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It will take weeks and years to put together a complete and accurate story of what happened on Jan. 6, but anybody who tries to tell it with any sympathy for the insurrectionists, or with revisionist disassociation, is duplicitous and wicked. The USA has a history of political violence, some of it righteous. But this direct attack on the democratic process and Constitutional order is of a piece with the South’s secession and the segregationist terrorism of Jim Crow. The attack and the calculated political conspiracy that led to it is the most evil and depraved thing I’ve witnessed play out on American soil in my 54-year life. …


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The Robert E. Lee Monument in New Orleans being lowered, May 19, 2017. Photo by Infrogmation Of New Orleans, via Wikipedia.

Today may well be Donald Trump’s last Fourth of July as president of the United States. I’m more optimistic than in some time that he will lose November’s election decisively and go down in history as a failed leader — a larcenous petty fascist who showed us everything America might be by presiding over a four-year bacchanal of everything she should be standing against. Besides his epic malpractice in the Covid crisis, with the thousands of wrongful deaths and economic catastrophe that are resulting, the reason I’m most encouraged about his impending defeat is that with his back against the wall, he’s gone all in on racializing the campaign, and for the most part, my country is not having it. In a recent New York Times Siena College poll, 59% of voters, including 52 percent of white voters, agree that the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis was “part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African Americans.” Black Lives Matter is viewed favorably nationally and in the battleground states, indeed more favorably by large margins than it was just four years ago. The harder Trump tries to divide the nation, he and his allies are discovering that the pluralistic American majority coalition they’ve seen forming in the demographic tea leaves for years is finally here and about to overwhelm them. The traumatic state of the union is difficult and agonizing for sure, but it is also making bolder, even radical political goals more realistic than they were before. And my thoughts here are about framing and defining one of those aims in a way that could make a lot of other things possible. …


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The finale of the 2019 Americana Honors And Awards. Getty Images for AMA.

The following essay was posted as a preview of this week’s AmericanaFest in Nashville at WMOT.org.

When the founders of the brand-new Americana Music Association first met in Nashville in 1999, there was no Third Man Records, no 5 Spot and no Mercy Lounge. The Country Music Hall of Fame was under construction, but high-rise cranes were a rarity on the skyline. Artist showcases came along a year later, and what’s now called AmericanaFest began a journey of growth that’s paralleled its home city, which is to say surprisingly fast and nearly out of control.

Musical genre communities had created associations before, but this was different. Americana was more like a fan’s sensibility, a frame that included many strains of roots music old and new, so instead of a preservationist mission, it came on more like a crusade for art. In notes from the 2000 conference, one sees advocates for a righteous cause. Jon Grimson, who coined the Americana, called those early gatherings, a “call to arms.” Rodney Crowell addressed the convention and said Americana was a music community “where idealism is still alive and where quarterly profits don’t shape the records being made.” And then-record executive Steve Wilkison explained what he saw happening: “The people who have long loved and supported this kind of music are getting more and more organized.” …


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Composer and pianist Nahre Sol is one of several musicians using YouTube to reveal and explain basic concepts of musicality and music theory for music fans of every level.

I’m on record grumbling like an old curmudgeon (even though I’m merely a middle-aged curmudgeon) about the diminished and devalued state of music. Not popular music, which is abundant, varied and widely-covered, but music-only music — the art of sound. I want more for music that’s artistically ambitious, music that’s refined and music that’s rooted in schooled and skilled musicianship and composing, the fields that we’ve (incompletely and imperfectly) called jazz, classical or contemporary. These mega-genres, these vast legacies and vibrant current creative scenes, make up but a small fraction of our national music diet and conversation.

I must say though that in recent years, it’s been improving. Musical genres and concepts that were in the commercial wilderness in the 90s and 2000s are faring better in mature digital media ecosystems. We’ve seen pop stars giving a leg up to instrumental artists, such as Kendrick Lamar’s collaborations with and exposure of saxophonist Kamasi Washington and Taylor Swift’s unexpected fascination with Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Luther Adams. High-skill, experimental and immersive bands like Snarky Puppy have young, grassroots followings. The Big Ears festival in Knoxville, TN has, over a decade, grown into a phenomenon that’s helped more esoteric ensembles and composers multiply their audience. …


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Like many of you, I’m approaching 2018 with an uneasy mix of hope, resolve and dread. It’s the 50th anniversary of 1968, and by all indications, we’re due for another year like that. There will be tumult and violence and wild swings of justice and injustice — a true social upheaval combined with various comeuppances (already begun) and a monumental election.

