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For reasons I won’t go into, 2010 has not been my favorite year. But, inspired by the year-end list posted by fellow Tennessee writer Susan Cushman on her Pen and Palette blog, I’ve realized there have been plenty of things I’ve enjoyed, especially in the area of books and music. So here are my personal favorites of 2010, which I share in hopes that you might find something here that will inspire you. Happy reading, happy listening, happy following your muse.

POETRY

Bobby Rogers, another writer from Tennessee, won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize with this book.

Favorite new poetry book: We start out with a tie:  The Candle I Hold Up to See You by Cathy Smith Bowers and Paper Anniversary by Bobby Rogers.

Favorite new-to-me poetry book: The Door by Margaret Atwood (I especially love one poem in this book, “Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later.”)

Other must-mentions : Cecilia Woloch (who was just awarded an NEA fellowship); Irene Latham (whose new poetry book The Color of Lost Rooms is out December 21st); The News Inside by Bill BrownGary Soto; James Applewhite.

FICTION

Favorite new fiction: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Runner up: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is the winter 2010-2011 “One Book” selection for Rutherford County, Tennessee, where I live (and was on this year’s selection committee. We picked it before Oprah did, I must say.)

Favorite new-to-me fiction: Plainsong by Kent Haruf (Yes, I’m embarrassed I have only just now read this.)

Other must-mentions: The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (related NPR story); Noah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne; Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Jennie Fields; The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

Zeitoun is an essential American story. Fellow writers: It's a masterpiece of "show-don't-tell."

NONFICTION

Favorite new nonfiction: Devotion by Dani Shapiro, which I blogged about earlier this year

Favorite new-to-me nonfiction: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. An amazing story about a hero in post-Katrina New Orleans…who is arrested as a suspected terrorist.  Related story

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Bryn Davies on the set of Jammin' at Hippie Jack's.

MUSIC

Most of my favorites fall more or less into the category of Americana music, but there are a couple of very enjoyable outliers in the mix, too:

Favorite artist I saw live in 2010: Abigail Washburn, who absolutely captured my heart with her energy, eclecticism and unsurpassed originality. Her new CD, City of Refuge, is out in January 2011.

Runner-up: Straight No Chaser

Other must-mentions: Carpenter & May and Rockin’ Acoustic Circus (love that name!)

Favorite new CD: Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops. I love this video of them performing “Hit ‘Em Up Style” on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville.

Favorite new-to-me CD: Learning to Bend by Ben Sollee

Other must-mentions: Darrell Scott, Nora Jane Struthers, Kathy Mattea (who I love for her music and for her work as a spokesperson for LEAF, which is working to stop mountaintop removal in Tennesee), Sam & Ruby, Sarah Jarosz.

PERFORMANCE POETRY VENUE (where we performed, or hope to)

Kelsey and I were blessed to share my words and her music at a lot of venues throughout middle Tennessee in 2010.

Favorite outdoor venue: SpringFest/Diversity Day at Webb School in our second hometown of Bell Buckle, where we had a marvelous sound system.

Favorite audience: Southern Festival of Books

Of course, we also attended a lot of music events where Kelsey jammed or competed, but as she’s the expert in that arena, I’m going to let her mention her favorites on our Facebook page.

Other must-mentions: Author River Jordan‘s radio show on Radio Free Nashville, where I got to talk about and read poetry (mine and other authors’) almost as long as I wanted, and the Franklin Main Street Festival, where we were a guest of Landmark Booksellers and learned that performing poetry on the street generates about as much interest as preaching on a street corner while wearing a sandwich board that says “THE END IS NEAR.”

Favorite venue where we haven’t performed (yet): Poet’s Corner at Scarritt-Bennett in Nashville, where there’s a reading the 4th Thursday of every month.

Well, those are a few of my favorite things for the year. And now – with Julie Andrews’ voice in my head – I realize maybe 2010 wasn’t so bad after all.

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This Sunday, September 27th, in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, the 3rd Annual Dare to Be Different Showcase is slated to feature 9, count ’em, 9 hours of bluegrass music from bands near and far, including  29 Strings from the Slovak Republic.  The event is hosted by Bell Buckle-based Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, who themselves tour internationally.

Admission is only $10. As a nerd and a disciple of Ms. Cheap, I have to point out that’s only $1.11 per hour,  quite the entertainment value. And, to add to the enticement, all proceeds benefit the Foundation for Bluegrass Music, which supports educational programs on this very unique American art form through both materials and scholarships.

Why the name “Dare to Be Different?” I queried Becky Buller, band leader and multi-instrumentalist for Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike. “Because our band dares to be different!” she exclaimed. “We’re not your granddad’s bluegrass band!”

I’ll attest to that. My family and I first heard Becky and Liberty Pike (minus Val, who was healing from throat surgery) in 2006 when we visited Branson, Missouri. We were trotting by an amphitheater in Silver Dollar City, bound for the tilt-a-whirl, when the words “Liberty Pike” caught our ears. The name caught our attention because there is a road called Liberty Pike which turns into Main Street in Bell Buckle, which is near Shelbyville, TN, where my husband grew up. Not that there aren’t multitudes of Liberty Pikes in the nation, but it was enough to bring us into the theater. We sat down on a bench toward the back and were treated to rousing classics like “Mule Skinner Blues” as well as the band’s own songs, like the jazzy “Buzzed Like a Honey Bee.” In the course of the show, we realized we’d traveled 491 miles to become fans of a band based just down the road from home.

After that, we were hooked – especially my daughter, Kelsey. (more…)