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Bluegrass music / Music reflections / Tunes & songs

Keep on the sunny side, aka The Covid song

This is the first post in what I hope can be a series of posts about tunes and songs that mean something special to me. Grab a cup of coffee or tea or a wee dram or whatever tickles your fancy, and read on.

Have you seen the film “Oh brother, where art thou” from 2000? One of you mentioned in a comment on this blog recently. I’ve seen this film many, many times. I absolutely love it, and discover new details in it every time I see it. This film means a lot to me because it became what inspired me to come back to trying to play music, and to dig into bluegrass more, after a period when I was on a plateau with my playing, for various reasons I had lost inspiration and didn’t know how to get it back. So in many ways, this film could be the reason I play music today.

O brother, where art thou is a comedy and satire that tells the story about three convicts who escape to try to find a treasure they believe is buried in a field that will soon be flooded by a manmade lake. The story takes place in Mississippi in the 1930’s and features social problems of the American south, but it’s also full of hilarious personalities and funny events, and more than anything else there’s lots of great music in it. This film brought bluegrass and old-time music into the spotlight, and many people have discovered these genres because of the film. The soundtrack includes big names like Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, John Hartford, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris and more, and after having seen the film, who doesn’t remember the Soggy Bottom Boys?

After the film was released, there was also a documentary made, with a concert featuring the musicians from the film soundtrack. A friend gave me this concert on DVD in 2003, and it was a precious gift that has inspired me immensely and continues to do so. This music touches my soul so deeply, I can’t explain it really. The sound of acoustic instruments, those haunting melodies and tight harmony singing, along with the real life stories in the songs, it has something special in it and although this tradition is not from my homeland, this music gives me a feeling of home, of belonging, of authenticity. This topic deserves its own blog post… we’ll see about that.

Anyway, this concert, “Down from the mountain”, kicked me off to start engaging more in music. Back then I played the mandolin, and during those years I had gone from playing alone using tune books, to playing some with other people, and to visit bluegrass festivals regularly. Around 2003-2004 I started working more on my playing, which was facilitated also by the internet and mandolin related forum sites.

One song that was brought forward by the film, was “Keep on the sunny side”, a song written in 1899 by Ada Blenkhorn. She was inspired by her son, who was disabled and wanted his wheelchair to be pushed on the sunny side of the street – the song then emerged as a gospel song, to inspire people to see and be thankful for the good things in life, regardless of circumstances. It was first made famous by the Carter family after they recorded it in 1928, and after them, plenty of country and bluegrass artists have done this song. I tried to sing it back then in 2003-2004 but sang it in D, because it’s a good key for the mandolin, but it was a bit too high for me and I eventually put it aside.

When I had started playing the guitar last summer, I took up this song again. With the guitar you can play any key although you know only the G and C scales (I love you, capo!) so now I sing it in C#. Don’t ask what my mandolin playing husband thinks of that! 🤣

Clonakilty
The sunny side of the main street in Clonakilty, West Cork

After a while I started realising how relevant this song is for our time, and how much it expresses the mindset I’ve tried to keep throughout the pandemic. We have this dark Covid threat over us, we don’t know for how long, and it brings a shadow over our lives. But despite this, there are still good things in life and things to be thankful for, and we need to focus on that and enjoy what we can while we wait for better times, because this too will pass.

This song has become my comfort song during this time, and I love to sing it. Sometimes I almost cry when I sing it because it touches me so much, but I still sing it. One evening at our Zoom music session, I told the group about what this song means to me, but it hasn’t been mentioned so much after that.

Then, this week during the music session, one of our friends asked me “Can’t you do the Covid song?” and I had no idea what she was talking about! “What? What Covid song? I have no Covid song!” and she said “Oh yes, you do, Keep on the sunny side!”.

This is truly a Covid song – in the sense that it’s a song with a message that can help you find meaning during the pandemic. Enjoy the song, and have a good weekend!

Keep on the sunny side

There’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side   always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day it will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life

Oh the storm and its fury broke today
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear
The clouds and storm will in time pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior always
To keep us every one in His care

Keep on the sunny side   always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day it will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life

Join the Weekend Coffee Share with Natalie the explorer.

21 Comments

  • Natalie
    21st February 2021 at 12:12 am

    Susanne, The positive message in your post is wonderful. I watched “O brother, where art thou” when it was released to the theatres. Your photo of Cork took me back to the time I had in Cork and other places in Ireland. I was hoping you’d include a clip of you singing “Keep on the sunny side”. It’s such a timeless song since 1899 and the lyrics are simple and hopeful. Thank you for sharing the tunes and songs that mean something special to you and linking with #WeekendCoffeeShare.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      21st February 2021 at 1:09 am

      Oh I know, Natalie! That I should have included a clip of myself singing it… I really wanted to, but didn’t really get the idea for this post until this morning. For another song, I’ll definitely try to do that.

      Reply
  • trent
    21st February 2021 at 1:31 am

    I think I was the one who mentioned O Brother, Where Art Though because you said you liked old time music and it reminded me that they called it “old timey music” in the movie. It is a great movie! one of my favorites. Keep on the Sunny Side is a good one for a feel good song, not matter what key you sing it in 😉 i like the idea of it being your Covid song. Hmm, I’m not sure where my CD for the soundtrack to O Brother is, but I might need to dig it out again…

    Reply
    • Susanne
      21st February 2021 at 1:45 am

      Yes, dig it out! It truly is a wonderful move with such good music!
      I’ve been indulging a lot in old-timey music this week, watching documentaries from the Appalachian and Ozark areas, concerts, workshops and the likes. So my music inspiration had a good boost!

