As we make the final trudge through October toward Halloween, we enter a magical time of the year when a fever pitch of grousing and adulation about the infiltration of pumpkin-infused everything is met and when local bands start hassling you to come out to their impending Misfits cover shows.
But let’s be honest: You and I both know you don’t really want to spend one of the best nights of the year drunkenly shouting whoa-oh-ohs in the bowels of whichever dive bar made the mistake of hosting your buddy’s wannabe third-tier Fat Wreckords band as they chase their fleeting Fiend Club dreams. However, that is not to say that the October cover/tribute show has to be a banal endeavor — you just have to get creative! For example, former New Times music editor Liz Tracy conceived of and, with the help of WLRN's Wilson Sayre, put together an event celebrating the music of one of the most underappreciated yet influential roots music ensembles of all time, the Carter Family, with the Carter Family Death Fest: Southern Discomfort.
The Carter Family’s music has never truly received the recognition it deserves beyond roots music cognoscenti, especially relative to other American traditional icons like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson — artists who have enjoyed an uncanny reverence among younger music fans in recent years. However, the Carter canon includes some of the most perfectly crafted songs ever written about the universally relatable themes that make traditional American country music so charming, and as a grieving Tracy found out this year, the Carter Family’s songs about death and dying proved to be a valuable friend in the dark when she needed one most.
As a way to pay tribute to the Carters as well as her departed loved ones, Tracy has called upon the music community of Miami to bring the Carters’ songs to life and celebrate tomorrow night at Gramps. We caught up with Tracy to discuss the Carters, her inspiration for the show, and her changed perspective on death.
New Times: I never knew you were that deep on the music of the Carter Family. What inspired you to put an event together celebrating their music?
Liz Tracy: So, you remember Freakwater? The band? One of the two ladies in it, Catherine Irwin, covered "Will You Miss Me" on her solo album Cut Yourself a Switch, and she has this really great, emotional, raw, deep voice.
The song is about dying — which is what most Carter Family songs are about — and this year, I had some significant deaths in my life. I was lying on my couch all alone — probably crying or just finishing up a crying session — and I thought this might be a nice way to honor them: to have people bring their songs to life. I thought doing a tribute show might offer some sort of funereal closure or just let other people know that, yes, we're all gonna die, and maybe that's OK. I guess some things live on — like their music. We live in such a sterilized way that we've lost touch with all the sides of death — except the bad ones. Or lost touch with some of the sides of death.
Suffice to say that their music was an important part of your grieving process.
Yeah. It was helpful. I'm far from being healed, but I definitely feel like I have a different understanding of death than I did before this year.
Could you describe the “other” aspects of death you'd like to reconnect with or celebrate and how the Carter Family's music helped you see that?
Really that death isn't scary as much as it is sad and that it's OK to be sad. There's a beauty that can come from sadness. It kind of makes death as real and immediate as death is, and that removes some of the terror. It's an emotional thing that you have to experience sometimes, that loss.
How did you pick the artists involved?
Another reason I did this is because I wanted to bring the Carter Family's music and name to the ears of Miami's music community. I quickly learned not many people know who they are here.
Miami also has a roots music scene that is often criminally overlooked.
That's true! So I asked Kevin Arrow to help me find someone to do it with, and he referred me to Wilson Sayre of WLRN, who is part of that scene, and she’s become my partner on this journey, and we got some amazing acts.
Who is on the lineup?
I wanted there to be a real mix of sounds, so we've reached into a few scenes. The Wilson Slayers are playing and that's Wilson, Nick Vagnoni and Marc Magellan. They just appeared (minus Nick) on Michael Stock's show on WLRN! Then we have W.D. Miller and the Revolvers which is the band that rose from the ashes of Los Bastardos Magnificos — which was undoubtedly the greatest outlaw country band to ever come out of Miami. I thought of Raffa Jo because of her beautiful voice. My friends Jeff and Max of Night of the Weirds are performing as Curious Hair.
We also have Mr. Entertainment of Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers performing with Emile (from Sweat Records/Other Electricities/many bands), along with Barry Stock and Baby Bear Lo-Fi, who are performing as the Dade County Pine Quartet. Also, DJ Spam is playing some old timey tunes after, which I’m excited about! The event falls on the 37th anniversary of Mother Maybelle's death, which adds another layer of reverence to the event.
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Do you have a favorite song by the Carter Family?
I think "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow" is the catchiest. Well, we're going to have two sing-alongs. Maybe I'll go be ridiculously charming onstage somewhere in there. I bought the coolest green hand with pink lights on the tips of the fingers as a decoration and skull lights, so we’re getting festive; that's what I'm all about.
I hear you’re also getting involved with comedy?
Yeah! In stark contrast with this event, I'm trying to do some comedy stuff. I did one standup event at Wynwood Brewing, and I think I'm going to do it again. Make it big time... or just fail and never do anything interesting again. But it’s a great new avenue for me to explore, and I’m really excited about it!
Carter Family Death Fest: Southern Discomfort with the Wilson Slayers, W.D. Miller and the Revolvers, Raffa Jo. 9 p.m. Friday, October 23, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; gramps.com. Admission is $5.