Shall We Hope
In 1938, veterans of America’s Civil War met at Gettysburg to commemorate the war. Musical innovator Tony Trischka takes this as a starting point for this poignant song cycle about the American Civil War, and we begin by meeting a selection of Americans about to be sucked up into the revolutionary maelstrom. “Carry Me Over the Sea” explores and Irish woman who came to America for opportunity. “On the Mississippi” introduced us to a gambling man and a woman of negotiable morals he meets on the paddle wheeler as they traverse a still dangerous frontier in the day. And then there’s the crowd that packed picnic lunches and rode out of Washington to witness the First Battle of Bull Run and experience early Reality Entertainment. A train is blown up by sappers (The General) and now the war is in full force: the idealism of the young men quickly fades into a sorrowful melancholy young men die, a slave escapes and makes it to free territory where he writes his wife a letter. I hope she gets it (“Words About John Boston”). A slave with literacy was an amazing fact; slave owners did NOT approve of education for their workers. The war drags until “O Captain My Captain” signals the ends the battle, allowing us to look back across the nation ripped in half and now hoping to heal. So far, it’s not going all that well…
The story is sound, but the music a thrill. It’s fiddle and banjo music bolstered by modern arrangements that emphasis the emotional detail of each individual tragedy. Solos and key changes keep you on your toes, and the lyrics hit the emotion al high points. The emphasis is on the people, not the battles, and the presentation highlights humanism in the face of disaster. And all this melodrama sails effortlessly over the seas of national dissolution and lost opportunity. It’s the American Civil War without the pedantry of re-enactor’s detail obsession. I loved it.