On almost any Saturday night in locations around the world, a bluegrass enthusiast can find a jam session or a concert to attend as a player or fan. Many of these events are sponsored by a local or regional bluegrass society staffed by volunteers for the love of the music. Some of these organizations are large and provide broad and varied programs as well as information about events throughout their region. Others are small, struggling organizations that sponsor a monthly jam session or a small concert, usually featuring a local group that sometimes gets paid. Regardless of size or level of penetration in their area, these societies share certain characteristics. Their function, however, is practically universal – they are committed to supporting and encouraging the spread of bluegrass music.
Typically, a local bluegrass society has a monthly meeting which is open to the public. The evening’s format generally begins in mid-afternoon with a lengthy period of jamming by different groups spread out around a room, building, or parking lot. In the early evening, on stage there is a period when local bands can perform for those in the audience. Sometimes these groups invite players in the audience to join them. Finally, the evening’s formal program is introduced. There may be two or three bands, with each playing one or two sets. If there’s a featured band, it will play two sets. Sometimes the featured band is a recognized regional or national band, usually a little below the first rank. Because there is such a deep well of bluegrass talent abroad in the land, the quality of music coming from the stage is higher than a person new to bluegrass might expect. Dedicated bluegrass pickers and fans know to expect a day of good music from jamming to professional performers.
Let’s take a look at several specific bluegrass societies. The Boston Bluegrass Union stands as the major source of bluegrass information and programming for all of
Bluegrass Australia functions as a coordinating bluegrass and old-time music association for an entire continent.
My first contact with a bluegrass society came when I discovered The Rivertown Bluegrass Society in