable original instrumental “High Country Funk”. I hope you all get to hear this infectiously funky jam some day!

Stringdusters fans who have long asked for Andy Falco to sing some blues will get their reward at a Founding Fathers show. For the first of three songs for the evening, he reached into the catalog of Grateful Dead acoustic favorites with “Rosalee McFall”. Chris Pandolfi the led the next tune with Bela Fleck’s “The Open Road”, where the two once again played  a game of musical badmitton, passing the breaks while always maintaining a solid groove.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ptu-rZri0I&w=560&h=349]

Falco returned to the drop D tuning while they riffed on another classic fiddle tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast”, starting deconstructed and ending with lightning fast breaks. Giving us each one track off of their solo records, Andy Falco sang his original composition, “Sentenced to Live With The Blues”, augmented by an extra jam that I am glad to be able to share with you in the video.  Following that was “Big Bend”, an instrumental off Chris Pandolfi’s album Looking Glass, that rolls along like a mountain landscape, not too fast and with room to move.

Shifting gears, the duo showed the depth of their bluegrass roots with a tribute to banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, where Pandolfi led several of Scruggs banjo tunes that alas I cannot name.  The only Infamous Stringdusters material of the evening was an instrumental jam riffing on “No More To Leave You Behind”, and the final song of the cited Tim O’Brien’s ballad “Pretty Fair Maid”, starting low and serenely and ending in joyous crescendo as the tale unfolded. With big smiles, the Pandolfi and Falco closed their inaugural set with the classic bluegrass jam tune “Salt Creek”.

The Founding Fathers gave a great performance for any music fan and not just for the Stringduster fanatics such as yours truly. The two showed obvious joy in playing together, but while they communicated with each other through their instruments they also maintained a connection with the audience throughout the set. The next chance you’ll have to see The Founding Fathers will be on July 28 in Baltimore, MD at the 8 x 10 Club opening for The Devil Makes Three.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C87QZJHIhKw&w=560&h=349]

As I mentioned in the beginning, don’t let the level of detail I’ve given to the Founding Fathers take away from the Hackensaw Boys, who followed up with a raucous set that had the crowd dancing and hollering. With all six cylinders firing at full speed, the Hackensaws delivered the backwoods party-time set they are known for with favorite tunes like “Cannonball”, “Miner”, “Sweet Petunia”, “Dance Around”, “Nashville”, “The Parking Lot Song” and “We Are Many”. With the success of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and Trampled By Turtles, I can’t help but think that the long running Hackensaw Boys should be bigger on the festival circuit, and I hope their upcoming appearance at the All Good Festival will help propel them down that road.

I Hear That Train A Comin’: Favorite Railroad Songs

Fascination with trains is in my blood. My grandfather worked in a rail yard for a time, and I remember well when he took my brother and I onto an engine and let us blow the whistle while he drove it a short distance forward and back.  My father has been an avid model railroad collector since he was a kid, and has passed on to me the tradition of putting up a train around the Christmas tree. Now I live in a town whose fortunes have both risen and fallen with the railroad, and I often ride the commuter train into work.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbzc77Tz6PA&w=425&h=349]

Since the earliest days of the iron horse, trains have been celebrated in song by those who have lived, worked and played along the railroad tracks. It is a potent symbol for many  tensions that mark the modern world: man vs. machine, nature vs. man, future vs. past.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgLIo0eTc8Q&w=425&h=349]

On a recent trip into D.C. on the MARC train, I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers for their favorite train and railroad songs, and the large response proved to me that trains and train songs still hold a special place in many hearts and memories. They are songs about trains, stories that take place on a trains, sounds that mimic trains and trains used as a symbol for relentless progression or nostalgic remembrance. Some are over a hundred years old while others have just recently been released. They cross the borders of geography, race and musical styles. This list is by no means meant to be a complete list of train songs, but it does show the diverse interpretations and use of the train in American music.

I have done my best to give proper attribution to the writers of these songs. Any corrections are most welcome. Did I miss your favorite? I’d love to hear what they are, so me know in the comments or tweet me @SthMtnMike.

