EDITOR’S SOAPBOX: From Mississippi to San Francisco with the band
I confess: while I have been editor of two arts and entertainment papers, interviewed dozens of bands and written zillions of album reviews in my short career, I have never really been the music groupie type.
There are some people who follow certain bands around the country fanatically, catching every single show, analyzing every slight variation in guitar chords and lyrics with a scholar’s eye.
But I’ve never really been one of those folks. I’m an armchair music fan, liking the music best in the privacy of my own home where nobody can see my geeky white boy dance moves.
Still, there’s one band out there that I have seen at least two dozen times live – a band few outside of Mississippi have ever heard of, a rural rock trio called Blue Mountain.
Blue Mountain are mostly Cary Hudson and his partner Laurie Stirratt, and a rotating cast of drummers. They’re a Mississippi band all the way, with rich music that draws on both the Delta blues’ grit and rock-and-roll’s fire to make a gorgeously heartfelt sonic stew.
Cary and Laurie have been playing together for a good decade or so now, and when I went to college in Oxford, Mississippi, their frequent shows served as the soundtrack to the early ’90s for me. I cannot count the number of times my friends and I saw them at bars with Southern college-town names like Proud Larry’s, Lafayette’s and The Gin.
Best of all, over the seven or so years I called Mississippi home I got to watch Blue Mountain grow and mature, to see their phrasing and playing become more accomplished.
We also all became friends off the stage – my pals and I were such a constant sight at their shows that they couldn’t help knowing who we were, but I was glad that Cary and Laurie and our little circle developed a relationship beyond just the music. They came to parties we held, we had damned fine venison for dinner at their country house, and we hung out with their big black dog Willie.
Often, Cary and Laurie would informally jam with other musical friends of ours. One of my signature memories of my days in Mississippi is of sitting on our front porch, full of beer and good food, and watching Cary and our friend Noah plucking out traditional folk tunes as the fireflies flitted in the night. Crickets accompanied the music, the evening had that velvety humid kiss of a Southern summer, and for a song or two, all seemed absolutely right with the world.
In my journalistic capacity, I admit I blurred the ethical lines a little and helped give Blue Mountain press whenever I could – one of my favorite moments was when I got to do a short profile on them for Billboard magazine during a summer internship in New York City.
But eventually, in college towns, the “scene” you’ve called your own drifts apart. People move on and go off into the real world, they stop renting and start buying and people start getting married. I decided to move back out to the West Coast in summer 1997, and one of the final things I did in Oxford was catch Blue Mountain live one last time.
It was a fine show, full of fire and grit, and I stood there right next to the amp, every hair on my body throbbing with the beat, and I sipped a beer and listened to my pals play for the crowd.
Blue Mountain’s career has continued on a gentle upward slope in the last few years, and their CDs are selling better and better and they’re touring more and more of the country.
Finally, the other weekend, their tour bus came into my neck of the woods. I drove 400 miles or so round-trip to catch Blue Mountain in San Francisco at Slim’s, the first time I’d seen my old friends in more than three years. I didn’t get back up to Truckee until 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, but man, was it worth it.
I surprised Cary and Laurie at their show and hung out backstage with them for an hour or so before they played. We talked about their career, gossiped about old friends and caught up with the last three years of living.
Then it was time for them to play, and I took a spot as close to the stage as I could get. Seeing Blue Mountain so far from their Southern digs might have been odd, but their homespun music has won them fans even in urban San Francisco – to my shock, there were several other obvious longtime fans in the audience calling out favorite songs for the band to play.
The hometown college bar band I selfishly like to call “mine” has come a long way, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
And for that one night at Slim’s, mouthing each and every lyric with a fanboy’s passion, feeling the thrum of the guitar and drums skittering throughout my nervous system, seven years’ worth of memories of Mississippi unspooled in my head.
I can’t pack up my life and follow Blue Mountain all around the country like I might have when I was 22, but so long as the band comes within driving distance, I’ll be there front and center, watching them play and admiring my friends. Blue Mountain are good folks in a kind of strange business, playing honest songs about living life and the things we all feel to be true.
And in the end, that’s all any band can aspire to be.
Sierra Sun Editor Nik Dirga grew up in Nevada County.
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