I come to bluegrass music late in life. I should say “we” because my wife Irene is a part of this story as we share a love for the music and have invested a significant portion of our recent life in it. Nevertheless, as in many other aspects of our life, we come at the music from different perspectives and value it in different ways. Although we have listened to country music for years, we came to bluegrass at Merlefest in 2003. The initial performers who blew us away were people like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At this first festival, we also heard Del McCoury and Doyle Lawson. Not a bad way to be introduced to the music. Since then, we’ve become increasingly involved in the music, as listeners and then in the slow process of trying to learn to play bluegrass instruments. At festivals and concerts we have been introduced to the wide variety of kinds of music that come, at least peripherally, under the umbrella of bluegrass. We’ve also seen the stresses and strains that exist in the different strands the music has taken.
I come to bluegrass with a musical taste informed by the folk music of Burl Ives, Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Oscar Brand, The Kingston Trio, The Limelighters, the Chad Mitchel Trio and many more individuals and groups who emerged during the folk revival of the fifties and sixties. In my home, as a child, were the Sea Chanties of the Almanac Singers, a group I only learned as an adult included Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Paul Robson, both for Ballad for Americans and his other singing rings through my memory. As a young adult my music was dominated by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and other Pop/Jazz singers. Rock music somehow pretty well passed my by until middle age.
Neil Rosenberg’s seminal book Bluegrass: A History, first published in 1985 by the
Beginning with an extensive discussion of Bill Monroe and his development of a particular sound as well as the transmogrification of the name of his group, The Blue Grass Boys, into a specific musical genre called bluegrass;
With the coming of the folk revival and rock and roll in the late fifties and sixties, the music industry was challenged in all forms including bluegrass. New influences and sounds were developed, some coming into bluegrass and others being rejected. Often the musicians were more willing to change than were the fans, both rural adherents and urban newcomers attracted by this driving folk-like country music. With the advent, at first, of groups like the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene and later the New Grass Revival and other groups, the influence of folk and rock moved into bluegrass changing the music and causing a split between fans of “traditional” and “progressive” bluegrass. While much that this new movement brought to bluegrass moved from being radical change to being an integral part of the music, such change happened slowly, and bluegrass fans remain conservative, only accepting changes in bluegrass slowly, if at all. This can particularly be seen today in the bluegrass festivals of
The festival scene became established as a way for bluegrass fans, whom Rosenberg characterizes as being so committed to the music that they became “believers,” to perform the music themselves in parking lot and campsite jams as well as to interact with the performers in relatively informal settings. Festivals proliferated throughout the decades of the seventies and eighties. Today hundred exist along the eastern seaboard and in