The Devil & Michael Cleveland


So get this:
The Devil goes down to Georgia, announces that he will eat all the children one by one unless a man can beat him in a fiddle contest. Now Georgia, as I’m sure you know, has had a plethora of able fiddlers over the years, and as you could guess there were quite a handful lining up to keep old Goathead at bay. But then our Clovenhoofed Cavalier informed the assembled fiddlers of an extra condition of his challenge. If they should lose, not only would he eat all the children, but he would also make the loser blind, fat, and crass; no woman would ever love them. And, almost as an afterthought, the genial Prince of Darkness declared that if any fool should face him and win, he would bestow upon the winner a 5-string fiddle and initiate that fiddlin’ fool into the Ancient Mysterious Arcanum of Fierceome Fiddling, as revealed to Mr. Paganini, Hardänger, Diotti, Sándor Lakatos and Scotty Stoneman — and, as an added benefit, the young initiate would even get to keep his soul. And, since it was to show off to women that all of the fiddlers had developed such hot chops in the first place… they all backed down.

Well, all except 1. There was a young boy present, about 12 years of age, stocky, pudgy, with a squint in his eye and a hitch in his step. Even though he was always teased and picked on by the other kids, he couldn’t bear the thought of them getting swallowed by some big Pointy-Taled Pook. He even played a little fiddle; he’d been practicing for the school talent show. And, hearing of the Evil One’s challenge, this little boy thought to himself, “Well, shucks. I dun have nuthin’ to lose either way, an ah stand to profit a neat ol’ 5-string outa thuh bargain.”

So the contest was held, and since you haven’t heard of any Georgian pedovorian travesties, you can guess who came out on top. The sad fact was, try as he might (and he mightily did) old Beelzebub didn’t stand much of a chance. And to add a pinch of manure on the pile of defeat, when our Vociferous Villain prepared to initiate young Michael of Cleveland, the lad denied, having already inherited the soul of Scotty the Stone Man and old St. Nicolo. Our pious protector did, however, take the Demon up on his offer of a 5-string fiddle. Our Red-Horned Bogieman presented young Michael with the ancient Fiddle of Souls, strung with the strings of pity, of hope, of love, of joy, of death.

Not only was young Michael of Cleveland the only person in history to ever own this fiddle who did not have to give up his soul in exchange for it, but our unnasuming lad was also the only person humble enough to wield such a mighty instrument safely. Head held high aloft his pudgy neck-chin, he returned to his village, past the saved and ingrateful children, and entered into the school talent show. I need not tell you what a magnificent performance he delivered therein: the audience was transfixed and transported to realms eternal for the entire duration of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But in the end, the school’s prize went to little Priscilla for her recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” which included synchronized courtseys and headbobs.

Though not prone to jealousy, our young hero was not stupid either. He could see a path splitting in front of him – a choice of futures – and so naturally he chose the one where he could be of best use, most appreciated and partake in the greatest qualities of life. So he walked out of the school, walked to a crossroads in the middle of the night, and called out to the Ghastly Goat-Man to come. And ever after, they have enjoyed one anothers’ company, Luciferically inducing the more weakwilled of the human class to drink, dance, stand slackjawed and generally have a good time, outside the confines of Mary’s Little Flock.

How’s that for an off-the-cuff legend?

I just discovered this guy today, when my dad sent me an email about him. Here’s what the Old Man said about Michael Cleveland:

He’s late 20’s, short, blind, pudgy, ugly with a cleft palate/hairlip, very nice guy, and a MONSTER on the fiddle. He’s been a sideman for well-known BG singers until the last couple of years, but now he’s the bandleader, he seems to enjoy it and he really leans into it, with a near-violence that hasn’t been seen, as far as I know, since Scottie Stoneman. He plays a 5-string fiddle, and his first set, first tune he BROKE a string, with his bowing………………

Enjoy this Devilish auditory car accident:
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper – Lee Highway Blues

I really like how the word “Flamekeeper” means both the carrier of a tradition and a vessel to contain something REALLY HOT. Well named, guys.

This entry was posted in bluegrass, fiddle, video. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Devil & Michael Cleveland

  1. boyhowdy says:

    I was at that show in the video — and was there at the fest to see him last year, too. AMAZING stuff, and his band’s balance behind him is ever-improving.

  2. yeah, you’d have to be pretty good just to play boom-chick behind that guy, and more importantly, know when to get out of his way.just discovered your cover lay down blog two days ago. nice work

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