      Reply
  • Antoinette Truglio Martin
    21st February 2021 at 3:39 am

    I’ve that movie on so many levels, one of which is the music.

    Reply
  • Kristin
    22nd February 2021 at 1:04 pm

    I love O Brother! It’s one of my favorite movies and I watch it over and over again. I’m going to geek out a little here. Way back in the early 2000’s I was taking an English Lit course of some sort. One of the things we were supposed to do was watch O Brother and compare it to the Odyssey (which is what the movie is based on). I forget all the comparisons now, but there are a lot of them. One that pops into my mind is the “sirens”.

    I love your photos Susanne! And you blog is very nice! I’m glad you stopped by over on Chicken Librarian. I’ll be following along from now on.

    Take good care
    Kristin

    Reply
    • Susanne
      22nd February 2021 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Kristin! Thank you for your lovely comments about the blog! That sounds like a very interesting assignment, to compare O brother with the Odyssey, must have been fun to do if you like the movie. It certainly is a fantastic movie, we saw it again some month ago but I could happily see it again these days, especially now when I’m sort of crawling out of my shell after some rough times, and I have more music inspiration than ever!

      Reply
      • Kristin
        22nd February 2021 at 1:25 pm

        I got so excited that you mentioned one of my favorite movies that I didn’t even comment on your music! I always wanted to play an instrument (I grew up singing and playing the piano for a brief time. I’ve since forgotten everything that I once knew). And I love bluegrass. I grew up in the south (in Tennessee) so bluegrass is so special to me. And I love that you are challenging yourself and love the same kind of music.

        Reply
        • Susanne
          22nd February 2021 at 1:37 pm

          Oh yes, this guitar project is the best thing I’ve done in a long time and it is by far what has helped me the most to live a good life during the pandemic. And also after the pandemic, it will continue to bring joy. Last night I found info about a flatpicker camp in Nashville. Oh my goodness, I want to go there now…

          Reply
          • Kristin
            23rd February 2021 at 2:26 pm

            oh! The camp sounds dreamy! Good for you for finding something to help get you through the pandemic. I think all I found was food, and an extra 20 pounds. Now I need to find walking and lose those extra 20. hehe.

  • Gary Wilson
    24th February 2021 at 1:09 am

    Well – that was easy. At first I didn’t recognize the song until you reminded me of the words and now I sense I’m going have this on an endless loop in my brain most of the night. It’s a great aid to help with both the covid and political malaise we’re all going through. Thanks for bring it to mind Susanne.
    Blessings.

    Reply
  • Deanna
    24th February 2021 at 6:23 pm

    I feel there is always a sunny side and I always try to find it. Of course I may take a minute to say Woe is Me, but then I try to look for the good parts of the situation. Sometimes that is all you can do.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      25th February 2021 at 11:18 pm

      That’s a good mindset to have, Deanna, and I try to follow it too. In the current situation that’s definitely all you can do, and especially for living a good life despite all the bad stuff going on.

      Reply
  • Dasynka
    28th February 2021 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve never seen this movie, but this song is simply amazing. You spread a beautiful message. Thank you for your light 🙂 wish you the best.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      28th February 2021 at 8:38 pm

      Thank you! The movie is available on Netflix (possibly depending on your country) if you want to see it, and of course I totally recommend it!

      Reply
  • Writing Sparkle
    28th February 2021 at 9:53 pm

    I am embarrassed to say that I am not familiar with the movie, but I am going to have to check it out. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      28th February 2021 at 9:56 pm

      It’s about time then! It’s very enjoyable. Thanks for visiting!

      Reply
  • Kadie
    6th March 2021 at 3:49 am

    I love O brother, where art thou and so does my husband, one of our favourite movies. I really love Keep on the Sunny Side as well though I haven’t heard it in a while (or watched O brother, where art thou for that matter). It’s such a beautiful song and something I was really happy to listen to! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      7th March 2021 at 8:55 pm

      I’m glad to hear you like the film too and that the song cheered you up!

      Reply
  • Anne
    9th March 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Susanne, what a lovely post. Isn’t it fun how unexpected sources of inspiration can change our lives? That this movie – and Keep on the Sunny Side – got you back into music, and have helped you navigate COVID, is no small thing! Art, and music especially, has such power.

    I regret to say that I have never seen O Brother… despite my love of bluegrass and music in general. (I don’t tend to watch movies anyway… so it probably fell victim to that as much as anything.) Now, though, I believe I shall go hunt up the soundtrack to have as the background for some of my mornings.

    Hope you are well and safe. Take care,
    Anne

    Reply
    • Susanne
      9th March 2021 at 10:42 pm

      Yes, I can totally recommend getting the soundtrack, it’s wonderful!
      I totally agree that music is powerful… it seems to reach parts of your mind/brain that other things do not. To me, music has always been a way to touch me, provoke thoughts and feelings, more than anything else.

      Reply

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