Capturing history…through song.
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
He can remember it just like it was yesterday, he and a bunch of the other neighborhood boys would play soldiers. Pots and pans became helmets and sticks became guns. It was a fun time had by all.
He grew up in the heart of Virginia, a state so rich and deep in history. Within her borders, one hundred and twenty-two battles had been fought. She saw so much bloodshed that one would think her waters ran red.
He had studied her history in school, the history of the Civil War. It had peaked his interest so much that all he wanted to do with his life was be a soldier, fighting in some war.
When he turned eighteen, he marched off to the recruiting station. He wanted to be just like those brave and proud men that were depicted upon those posters he saw hung up around town… “Let ‘Em Have It!” “Build And Fight…” “Defend Your Country…” “Want action?”
Oh yeah, he wanted it all! But which branch to choose from? “Come on, pal...Enlist!” That he did. Two years later he was ‘over there’ in the heat of battle. But battle was not like he thought it was.
He had never been out of his state, let alone out of the country. Here he was in some unknown country fighting against some unknown ‘evil.’ He thought that the posters he saw said something about fighting for your country… More like fighting for his life.
Playing soldier as a child, never showed you the real carnages of war. Sure he had snuck into the theatre a few times, but they never showed anyone get blown apart like he saw just a bit ago. In the real war, bullets run out and people die. But most of all, it’s the smell of fear and death that lingers all around.
Every day he prays that he’ll make it back home to Virginia safe and sound. He keeps thinking about his family back home, his mother and father, brothers and sisters.
He thinks back to his childhood days... The best part of playing war back then, was every boy got to go home. Now, all he can think about is how many of these boys won’t be able to go home. Most of all, he thinks about the day when he can lay his weapon down…
To Lay My Weapon Down
I am going far away
I’ll be leaving in the morning
The memories that I carry
Will ease the lonely pain.
For you my dearest sweetheart
I ask you not to worry
Just pray for my safe return
To your loving arms someday.
The dew drops on the hillside
Glisten in the sunlight
Resemblance of a tear drop
Fallen from my eye
I take one more look
At the homeplace I am leaving
Then turn to my loved ones
And softly wave goodbye.
I have never been across the deep wide ocean
I have never stepped upon any foreign ground
And the reason for the war to me is so uncertain
I just pray that I will live to someday lay my weapon down.
Well my body now is tattered
Weakened to the bone
The war they say is over
But the battle’s just begun
I make my final journey
Across this ocean deep
To my homeplace in Virginia
Where my sweetheart waits for me.
I have now been across the deep wide ocean
I have walked a many mile upon a foreign ground
And there is one thing that I know and I am certain
I am ready now to lay my weapon down.
In the heart of Virginia comes a Bluegrass group named Nothin’ Fancy. This group of talented men is made up of Mike Andes, Mitchell Davis, Caleb Cox, Chris Sexton and Tony Shorter. Recently they released their eleventh album called Where I Came From.
“I’ll tell you up front, we are not one of these bands that set out and set a tone for what our album is going to be. Some bands have a theme that they follow. With us...it’s like throwing a handful of darts and seeing where they land.” shares lead vocalist and mandolin player Mike Andes. “With this particular album, it did come together as a theme unexpectedly. With us being from the Shenandoah valley of Virginia and the history that lies there—Lexington, Virginia, a lot of Civil War history there and all of us being right there. We’re all from there…”
The album opens with the title cut which captures the heart and soul of the songs to follow, including “To Lay My Weapon Down.” This is the first of three songs that we have taken from this album and nominated them for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award. It is also one of two to earned a nomination for The Spirit of America Award.
The album continues with a remake of “Andersonville.” Written by Dave Alvin in 1991, the song captures the story of a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.
Located in Georgia, Andersonville is also known as Camp Sumter. During the Civil War, Andersonville held approximately 45,000 Union prisoners in which 13,000 died. The conditions were so horrific that historians deem it the American Holocaust or American Auschwitz.