Our democracy is being tested. So we all need a plan. Part of my plan is to champion a concept, an idea, a word. It transcends party and ideology yet has meaning to the left and right alike. It’s central to the crisis we face. …


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Tomorrow, the Moon will cast its shadow across the entire United States of America, hoving from northwest to southeast, shrouding much of the nation in temporary, recreational darkness in the middle of the day.

Unlike most space and sky events, the 2017 Eclipse has captivated the whole country. Viewing glasses are sold out. Americans are hitting the road in large numbers to get a clear view. A stressed and weary nation is taking an arbitrary day off. We are craving an external phenomenon, something bigger than ourselves and our tumult. …


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My family and I are just home after time in China, making the jarring adjustments we’ve come to expect after a number of visits to that vast and complex civilization. One paradox I’m currently hung up on is how that nominally communist country’s approach to capitalism actually involves hiring lots of people to work at its myriad retail and service businesses, versus America’s barren mega-stores with fewer employees and more self-serve robot cashiers upon every visit.

My favorite contrast upon landing, especially in Los Angeles, comes from the awe-inspiring diversity of humans on the go in our country, with every color and creed and style set against the homogeneity of the Chinese population; I could count the white and black people I saw in a week with one hand. Most specifically annoying is the inevitable disorientation in circadian time, with the result that my July 4, 2017 began involuntarily at 3:30 am. …


The following was adapted from a talk about journalism and music presented to Leadership Music’s Media Day in Nashville on April 16, 2017.

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When newspapers tried to become television.

We The People of the USA are having a national political conniption fit, including an ugly recent election, characterized by groups of people lamenting that they’ve had their livelihoods and indeed their way of life stolen from them by outside forces. Among the aggrieved: The manufacturing class. Family farmers. Coal Miners. And of course the coal miners of the human soul, songwriters.

Everybody’s got a story of loss it seems — loss of income, stature, security, purpose, prestige. And during this multi-decade adjustment to technology and globalism, which is very real and inevitably not without disruption and pain, there has been a growing chorus of displeasure and then anger and now outright threat against what the people of our republic call “the media.” Every side of the political debate is furious about “the media,” declaring it biased against their values and dedicated to their demise in the political arena if not existentially. …


The Women’s March On Washington as seen by a father, husband, citizen and proud centrist.

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Our daughter is an immigrant, a native of China and, obviously, female. So she’s part of at least three groups of people maligned, antagonized or degraded in one way or another by her new president during his campaign and even since his election victory. So when my wife got enthusiastic about going — as a family — to the Women’s March on Washington, I didn’t hesitate.

My enthusiasm surprised me, because while I’m a passionate student of and one-time journalist in politics and policy, and likely because of that fact, I’ve never been the marching/protesting type. …


Audio guru Steve Durr manages emotion at the world’s biggest sporting event, the Indianapolis 500.

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The pageantry before the Indianapolis 500 is seen and heard by millions.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is no shrine to silence, but when I arrive early in the morning of Saturday, May 23, the day before the Indianapolis 500, it has that aura — a Zen temple. I enter at the southwest gate beneath a wonder-of-the-world-sized grandstand and walk past many flights of stairs. One climbs toward a square of blue sky. Where a baseball park arrival is a rhapsody in green, this is a brain rush of silver and aluminum. I’ve poked up at Turn One, which is among the most desirable places to watch the race. The front straight, a runway-wide, laser-perfect ribbon of asphalt stretches away for most of a mile toward a nearly invisible Turn Four. The grandstands and guard rails converge there in an art class vanishing point. In the stillness, my mind’s ear fills in the scream of engines, the whine and rattle of pneumatic wheel guns and the reverberant call of the public address system. At the same time, I’m moved by the whisper of a Spring breeze. I’ve watched America’s Palace of Speed on TV for much of my lifetime with awe and longing, and now I’m here. And hovering over all of this is the architectural center of the track, a tiered and tapered glass tower called the Pagoda. …

About

Craig Havighurst

Journalist, radio host and speaker in Nashville. Music news producer for WMOT/Roots Radio. Host of The String. Co-host of Music City Roots.

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