Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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MoodyBlueGrass pickers revive cosmic rockers
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   10/28/2005)

You had to be there Sunday night to appreciate the surreal event taking place at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was truly a one-of-a-kind show, a phrase I almost never use. Bluegrass music propelled cosmic lyrics and lush melodies in a show billed as MoodyBluegrass. An album by the same name—that includes an all-star lineup of bluegrass stars, including Alison Krauss, is up for Best Special Event in the Bluegrass Music Awards. Winners were to be announced Thursday night—tonight as this is written, last night as you're likely reading it. I've yet to hear the album, but the live MoodlyBluegrass show on Oct. 23 was grand and down home and weirdly comedic at times. I wouldn't have missed it for a million butterfly sneezes (more about those later.)

I always figured my favorite old rockers would receive due recognition one day, but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined bluegrass would be the form to revive their careers. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I've been to four Moody Blues concerts in Tennessee--including their appearance a dozen years ago or so with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and they packed every house in these parts better known for country. Anyway, the Moodies were so impressed by Sunday's bluegrass tribute that three of them broke away from their tour to fly down and set in on several songs Sunday, as 34 Nashville pickers played their music. They included prizewinners like Harley Allen, Alison Brown, Larry Cordle, Claire Lynch and Tim O'Brien. Representing the Moodies were Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge, who mugged and laughed and danced as he tried wrapping arms and feet around Bluegrass music and the art of clogging.

Maybe you remember the Moodies for their breakout hit, “Knights in White Satin.” Or, could be those Top 40 hits, “I'm Just A Singer In A Rock N Roll Band” and “Isn't Life Strange” reverberate still from a jukebox in your mind.

For many the Moody Blues are more than a band on the radio. Rather, they're the creators of concept albums that carried us away on cosmic voyages. Their songs swept along on a flood of classical orchestration showcasing the haunting voice of Hayward and amazing harmonies from Lodge and others. The music was lush, dynamic. Other times it rocked. And always it told stories. The band should've made it into the Rock N' roll Hall of Fame long ago. The Coasters are there. Bo Diddly's there, Eddie Cochran and Roy Orbison, Dion and of course all-time greats like the Stones, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, The Who, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell—all favorites of mine. Why not the Moodies? OK, they got way too sentimental in the 90s, but much of their early stuff was nothing short of beautiful. Between 1967 and 1972, they released five or six concept albums that defined the form.

They should be honored for their daring if nothing else. At a time when much of the counter culture ignored the landing on the moon, their album, “For Our Children's Children's Children” was a tribute to Apollo. So what if their musical rocket was propelled by the power of a million butterfly sneezes, in the voice of Edge. That album helped promulgate a pop vision of the whole earth and our place in it that still influences our times. The Moodies also joined bands like the Beatles in bringing Eastern influences to the West. Their impact was felt on rock, new age, classical, pop, and now... bluegrass.

Guess what? The musicians got it. They embraced the mix of philosophy, drama and music and interpreted it in fresh and engaging ways. You could tell the show was a labor of love. Still, this was a singular and surreal event and someone on drugs might've thought he or she was hallucinating during parts of the program. If you've ever seen live bluegrass shows, you know how folksy and earnest and downright sentimental they can be. You sometimes have an announcer dressed like a Baptist preacher—sometimes he is--who tells a joke or two then brings out the next act with a lot of appreciation and praise. For rock fans, such shows can drag until smoking violins and banjos and high lonesome vocals rev up. And so it was Sunday. The most surreal moment came when a singer took the stage and said something like, “Today marks the 29th wedding anniversary for me and my wife, and so, honey, I want you to know that while I'm singing this I'll be thinking of you every second of this song.” And he began singing a song the Moodies once sang at drug guru Timothy Leary's deathbed, “Timothy Leary's dead, no, no-no he's outside, looking in….” Afterward the emcee said something like, “I hope you enjoyed that heartfelt rendition.”

You had to be there.

I'm glad I was.