String junkies Milltown kick it old-school
When asked about the difference between bluegrass and old-time music, Alex Seymour’s father gave him a rather simple explanation.
The difference, he explained, lies primarily in the purpose. Whereas bluegrass was developed primarily as an art form with a commercial intent, Old time was what people in small Southern communities played in social settings. It’s the original American house-party music, if you will. Despite its Irish and African lineage, that’s exactly how many who are partaking in its revival and preservation see it. Seymour is a member and upright bassist of one of the Triad’s newest, but most active, old-time bands, Milltown (www.myspace.com/milltownnc). Though he and bandmates Tim Litchfield, Ben Riesser and Chris Perrson didn’t exactly start with the intentions of forming a completely tangible performing unit. “We just wanted to drink some beer and jam on some music,” said Perrson. “We had no idea we’d actually start a band.” Indeed, Milltown’s origin lies much closer to that of an informal jam society. Fiddle player Litchfield met them roughly two years ago others while working in a property management office. He enlisted others that he met in the line of his day-today business to meet up for jam sessions, though the proliferation of guitar players left for little diversity.
“Basically, anyone who wore Chuck Taylors into the office was asked if they played music or liked Old Crow Medicine Show,” Perrson joked. “We had seven people when we first started and everyone played guitar, so they figured they better learn to play something else.” None of the members of Milltown actually grew up on the music that they currently play. Rather, their variety of musical influences range from indie rock to Americana, and guitarist Persson even spent some time in a punk band. Such varied tastes led to a fusion of the predominant elements of their influence, paired with the aesthetic and arrangements of old time. They play extremely fast, maintain a tight rhythmic structure and sing about classic quandaries related to women and alcohol. “I was constantly searching for something authentic, which led me to artists like Doc Watson and old-time music,” said Litchfield, “but I still feel like I have a lot of exploring to do.” To aid in his discovery, Litchfield and several other local string musicians have formed the Piedmont Old Town Society, a group dedicated to nourishing local interest in old-time and traditional string music. In order to foster such an environment, the society has taken to the area bar and coffee-shop scene where Litchfield feels those with the most interest are inclined to congregate. “We’re really trying to get college kids and young people back into it,” Litchfield stated. “You go to these festivals and there are these amazing musicians there, but the revivals really start in the bars.” “I think his idea is to bring them together, get them out there and see how many there are in Greensboro,” added Riesser. To spread the word about the music, the society has taken to technology as their primary method of conveyance. They Tweet, they Facebook and they blog about upcoming meetings, sidewalk busks, jam sessions or whatever else they believe will foster interest. Though there’s an obvious level of irony behind that methodology, it merely demonstrates the inherently communal nature of the music. “It’s not about showing off, it’s not about solos and it’s not about learning scales,” said Riesser. “It’s really a rhythmic music that was intended for getting together to play and dance.” The band will host a show at the Blind Tiger on March 21 featuring the Darnell Woodies and the Radials, though they’ll be deferring the headlining spot much in line with the communal spirit of the music and will instead open the show. “It’s something we put together, but we really love those other two bands,” Litchfield said. “Plus, we can get drunk after.”