All Join Hands

Thoughts on Hindman Settlement School’s New Monthly Square Dance & Potluck

“All join hands” has been a phrase shouted for generations wherever people living in the mountains have gathered to dance a square. This simple act of human contact, of holding hands with a stranger or a neighbor, is an act of solidarity. How often do we take the time to come together, share fun and tenderness, to truly see one another?–let alone dance! Such opportunities that require we put down our phones and take up each other’s hands build community across personal histories and politics.

Hindman Settlement School has started hosting monthly square dances and potlucks, well, because it’s a fun thing to do, but also to encourage our neighbors to engage one another in ways that can tear down barriers that divide. At times we all build walls, make excuses, distance ourselves from our best selves and each other. Of course, for mountain people, hurtful stereotypes can also divide us from ourselves–you know, the caricature of the barefoot hillbilly flapping his arms and kicking his feet high in the air. But traditions, such as square dancing, have healed our communities for generations. These dances, patterns, and shapes weave a story about our people as old as the day First Nations stepped foot in this vast wilderness, as old as the first white settlers who built their cabins and dug their gardens here, as old as the first African Americans who helped build the major railroads that opened up the coalfields and then remained behind to dig the coal. Here in the mountains, we have coexisted, co-mingled, and cohabited with our ancestors and neighbors for generations, creating a diverse artistic tradition all the while. Our story is a deeply complex and multicultural one, and when we all join hands these stories move through us as we pull past one another, rip and snort, do-si-do, and swing one another around the same hardwood floors that hold the vibrations of our ancestor’s footsteps so deeply engrained.

For example, in 1917, folklorists Maude Karpeles and Cecil Sharp traveled here from England to collect ballads, and they found themselves elated by an ancient and unfamiliar dance they called “the running set,” which they first observe at Pine Mountain Settlement School and then at Hindman. Now known as the “Kentucky running t,” the dance can be done by as few as two couples but can open for many. Similarly, it evolves as it is performed; it can be danced in a square or a big set, welcomes flatfooting, and can be distinct from county to county. The Settlement’s Folk Arts Director Randy Wilson, who often calls dances at Carcassone (the longest running community dance in Kentucky), notes that in Letcher County a set is run in both big sets and smaller squares, exchanging members of couples along the way. Maude and Cecil first observed the dance here in eastern Kentucky, but who knows where else people were running sets and improvising them, or for how long. Today, that same running set is carried forward and is being taught to our children, despite our people’s journey through the many cultural shifts the last century brought. By learning and practicing these traditions, we carry with us these stories into our families and our future generations. I invite you to “all join hands” as we weave a new chapter in the story of these mountains.

Kentucky Fried Christmas

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

...AND MERRY KFC? "WHAT?!" WHY IS COLONEL SANDERS THE JAPANESE SANTA CLAUS? APPARENTLY, THE THREE DAYS OF THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY IN JAPAN, THE COLONEL WILL BRING IN MORE CUSTOMERS IN A SINGLE DAY THAN THE TOTAL NUMBER OF THEIR CUSTOMERS IN HALF A YEAR! THE BIG SELL: THE PAATI BARERU (PARTY BARREL) THAT ADVERTISES A "KENTUCKY CHRISTMAS." 

YOU'RE WELCOME, JAPAN. 

ME? I PREFER "JOE PACK'S" DRIVE-IN CHICKEN IN ISOM, KY.

SO I'M WRITING TO WISH ALL OF YOU A HAPPY KENTUCKY CHRISTMAS! AND TO TELL YOU YOUR PARTY BARREL CAME EARLY: GONE BOY DOWNLOADS NOW OFFICIALLY AVAILABLE AT BRETTRATLIFF.BANDCAMP.COM!

JUST CLICK THE GONE BOY ALBUM COVER, CLICK "BUY NOW" AND PAY $9.99 (OR MORE) AND ENJOY! INSIDE YOU'LL FIND ALL TWELVE TRACKS; THE GONE BOY ALBUM COVER DESIGNED BY DIRK FOWLER OF F2 DESIGN IN LUBBOCK, TX; ALBUM NOTES WRITTEN BY KENTUCKY WRITER, SILAS HOUSE; TRACK NOTES RITTEN BY YOURS TRULY; AND A COUPLE OF PROMO PICS BY MY FRIEND AND GREAT LITTLE ROCK PHOTOGRAPHER, MATT WHIT, YOU KNOW, IN CASE YOU WANT THEM FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS CARDS. 

HAPPY EVERYTHING!

BRETT

Test Pressings, Bristol Sessions & More

Dear Music Lovers, 

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, after-Thanksgiving! I hope you all have been able to spend time with loved ones this holiday, perhaps succumbing to a turkey-coma, or in my case, a pumpkin-ravioli-coma, or hopefully at least you had pie. I thought I’d take a little break from pie eating and Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy marathons to drop you a line.  It’s been a minute since I last wrote to you, and the world has certainly changed in that time. 

