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North Carolina songwriter reinvents old-time music
Musician Jonathan Byrd will perform Saturday at The Crimson Moon Cafe. - photo by For The Times

0701BYRD Wild Ponies

Listen to Jonathan Byrd sing "Wild Ponies" from the album "Live at the Saxon Pub."

Jonathan Byrd
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Crimson Moon Café, 24 N. Park St., Dahlonega
How much: $14 in advance; $16 day of show
More info: 706-864-3982

Does Jonathan Byrd play folk music? Is it bluegrass or Americana? Though it may have roots in those genres, Byrd defines his style much more specifically.

"I am a North Carolina flat picker and a Texas songwriter," said Byrd, who will perform Saturday at The Crimson Moon Café in Dahlonega.

Influenced by pickers like Doc Watson, Tony Rice and Norman Blake, Byrd, a North Carolina native who still lives in Chapel Hill, said he started out in a very different musical world before he discovered old time music through a friend.

"I played rock ’n’ roll," he said. "I played really loud music, and when I started playing old time, somebody gave me an acoustic guitar and I didn’t really know what I was doing with it.

"Then a friend of mine who I played music with invited me to an old time festival and it just struck me as another form of rock ’n’ roll, but you could play it without carrying a bunch of equipment."

Byrd said he liked the repetitive style of old time.

"It really is like a hard core kind of music, and I really took to it. I just loved it," he said. "I started writing songs in that style so that I could keep playing that style."

Byrd wanted to give old time players a new repertoire to choose from.

"They play the same songs over and over again. That’s part of the scene," he said. "Everybody knows a similar repertoire, so when people get together, they don’t even have to know each other. They can play together."

Byrd’s first visit to the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2002, an 18-day songwriting festival in Kerrville, Texas, began his journey as an old time songwriter.

"Texas has a long history and a deep culture of songwriting," he said.

Byrd’s songwriting influences include Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, The Everly Brothers and Lyle Lovett.

Songs like "The Law and the Lonesome," a selection from his most recent album of the same name, display Byrd’s ability to strike a haunting new chord with an old style: "You took the wrong way home/With the wrath of the law and the lonesome above you/And all those who love you behind."

On the same album, the upbeat "Chicken Wire" blends clever new lyrics with old time fiddle and banjo.

"Chicken wire lets the sun shine through/Ain’t much to look at, but it’ll have to do/My old hen, she got a roaming eye/I guess I need a little chicken wire"

The Crimson Moon’s intimate setting, Byrd said, is a perfect venue for his style of music.

"It’s awesome. It’s great," he said. "It’s a listening room. It’s not a room where people go to talk and socialize, and there’s sort of a human jukebox in the corner. It’s not that kind of place."

The closeness to the audience is a complement to his storytelling style, he added.

"As an acoustic musician and as a storyteller, I can exercise subtlety that, otherwise, there wouldn’t be," said Byrd. "When people come there for dinner and they sit down and watch the show, the connection between me and them is really intimate.

"I’m talking to somebody not more than 10 feet away from me when I’m telling these stories."

If you come to the concert, Byrd said you’ll hear songs drawn from stories of his own life — but in a neater package.

"More and more, even if I’m writing from personal experience, it becomes fictionalized," he said. "Fiction has a way of being more concise than the truth."

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