Alice Gerrard’s publicity people say that the bluegrass legend’s latest album was “sourced from Alice’s private archive,” which is a much nicer way of saying that Gerrard recently found it in the back of her closet — a dusty spool of tape she had filled with songs in her District living room back in the 1960s alongside her equally iconic friend and collaborator, the late Hazel Dickens.
Finally released this past fall, “Sing Me Back Home: The D.C. Tapes, 1965-1969” finds the young duo throwing all of their lungs into songs by the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Merle Haggard and more. “It’s just the two of us banging away,” Gerrard says over the phone from her latter-day home in North Carolina. “It was just a tape recorder in a living room. We were doing it to listen back to ourselves — working on material to see what this might sound like, or what that might sound like.”
What it sounds like today: a refreshingly intense glimpse into an intimate creative partnership, as well as a glance at Washington’s bluegrass scene of yore, where Gerrard and Dickens made a habit of learning songs directly from their sources by making road trips and house calls to the likes of guitarist Elizabeth Cotten, fiddler Tommy Jarrell and many others.
Now, at 84, Gerrard is still passing on what she’s learned — and she’ll be doing it in the days ahead at an annual music camp held in Floyd, a bluegrass hot spot located on the Blue Ridge Plateau in southwestern Virginia. There, Gerrard is scheduled to teach workshops about the players that have influenced her work, with a focus on the unsung women of bluegrass, country and folk. She’ll be teaching songs, but ultimately, Gerrard wants those in attendance to open their ears and keep them that way.
“One of the things I feel very strongly about, if you want to do this music, you have to listen to this music,” she says. “I have listened for a long, long time.”
Workshop: Gerrard will be teaching workshops at the Floyd County Old Time Music Get-Together, March 14-17, in Floyd, Va. To register, visit floydcreativestudios.org. Four-day camp registration is $350.