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Ribbon of Highway: An American Christmas Revels Live from Sanders Theatre

Sunday 6/7/20

As I have said before, the annual Revels production at Christmastime out at Sanders Theatre is the best thing I go to every year. There's a different theme each year, with certain numbers remaining in place from season to season. You can learn a lot about a given kind of music from going to these performances. They release an album each year, too, usually before the concerts begin--those are studio albums, containing the new songs--which are often old songs--that you'll be hearing at the performances, but for the 2019 concerts, they did something a bit different, and put together a live album from the shows, which just came out (and was made available for download two days ago). They kindly sent me a copy, and it is, as I expected, excellent. The theme is Appalachia--of course with a Christmas tinge--so you get Shaker songs, bluegrass, gospel, there's square dancing, clog dancing. The programs they put together are veritable books on music history. With what I am dealing with in my life at present, I don't smile much--though I have to be funny often, which is different--but this music makes me smile. Some very talented people work hard to put this together. There are two folk duos--Squirrel Butter and Tui (I bought their CDs as I left)--who are legitimately awesome.


All in all, there were almost ninety people on stage all told over the nearly three hours. If I ever have a partner in this life, or children, we are going to be going to this year in, year out, without fail. And if I ever get my house back in Rockport, this CD will be playing on the stereo a lot. I think people who know me know that I don't dole out insincere praise, and that I am not an easy person to impress. But this is that good. One of the sweetest versions of "I Saw Three Ships" I've ever heard, the version of "Boll Weevil Song" rocks harder than any White Stripes version, "Ain't Got Time to Stop and Tarry" accounts for one of my favorite listening experiences of the last few years. This year will be the fiftieth year for the Revels, should people be able to gather in Sanders Theatre by then. But if I was going to recommend recent music releases to you, I'd say check out the Yardbirds' Live at the BBC Revisited, the Hank Mobley Mosaic box of his 1960s sessions as leader, and this Revels album, whose full title is Ribbon of Highway: An American Christmas Revels Live from Sanders Theatre. I can't even rank these Revels albums very well, because they're all of a qualitative piece. This one might be my favorite, though. And lastly, what I also like about these releases is that you can be 108, you can be five-years-old, you can be forty-seven, and the appeal is evenly distributed. It's a record to make your children fall in love with music, and deepen your love of music. How beautiful is this tune called "Shake Sugaree"? This is "I'll Fly Away," a kind of secular hymn.


But perhaps the most telling thing I can say about the Revels and this record: I have always loved Christmas so much. And for most of a decade I've been completely alone for the holiday, trying to keep going. I try to hold on to my love for Christmas, so that if I am ever not in this position, and I have a quality of life, people who care about me, and I have attained the things I'm fighting for with my work for both the world and myself, I'll not have lost Christmas, it will be there once more and we can dance anew. But in the meanwhile, this is one thing that has actually made me love Christmas more. And remember: the bigger the message you have for the world, the less time you have to stop and tarry. So on we go.