Three River Revival: Traveling

Something deeply embedded in American culture is the movement of people, traveling. The history of our families and forbearers is emigration, riding the railroad, vacations, road trips, going to college. Furthermore, it’s extremely prominent in storytelling and music tradition.

One of the earliest tunes in American music is the “The Wayfaring Stranger.” Not surprisingly for the early 19th century America, it is a Christian spiritual. The singer is the “poor wayfaring stranger” wandering through this world in search of a heavenly home.

This song is still reordered and fairly popular after nearly two centuries of song writing. Rather than being a joyous religious song, it’s slow and somber. The hardship of traveling overshadows the happiness of religious salvation. What’s reflected is how “home” is a place people long for, especially while traveling in the unfamiliar. This song still resonates because this dichotomy of the happy home vs. the strange world still has lived on through every generation of people.

Much of our western cannon of storytelling from Homer’s Odyssey to AMC’s The Walking Dead are stories centered on people traveling. Our most entertaining stories when we return to our families during the holidays are recounting where we’ve been and what we’ve done.

That said, for all the blue traveling songs there are as many that capture the adventure of living on the road. In American culture you’ll find legends, like the cowboy, immortalized for their work. Musicians are prime examples travelers, particularly when your livelihood depends on touring. One of the better and more famous examples is “Jack Straw” by the roots-inspired Grateful Dead. The song encompasses is a story of survival on the road but the song could be about anyone traveling the road. And finally, there are some who are just not content to sit around so they finally up and move.