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Book Review: Mescalito Riding His White Horse by Mike Fiorito

(2021) John Hunt Publishing

Mike Fiorito's short memoir, Mescalito Riding His White Horse, inspired by Peter Rowan and his musical and spiritual journeys, efficiently packs Fiorito's interviews and personal experiences with Rowan and Fiorito's illusions and visions into fewer than 100 pages. The book's title evolves from Rowan's legendary song, "Panama Red."

Panama red, Panama Red He'll steal your woman, then he'll rob your head Panama red, Panama Red

On his white horse, Mescalito He comes breezin' through town I'll bet your woman's up in bed with Panama Red (Peter Rowan)

Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass, once gave Peter Rowan some advice. "Follow the horse's hooves." The Rowan interviews begin with the Bill Monroe stories. "There's a gallop pace in bluegrass unlike any other form of American music," Monroe explained to Rowan. Bluegrass is hard and fast with rhythm, drive, and harmonies. Rowan left Bill Monroe to "find his own voice," but Rowan would still lean on the lessons Monroe taught him, Fiorito writes.

"Bill taught me that music is very physical, all the way from trance dancing to crowding the microphone to sing a bluegrass duet. And Bill taught me to go for what he called "the ancient tones." (Fiorito 12)

Page after page reveals Rowan's profound spiritual awareness as a Buddhist and the similarities between rural mountain home music and Tibetan music. In his Foreword, Rowan explains the global merging of stories, from the "African griots chanting the genealogies, to the Greek poets singing their epic tales, to the changed lineages of enlightened masters in the vast Himalayas, the blues, bluegrass, and rock and roll here at home, all cultures of our world share the great oral traditions carried like a sacred flame from one encampment to another, sharing." (1)

Rowan illuminates how and why music is a living, breathing, creative element that spiritually moves us, which is why we connect to song mentally, emotionally, and physically. Our musical knowledge expands because Rowan is a master musician who explains it in layperson terms. "Like Tibetan music, bluegrass has a very footsy sound, earthy, and yet with spiritual overtones, both in the straight and sacred songs. They have a kind of longing, a yearning for transcendence." (14)

Fiorito inserts himself into the book not to withdraw readers from his Peter Rowan subject but to expose the author's admiration for and fascination with his subject. In doing so, we, the readers, understand better why he "had" to write this book. It was a spiritual journey—an awakening.

"I dreamed I was Peter, and he was me. We lived each other's lives—every single moment, waking and sleeping. One moment, I was in the car with Bill Monroe driving to a gig."(37)

In Fiorito's last chapter, "The Gourd Really Tied Everything Together," he writes, "The story begins at the end. It is the dream that dreams the dreamer." (81)

Mescalito Riding His White Horse is the perfect read for bluegrass lovers, those familiar and unfamiliar with Peter Rowan's work, and those longing for spiritual sustenance and inspiration.

"…I saw that music was one of the things that made people happy, and I devoted myself to becoming a conduit for music, to be useful somehow. And that has led me on my path. Outwardly, I am an entertainer, shining a light; inwardly, well, the story goes on." Peter Rowan (18)

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