“One of the things that sets us apart from other animals is that we perform and treasure music,” Kevin Jones says, speaking as an expert in both anthropology and music. “All cultures have music, and it is somehow related to the deepest parts of us as humans.”
The former state archeologist has seen and felt the sentiment that he speaks of in the remote jungles of South America—and also weekly in the capital of Utah. That feeling and, more importantly, the connection that music affords, is why he became an officer and board member of the Intermountain Acoustic Music Association more than a decade ago.
IAMA fosters acoustic music in a variety of forms—bluegrass, Celtic, blues, etc.—with a mission to “introduce people to the beauty and wonder of local acoustic musicians,” Jones says.
To that end, the nonprofit, all-volunteer- run organization hosts monthly local-music showcases, along with monthly jams, the annual IAMA Folk & Bluegrass Festival and, coming up in April, the second-annual IAMMYs award ceremony.
“I don’t think a lot of folks recognize that music comes from people,” Jones says. “[They might think] it comes over the Internet or from a CD. We’re just dissociated from normal people, your neighbor, who makes music. That’s something that’s enriching for people—especially kids—to know.”
Jones’ road to being an acoustic musician—the mandolin player for Salt Lake City-based bluegrass band The Lab Dogs for more than five years—is an interesting one. Jones learned the mandolin as a child but was more attracted to the electric guitar growing up and through college. A car accident in Paraguay while he was working on his dissertation left his right hand crippled. He would try to put putty between his remaining fingers and his pick for grip to play, but it didn’t work. So, he more or less let his music playing go.
After Jones brought his son, Nick, then 9, to a Hot Rize concert, Nick expressed interest in playing the mandolin. Jones obliged and, in the process of teaching his son to play, realized that picking a mandolin with his hand was easier than guitar. It reopened the music gates for him, a third-generation mandolin player (his son still plays as well). “It’s sort of genetic,” Jones says.
Jones still gets his rock kicks out with Hammerstone, a group comprised of a bunch of archeologists, who have just one gig every two years—at the Great Basin Anthropological Conference.
Jones used his archeology savvy to write The Shrinking Jungle (2012), a novel based on his fieldwork in the ’70s in Paraguay studying the Aché tribe. And being in remote places isn’t something that he really ventured away from—in fact, it’s nourished his life in certain ways.
As the state archeologist of Utah, Jones would go on excavations and perform surveys—basically, safeguard important archeological sites. He fondly talks about those nights sitting around a campfire with instruments, with folks playing and singing. “It’s a primordial experience that probably goes back hundreds of thousands of years,” he says.
“The calming effect, the security, the warmth [of the fire] and the sharing of music—that’s an assertion of humanity,” Jones continues. “That’s probably more of an affirmation of who we are more than anything else that we do.”
Jones sees his role as the IAMA president over the past year and a half (he was vice president for more than a decade before) as that of a musical ambassador, one who tries to break down musical barriers, educate people and inspire them to want to play or, at a minimum, connect to the music community.
“I don’t think anyone can really tell you why music resonates with them—I don’t think any of us know, even the people that study music—but something happens when we listen to music,” Jones says. “It reaches deep inside us. I think it’s uplifting and moving. It reaches right to our emotional core.”
Kevin Jones' iPod Picks:
The Lab Dogs, “Ancient Places,” Ancient Places
“Ancient Places” is a song that I wrote and recorded with my band The Lab Dogs. The song reflects my relationship with archaeological sites I have studied throughout my career.
Prince & the Revolution, “Purple Rain,” Purple Rain
I had a cassette with the album Purple Rain with me when I lived in the wilds of Paraguay studying the hunting & gathering people the Aché. Every time I hear a song from this great album, I am instantly transported back to the jungle.
Doc Watson, “Deep River Blues,” Doc Watson
“Deep River Blues” is one of a number of songs played by Doc Watson that really touched me as a young music lover and guitar player. This song, as much as any other, influenced me to learn to play the guitar.
Chris Thile & Michael Daves, “Sleep With One Eye Open,” Sleep With One Eye Open
Chris Thile and Michael Daves are two fantastic musicians who bring great excitement and new life to classic bluegrass and old-time tunes. Sleep With One Eye Open is one of my favorite albums of the past few years.
Bill Monroe, “Jerusalem Ridge,” The Weary Traveler
Having invented bluegrass, Bill Monroe is one of the great musical innovators of the 20th century. His fiddle/mandolin tune “Jerusalem Ridge” is a masterpiece; I think it is one of the finest musical compositions I have ever heard.