Song Author Recorded By
2:19 Tom Waits Tom Waits
500 Miles Hedy West Peter, Paul & Mary
All Aboard Stefl, Ellsworth & Rodgers The Del McCoury Band
A Train Robbery Paul Kennerley Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer
Big Railroad Blues Noah Lewis Grateful Dead
Bluegrass Express Bobby Osborne Rhonda Vincent “The Storm Still Rages”
Blue & Lonesome Traditional Down From the Mountain
Blue Railroad Train A. & R. Delmore Tony Rice, Josh Williams
Blue Train (Of the Heartbreak Line) John Loudermilk Nashville Bluegrass Band
Bringing in the Georgia Mail Fred Rose Flatt & Scruggs
Casey Jones Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead
Church of the Level Track Tim Barry Tim Barry
City of New Orleans Steve Goodman Arlo Guthrie, Seldom Scene
Conjunction Junction Bob Dorough Schoolhouse Rock
Crazy Train Ozzy Osbourne Ozzy Osbourne
Destination Anywhere Valerie Simpson & Nicholas Ashford The Committments
Down there by the Train Tom Waits Tom Waits, Johnny Cash
Downtown Train Tom Waits Tom Waits, Rod Stewart
Dusty Boxcar Wall Eric Anderson Eric Anderson
Fast Freight Terry Gilkyson Kingston Trio
Fireball Mail Floyd Jenkins (aka Fred Rose) Roy Acuff, Lonesome River Band
Freight Train Elizabrth Cotten Elizabeth Cotten, Grisman & Garcia
Freight Train Boogie Traditional Delmore Brothers
Fulsom Prison Blues Johnny Cash Johnny Cash
The Gambler Don Schlitz Kenny Rogers
Glendale Train John Dawson New Riders of the Purple Sage
Green Light on the Southern Norman Blake Norman Blake
Greenville Trestle High Traditional Doc Watson
Hear My Train a Comin’ Jimi Hendrix Jimi Blues
He’s Coming To Us Dead Traditional Dry Branch Fire Squad
Hey Porter Johnny Cash Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart
Hobo’s Last Ride Norman & Nancy Blake Hank Snow
Hootin’ the Blues Sonny Terry Sonny Terry
Homeward Bound Simon & Garfunkel Simon & Garfunkel
I Know You Rider Traditional Seldon Scene, Grateful Dead
It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry Bob Dylan Jerry Garcia Band
I’ve Got The Railroad Blues A. & R. Delmore Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
John Henry Traditional IIIrd Tyme Out, Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Jupiter and the 119 Todd Scheaffer Railroad Earth
Just Like This Train Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell
Kentucky Borderline Rhonda Vincent, Terry Herd Rhonda Vincent “One Step Ahead”
Like the 309 Johnny Cash Johnny Cash
The Last Ride Halcomb & Daffan Hank Snow
Little Black Train Traditional IIIrd Tyme Out
Last Train From Poor Valley Norman Blake The Skylighters
Locomotive Breath Ian Anderson Jethro Tull
Long Black Train Josh Turner Josh Turner, Conway Twitty
Long Train Runnin’ Tom Johnston Doobie Brothers
Love Train Gamble & Huff The O’ Jays
Me & Bobby McGee Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead
Midnight Train to Georgia Jim Weatherly Gladys Knight & The Pips, Indigo Girls
Move Along Train Roebuck Staples Levon Helm, Electric Dirt
Mule Train Boxcar Willie Boxcar Willie, Bo Diddley
Mystery Train Junior Parker & Sam Phillips Jerry Garcia Band
New Railroad Traditional Crooked Still
Night Flight John Paul Jones Led Zeppelin
Nine Pound Hammer Traditional Bill Monroe, Tony Rice Unit, Stanley Brothers
Old Train Herb Pedersen Tony Rice
On the Evening Train Hank Williams Hank Williams, Johnny Cash
Orange Blossom Special Traditional Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Old & In The Way, Stanley Brothers
Raised on the Railroad Line Paul Craft Seldom Scene
Reuben’s Train Traditional The Holy Modal Rounders, Thomas Bailey
Railroad Blues Traditional New Lost City Ramblers, Sam McGee
Railroad Bill Traditional Crooked Still, Dan Zanes
Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train John Pennell Sam Bush “Laps in Seven”
Rhythm of the Wheels Vincent, Smith, Buxton, Dunaway, Cooper, Bruce Rhonda Vincent “All American Bluegrass Girl:
Royal Station 4/16 Melissa Etheridge Melissa Etheridge
Steel Rails Louisa Branscomb Allison Krauss
Texas Eagle Steve Earle Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band
Texas 1947 Guy Clark Guy Clark
Train on the Island Traditional Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky
Train to Charleston Dwayne Brooke The Woodshedders
Train, Train “Shorty” Medlocke Blackfoot
The Train That Carried Jimmie Rodgers Home Greg Brown The Gordons, Iris Dement
This Train (Is Bound For Glory) Traditional Indigo Girls, Wayfaring Strangers
Trouble In Mind Richard M. Jones Johnny Cash
The Train That Carried My Girl From Town Traditional Doc Watson
Wabash Cannonball Traditional Carter Family, Roy Acuff
Waiting for a Train Jimmie Rodgers Jimmie Rodgers, Dickey Betts
Wheels Patrick McDougal Dan Tyminski “Wheels”
White Pass Railroad Laurence Baer Del McCoury Band “Family Circle”
Who’s Been Talking Howlin’ Wolf Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits
Wreck of the Old ’97 Traditional Mac Wiseman, Woody Guthrie