Jimmie Dale Gilmore, appearing in a recorded session, is among the dozens of musicians performing in the online version of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Oct. 3. (Courtesy photo)

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, appearing in a recorded session, is among the dozens of musicians performing in the online version of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Oct. 3. (Courtesy photo)

A few wise words from Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Texas troubadour takes philosophical view of pandemic’s effects

A few wise words from Jimmie Dale Gilmore

There are certain spirited traditions, it seems, that COVID-19 cannot defeat, like San Francisco’s world-renowned Hardly Strictly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Happily, it continues this year, as always, on the first weekend of October, but in a whittled-down form, and not in Golden Gate Park. The free twangfest streams from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 3 at www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com and www.nugs.tv, featuring a stunning lineup of regulars, from Emmylou Harris on down.

“It’s going to be virtual, and it’s already been recorded,” says one of HSB’s favorite sons, Texas troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore, who performs with his longtime Flatlanders bandmate Butch Hancock as a duo, and notes that the film crew observed social distancing during the session.

HSB also has partnered with Artist Relief (donate at unitedstatesartists.org/hsb/) to dispense $1 million to musicians nationwide adversely affected by the pandemic, and another $1.5 million to the Hardly Strictly Relief Fund: Bay Area, benefiting Alliance for California Traditional Arts. To contribute, visit actaonline.org.

There was so much talent committed to keeping the event alive, it begged only one question, adds Gilmore (reached by phone last week as he hiked with Hancock and their wives in Texas’ Big Bend National Park, where they had just spotted a black bear): How can they condense so much incredible talent into only three hours?

Still, the Cherokee-descended tenor, 75, had wise observations on humanity’s current snafu.

As someone who once defended advertisements for just doing their job, have you seen the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” about the hypnotic sway that cellphones and social media have over society?

My wife Janet and I watched it about three nights ago. I had already read a book called “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” and another one called “The Attention Merchants,” and they’re about advertising, that same film subject. It’s ironic, because I was so into computers early on, and then all of a sudden technology took this wrong turn. Stewart Brand warned about that in the early ‘80s, saying that this technology would explode but that — just like swords had accompanied the invention of steel and plows — it could always be used for good purposes or bad. He said that we should be prepared for somebody to figure out how to use it in a bad way. And what you find online now isn’t even disinformation; it’s no information. Maybe if people listen to more channels than Fox News, they might pick up actually pick up some information.

What do you think about how American democracy is on the brink of extinction and climate-change-affected forests burn under the leadership of a president who will do anything to win re-election?

It’s a drastic, dire situation. We are in a very strange time, and it seems like so many things are hitting us at once. I can’t believe that a single person voted for [Trump] and it might take a massive uprising to stop him. My daughter Elyse has a PR firm, and she does a lot of pro bono work for progressive causes, and she keeps up with all the serious polling. It’s clear that the majority of the country is for Biden, but because of the electoral college, there’s no guarantee, and because of all the doubt that’s been sown about the mail, it could get messy. But Janet and I studied Tibetan Buddhism and a lot of Native American stuff, and in all of these teachings, there’s the idea that sometimes it takes great suffering to bring about transformation, and eventually, the good side always wins. I think one silver lining of the coronavirus is that it’s caused a whole lot of people to have this huge shift in perspective.

What has it taught you, personally?

It’s not really new, but it’s the whole Buddhist idea of interdependence. The planet, even the universe, is built on a mutual causality, meaning everything derives its independence from many outside factors. So now, all of a sudden, humans are realizing, “Oh, you have to have grocery stores and people working in them, and truckers delivering those groceries!” The pandemic has caused this abstract idea to become very stark and tangible.

And — according to the third member of the Flatlanders, Joe Ely — the band has a new album coming?

It’s just been finalized, and it’s a new old Flatlanders, a bunch of our old favorite music from these recordings that Joe went to work on in the studio. I actually taught my annual songwriting class that I do at the Omega Institute, but by Zoom this year, and, oddly enough, everybody loved it. We were able to make the class twice as big as it is in person, with 40-something students instead of 24.

I’ve distilled the pandemic down to one existential film reference: Do you view annoying insurance salesman Ned Ryerson in “Groundhog Day” with Phil Connors’ initial “eww” cynicism, or with the ebullient self-content warmth he greets him with at the end?

My wife and I? Our favorite movie is “Groundhog Day.” And I’ve also read that the Dalai Lama really loves “Groundhog Day,” as well, because it actually is a very Buddhist movie.

Pop Music

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said some students and families who want to return will not be able to do so at this time. “We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone,” he said. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD sets April reopening date after reaching tentative agreement with teachers union

San Francisco Unified School District has set April 12 as its reopening… Continue reading

José Victor Luna and Maria Anabella Ochoa, who cite health reasons for continuing distance learning, say they have been enjoying walking in Golden Gate Park with their daughters Jazmin, a first grader, and Jessica, a third grader. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Some SFUSD families prefer distance learning

Health issues, classroom uncertainties among reasons for staying home

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation intended to help California schools reopen. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Newsom signs $6.6 billion school reopening legislative package

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation Gov. Gavin Newsom and state… Continue reading

Most Read