After the election, I took off for a much needed adventure through Tennessee, playing some of my favorite radio stations along the way. I ran out of gas trying to get to WDVX’s Blue Plate Special on time; luckily, my dear friend Julie Belcher (from Pioneer House--you really should stop in the next time you're in Knoxville)--she came and rescued me from the side of the road and Blue Plate host, Red Hickey, bumped my start time to 12:30pm.  I pulled in with minutes to spare, out of breath and reeking of gasoline. But Red let me play. (It takes a village to build a music career). You can listen to the WDVX show here, along with Milagro Saints, with whom I had the pleasure to share the Blue Plate stage. I had a great time getting to know those guys and catching up after the show with my old friend Red. From there I went on to play Behind the Barn, a weekly live radio concert series hosted by my friends Jeff Barbra & Sarah Pirkle, and broadcast live on WFIV 105.3FM from Barley's Taproom in Maryville, TN.  Jeff and Sarah sounded amazing, as always, and I got to meet some nice folks from Maryville, even sold a couple of Cold Icy Mountain CD’s to help get me down the road.  Next up was Bristol's WBCM, where I played for the Radio Bristol Sessions hosted by my pal Kris Truelsen from Bill & the Belles.  Radio Bristol Sessions is recorded live in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s intimate 100-seat Performance Theater.  This is especially cool given the name pays tribute to the original Bristol sessions, which are considered the Big Bang of country music. Held in 1927, these sessions illuminated influential artists such as The First Family of Country Music (the Carter Family) and The Father of Country Music (Jimmy Rodgers), among so many others. The Museum also puts on one of my favorite music festivals Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, honoring Bristol’s history while continuing to push the boundaries of roots music.  I really enjoyed walking through all this history in Bristol, and we got some good video from the session, so look for that to be shared around on my social media pages pretty soon; I'll be sure to include it in my next letter, too.  In the meanwhile, you can check out WBCM Radio Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum here.  

f course, I'm also writing to share with you the news on Gone Boy. Last month, I received test pressings for the vinyl. I cannot express to you the joy of sitting in front of my turntable and hearing my music on vinyl for the first time in my life. Dream come true! They send you five test prints of the record, and they ask you to listen to each song on each one, listening for any faults in the pressings, making notes about what needs to be fixed. It's a delicate, scary, special responsibility, let me tell you. How many nights did I spend listening, over and over again, trying to make sure I was hearing what I thought I was hearing. Anyway, Furnace Records and I are now finalizing the mix, and the album packaging design is nearly ready, so things are progressing well. Once everything is in and approved, it will take a couple months to press---so to those who are expecting to receive Gone Boy in vinyl, all I know to say is: all good things are worth the wait! ;) Thank you for patience with this slow, careful process. 

In the meanwhile, we’re gearing up for a big push for the music, thanks to your all’s support. Once the vinyl is sent to press, we will begin to process the CD manufacturing, which will take significantly less time to print. I'll also be making Gone Boy available for digital downloads very soon, hopefully in time for your holiday travel listening! We're also figuring out the plans for marketing and releasing and touring--including a March trip to the U.K., where it seems like there's a folk club on every corner! I'll write more about all that in my next letter. 

I want you to know, I so appreciate you all. As this record progresses, as this crazy fall continues to unfold, I spend more and more time reflecting on the value of community, of art, of truth telling. You all stood beside me and made this music possible on the good faith you had in those values. Rebecca and I talk about you in the house like you're family. From my heart, to yours, thank you for coming with us on this journey. 

Pray for Standing Rock.     

Brett

News and Updates

July 6, 2016

Hello, friends and music lovers!  My buddy Brett Litton used to say, “Boz, when I die I want’em to cremate me and put a little bit of me in about a dozen shotgun shells, then give one to each of my good buddies so they can blast me off into the atmosphere.”  Well, that Brett is still living and so am I, but this past month has sure felt like being loaded into a shotgun and blasted into outer space. 

In an unexpected chain of events, my partner Rebecca and I rolled out of the high hills and valleys of Kentucky for Little Rock, the capitol city of Arkansas. Two days of packing and driving, then we pulled into town, parked at the gas station, and I jumped on stage at South on Main to accompany my old friend Dom Flemons in a night of singing and storytelling I’ll remember for a long time. A few days later, I was back in the pickup headed to Kentucky for Appalshop’s Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival and Hindman Settlement’s Family Folk Week; then a few days after that, back to Little Rock, where my fellow Kentucky Colonel JD Wilkes invited me to join him on stage at the White Water Tavern. I was fiddle to his banjo that night, and we had a big time, but then it was back up to Kentucky with me so I could teach music at the place I learned, Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.

In the midst of that wondrous week, I did one of the most important, frightening, courageous, and rewarding things I’ve ever done: I turned my second record’s fate over to my community and launched the Indiegogo campaign that will fund what I’m calling Gone Boy, a solo project of new old time, with covers and originals alike.

I drove back to Little Rock after Cowan, sad to be leaving the hills for a while, but happy to be coming home to my love and my new life. We’ve met some real nice people here, like Max and Julianna who helped us carry our stuff into the new digs. And Matt who’s giving me door shifts at White Water to make ends meet. Then there’s Sydney, a punk singer who cuts my hair and has me looking like Elvis (the way my mamaw always intended). I even met a Rockefeller or two. But lord it’s been a lot of change at once! And I think the scariest one has been leaving my work at Hindman Settlement School so I can focus on music.

This is what the Indiegogo campaign is about for me. By creating a way for you to pre-order Gone Boy, I’m asking you to join me in this journey, and I’m asking my community to be my good friends as I finally move from arts administrator to artist.

So, yes, I’m fixing to ask you for money. To mix, print, and push Gone Boy into the universe, I need your help. But in truth, to get back to doing full time what I full-heartedly believe I am meant to do, play this music—I need your help. I’ve spent my whole life studying and practicing the Kentucky repertoire. Nothing else in my heart feels the way this does, my desire to go out into the world and share these traditions. Come with me?  

I’m scheduling gigs from Little Rock to Brooklyn, and I’m putting fresh oil in the Ford. But I’m putting my faith in the folks who have never let me down. You can support Gone Boy in a bunch of ways designed for a bunch of budgets. Go here to learn more, and take a behind-the-scenes look at the project. Any dollar you spend with this project will take root, I promise you that. And I’ll be bringing you with me the whole way.

I so appreciate you. I truly do.

From Little Rock with love,

Brett