February 28th, 2012

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

Victorian fashionChildren all like to play dress-up.   When I was little, my best friend and I would put on old prom dresses and take turns wearing her grandmother’s old, heavy rabbit fur coat. The coat started out white, but slowly turned a lovely, soft gray.   We would then parade around our neighborhood in our sparkling dresses and coat. This took great dedication on our part because Minnesota was hot in the summer, but even 90 degree weather didn’t deter us.

As I got older, I dreamed of living in a different era.  For some reason, castle life in Medieval England appealed to me.  I guess I had that old “princess” thing going on (though more likely I would have been a serf).  Only later did I come to understand the demands of fashion (especially for women) and how fortunate I was to be born in the 20th century.   Ladies, we’ve come a long way from wimples, 18” waists, corsets, crinoline petticoats and wool bathing suits.  We might still like to dress up, but not many of us want to spend our days like a Victorian miss in layers of clothing with no air conditioning!

Celebrate Women’s History Month and join us for the Under the Skirts Tour of the Civil War on Saturday, March 3 at 2pm as we literally go under the skirts of a proper Victorian lady.  Karen Jesse and Rosanna Hart will present a live dressing (from the pantaloons on up) of what the fashionable Victorian miss would have worn.

What’s your favorite aspect of fashion from years gone by? And your least favorite?


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February 22nd, 2012

Musical Melting Pot

banjoAre music genres soon to become extinct? Years ago, you could put music styles in a box and stick a label on it. People were quick to say things like “I’m a country fan” or “I don’t listen to that rap stuff.”  But these days, artists blend multiple genres and nothing is as simple as it once seemed.  Rockers like Aaron Lewis from Stained and Kid Rock have had hits in the country music scene.  Jack White from the rock duo known as The White Stripes has begun collaborating with country legend Loretta Lynn.  Country star Allison Krauss worked with Led Zeppelin’s iconic front man Robert Plant on the album Raising Sand. Last year, the song “Airplanes Part II,” collaboration with rocker Hayley Williams and rap artists B.o.B. and Eminem, topped the pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy.

This newly renovated music landscape has created an environment of experimentation that allows lesser known or forgotten genres to bleed into popular music.  Artists are trading styles and incorporating instruments that were previously alien to their genre. For this reason, discovering new music has never been more exciting.

Probably one of the more surprising genres to be brought back into the light of popular music is bluegrass. Traditionally, bluegrass is strictly acoustic, including instruments like the banjo, the stand-up bass, mandolin, and the fiddle. These days, bluegrass style music and bluegrass instruments are showing up in every corner of popular media.  “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” brought bluegrass to the big screen and the soundtrack promptly hit the country charts as well as the Billboard top 200 charts.  Despite being over a decade old, the album is known as the number one selling soundtrack of the 21st century.

Two of the most popular bluegrass/folk style bands to surface on the charts are the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. Did you catch the Grammy’s last year when they played with Bob Dylan?  Their refreshing performance was full of the foot-stompin’ fun that people love about bluegrass.  Scott Avett from the Avett Brothers was quoted in Billboard magazine “We play pop music, maybe just simply pop-rock music. It just happens to have elements of bluegrass in it. And punk? This is a good time for music like ours. Country isn’t a dirty word. Neither is pop.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this type of stripped-down, organic, but not-at-all-boring-style to be just what music has been missing. Thankfully, there is reason to believe that this is more than just a trend.  Adele, the recent six time Grammy winning artist, is planning to have her third album be heavily influenced by bluegrass and other American styles she learned about while on tour.

Here are some more artists that have had fun with bluegrass that can be found at your local CCPL branch:
-Yo-Yo Ma’s new album “The Goat Rodeo Sessions”
-Actor Steve Martin’s album “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo”

What forgotten genres do you want to see more of in popular music?  Do you hope bluegrass is here to stay? Or do you wish it would disappear?


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