By Philip Griffith
On the soft summer evening of Aug. 31, another friendly audience viewed and listened to the Eastbound Freight Bluegrass band [in Port Jefferson]. It was the final of nine free Sunset Concerts of the 2016 season. Raindrops moved picnic suppers, blankets and chairs into the comfortable confines of the Port Jefferson Village Center overlooking the Harborfront Park and Long Island Sound.
Listening to the traditional bluegrass music, I was reminded of my family’s visits to Clarksburg, West Virginia. It was there in my grandparent’s home that my father and his 12 brothers and sisters grew up.
During their childhood and adult years, my father and uncles were coal miners. Like the Welsh coal-mining family in the Academy Award winning 1941 motion picture, “How Green Was My Valley,” the miners performed their dangerous work with manly pride and all contributed their meager wages to their mother.
The West Virginia heroes were John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, socialist candidate for U.S. president Eugene Debs and union organizer Mary Harris Jones, a.k.a. Mother Jones. My grandfather and his sons were part of the bitter labor union struggles of coal miners.
During the 1930s Depression, my father migrated to New York City to find work, but he always loved his roots in the mountain state. On our family’s frequent visits to his childhood homestead, there would always be warm gatherings of families and friends.
At those reunions, there would be much food, drink and always the playing of their own brand of Appalachian Mountain country music. This family ritual provided a joyful respite from the rigors of coal mining. It was at those gatherings that I first hear and forever loved old-time country and bluegrass music. The Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, wrote, “Music is the art which is most near to tears and memory.”
I do not know what other recollections were engendered among the audience by these pure sounds of American bluegrass, but I’m certain it triggered a toe tapping, hand-clapping response. After both the last tune and an encore, the audience gave Bill Ayasse, Bruce Barry, John Bricotti, Bill De Turk and Dave Thompson standing ovations of appreciation.
These annual Sunset Concerts are a valuable artistic contribution to the wonderful life in the Village of Port Jefferson. Thank you to everyone who gives us this musical gift each year since 2009.
The author is a resident of Port Jefferson.
Editor’s note: The Sunset Concert series is sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council.