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Deep in the coal-heart of Kentucky there is a ravine, one among many, and running through it a stream. You can cross by an old wooden bridge, covered and screened. Crossing, you might meet a yellow dog, yellow wiry hair. Her name is Roamona, and she won't bite. If you walk on a bit, there's a cabin. A shack, really. It once belonged to a carpenter, a furniture maker famous in his own way. He was called Sherman, and he's been dead for a long time. In the autumn, you might see a deer-hide tanning on the porch. If it's cold, there will be smoke rising from a small chimney. You'll smell it, too, the smoke. And if you are very lucky, if the stars are lined up just right, you'll hear something. It sounds familiar and haunting, old and new. You'll walk through the door and you'll be among friends.
This is the Bloodroots Barter. Their music is not so different from the tables and benches that were built here in this shack above the stream; unpolished and unpainted, left rough to remind us that in these hills live sturdy folks with simple needs. But sit in Sherman's house among his old tools and hand-cut shelves. Listen to his grandson play fiddle, a few notes to bring in the rest of the band. If you're hungry, Laura will put down her bass. She'll walk to the kitchen to light the stove, put on whatever is left from last night's dinner. Then she'll walk back, she'll lift her bass again, and the music will continue. If you're thirsty, there's cider in the refrigerator. But if you're thirsty for something else, something that burns... well, then, you're in the right place.
If you thought that bluegrass music had no dark secrets, this night is going to shake you up a bit. That's alright. Take a pull from the mason jar on the counter. Sit near the stove, and listen. This is bluegrass the way it's played when nobody's looking. It's dirty and desperate, the music that comes out of hollers thatdon't see much sun. But it's right, and you'll know it. Stay a little while longer, friend. You may know the words to this next one, but they're somehow different... a change of key, sure, a strange harmony, but something else. You can't quite put your finger on it, can you?
Here's what it is. It's uncelebrated tradition wrapped in non-traditional grittiness. Something we don't see much. Count yourself blessed. I'm not sure there are many who can do it right.
There are more people showing up now. That jar on the counter is almost emptying quickly. This next tune is fast. Don't just tap your foot. Get up and dance. Let your head spin. Sing along – everyone has a place here. Let yourself go. In the morning, there'll be coffee and enough time to try to piece everything together. But here, right now, just let everything go. The Bloodroots Barter. You want to know what they're bartering? This is it.