“Pretty much every concert we do, somebody comes up and asks that same question and then they’ll tell me about.” replies Mike when asked if he has ever visited the National Historic Site. “Everyone has the same conclusion—it’ll bring you to tears. It’s on my bucket list to do, especially now since we recorded this song.”
Nothin’ Fancy breathes a new life into this classic song with their haunting performance. One can hear the pure raw emotions that Mike performs with.
Another song from this album to hit our list of Songs For Soldiers is “The Legend of Long Mountain.” Caleb Cox teams up with Wade Cox to write a factious account of a Civil War battle that took place upon a hill.
“Well Caleb wrote that song and it’s a fictional song.” shares Andes. “It’s not an actual place, but he and a friend of his…were sitting around one night, jamming or whatever and they wanted to write a song. So they said let’s write a song and be thinking of how it would have felt if there was a battle like up here on this mountain and nobody knew about what happened. So that’s kind of their mindset when they wrote that song.”
As a listener, one can not imagine that this legend is not true as the storyline within the lyrics is bold and introspective.
Bluegrass music is known for capturing the vast stories that are part of the Civil War. However when you are from the heart of where the war took place, it is sure to be in your family blood.
“Yeah if you go back far enough, there’s great, great, great, great grandparents and things that were in the Civil War and again its in our heritage.” tells Mike. “Mitchell our banjo player lives right there in Lexington. I grew up in a small town called Timberville, Virginia, which is very near New Market. New Market they always did a reenactment, the Battle of New Market, every year. So that was huge for me growing up...Chris Sexton, our fiddle player, he loves Civil War history and his dad is a re-enactor in the Civil War stuff so he’s always reading about Generals and battles and things of that nature. He’s probably the biggest buff of us as far as the history of it. But all of us have an interest in it. Mitchell, he’s always studying and watching up stuff on it.”
The second song to earn a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award and Spirit of America Award is a song about soldiers with “Bus Fare.” Unlike the two previous songs, this one takes place in more modern times as the song speaks about a homeless Veteran.
“Caleb always wanted to write a homeless man song and tie it in with a Veteran…” shares Mike. “Blue Highway recorded a song titled ‘Homeless Man.’ Caleb always loved that song and that’s where he got the idea...he loved that song. He said he always wanted to write one like that.”
The final song to earn a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award is a fun song called “Daddy Made Moonshine.”
“No, not as far as I know!” laughs Mike when asked if his daddy had made moonshine. “I took this album...when my mom heard it…she’s eighty-seven years old...she’s the cutest thing you ever wanted to see! My dad’s passed. He’s been gone ten years now. Anyway, she said that song on there...Daddy Made Moonshine...you’re daddy did not make moonshine! I just looked at her and I said ‘Oh, some things he told us boys he didn’t tell you.’ And she looked at me real funny...I said, ‘No, he didn’t make moonshine.’”
You can vote for these songs in the 22nd Annual Spirit Awards come December 10th.
As for the rest of the album, it is filled with a wide variety of songs including a very haunting remake of The Country Gentlemen’s song called “Bringing Mary Home” and a remake of the Wilburn Brothers’ song “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave” as well as a cover of John Prine’s “The Hobo Song.”
The band includes two more songs that were written by Mike Andes. The first “When I’m With You,” is a beautiful love ballad perfect for any wedding. The second is “Lord Hear My Plea,” a lovely inspirational Gospel song that features Nothin’ Fancy’s tight harmonies.
In the end, Nothin’ Fancy provides the listener with a wide range of songs that will entertain you for hours. Collectively, they have the rare ability to cleverly write delightful and brilliant songs that are well sculpted. More so, they have the ingenuity to capture their local history and bring it to the forefront of their music. This is one album and band that I highly recommend.
Virginia. Sweet home Virginia. If he makes it home, he will never look at her hallowed ground the same. As the soldiers who fought before him and he believes just as the soldiers who will fight after him… each will be counting down the days until they can…
lay their weapon down.
This article was printed in the May / June issue of Strictly Country Magazine.
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