On Sunday nights, songwriters south of the Broad gather at the Boardroom on Hilton Head Island for Swampfire Sessions, where musicians hang out, try new songs or just jam -- a word I hate to use because there's no way for a non-jammer (I am a non-jammer) to say it without sounding like a poseur. "They were jamming! Say, do you like my Coach purse?"
It's the same way with "rock out." Whenever a non-rocker-outer tells me they were "rocking out," I feel like the right thing to do would be to tell them the truth of the matter: "You were 'bopping out.' Those were bops."
But I don't. I would never. We all have our own ways of connecting to music. We're all allowed to feel whatever we feel when whatever song plays. We're all allowed to like and listen and perform what we want.
Unless you're at Swampfire Sessions.
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God help your blowfish if you play "Wagon Wheel" at Swampfire Sessions.
"We banned it," said John Cranford of Cranford Hollow and music label Swampfire Records. "(We) literally put signs up that said 'Absolutely No Wagon Wheel'"
Cranford is at the forefront of the Hilton Head live music scene and, in addition to building his own success, is known for helping other local musicians gain a foothold in the vacation community, a place where fielding requests for the same cover songs over and over is an accepted but sometimes dreaded part of the job. Swampfire Sessions is a night off from all that.
Over the past two years, "Wagon Wheel" has become the symbol of what is, at heart, an artistic struggle -- the desire to play your own music vs. that of someone else, the desire to have your point of view and talent be heard and recognized, rather than simply serve as a conduit for, well, Darius Rucker.
"Man, some of us hate that song," Cranford said. "Others play it all the time. It has become our generation's 'Freebird.'"
On a separate note, "Wagon Wheel" -- and your love for it, assuming you do love it -- has been politicized, in a way. Openly embrace the song and you're high-fiving Hootie. Grumble that you like Old Crow Medicine Show's original version better, you're setting yourself apart as someone who likes, you know, "actual music." Go one step further and say "You mean Bob Dylan's song?" and you've just declared your absolute resentment for the Rucker cover and everything it stands for.
"Country music today -- especially the top 40 country pop market -- is the (epitome) of everything wrong with the current social norm of what good music is," said Cranford, who used to play "Wagon Wheel" on request back in the Cranford and Sons days, but put his foot down after Rucker's cover. "This song was great when Dylan wrote it and Old Crow played it, but once Darius Rucker flooded the airwaves with his version, all hope was lost."
"Wagon Wheel" was written in 2004 by Old Crow Medicine Show, using bits and pieces from an unfinished Dylan song from 1973 called "Rock Me Mamma." The song is emotional, ragged and boozy and pokes at the imagination ... until Darius Rucker got ahold of it. Rucker softened it, made it chummy and nostalgic, happier and outdoorsy. He made it infectious and accessible for group fun.
"Remember that song 'MMMBop'?" laughed Hilton Head musician Mitch Trupia. "It makes me happy when I hear it. 'Wagon Wheel' is kind of like that."
Trupia is getting ready to headline the CH2 Rocks the Triangle concert on May 8-- which is being presented by Swampfire Records and will benefit the Island Rec Center. He joked it would be "90 minutes of 'Wagon Wheel.'"
"Just to bug John," he laughed. "I can't help myself sometimes."
But really he doesn't hate the song.
"No, I love it. I have mad respect for it," he said. "I wish someone would be annoyed playing one of my songs."
Jevon Daly of the now retired Silicone Sister and of the popular Lowcountry Boil -- which just released its album "Strings & Envy" -- is not short on opinions when it comes to music.
Daly sent me a new song he wrote called "Ease My Mind" and when I asked him a question about it over Facebook chat he wanted to know if I was listening to it right then.
Within seconds a voice message from him popped up and in a boom like that of an angered music god, he said: "LISTENING ON YOUR PHONE OR CRAPPY SPEAKERS IS JUST AS BAD AS PLAYING 'WAGON WHEEL.'"
Daly, who is now 43, has been playing music in the Lowcountry for longer than most of us knew how to find it on a map. In that time he has gone from music absolutism to music relativism.
"Here's the thing about 'Wagon Wheel,'" he said. "It's the new 'Brown-Eyed Girl' or 'American Pie.'"
There was a time when Daly railed against playing the standard covers people gravitate to when they're on vacation, but he's since come around.
"I'm just now becoming more open minded to other people's feelings," he said. "You can't be a snob up on stage."
He and a friend were talking about it and determined that if someone wants a Bud Light, it's not up to the bartender to deny that person the drink he enjoys.
"Twenty years ago when I started playing around here with my parents, I was a kid," he said. People would be like "'Hey man, can you guys play 'Margaritaville' -- it's a song people want to hear when they finally get a week off ... I wish I wrote that!"
"I wish I wrote them all!"
Recently Daly was playing at the Hilton Head Island Westin Resort and Spa when he got a request for "Wagon Wheel."
"What do you when a little 6 year old comes up to you and starts singing along?" he said.