OPINIONS FROM THE ROAD
Bluegrass is such an energetic art form but at the dawn of its creation, it was conveyed in such a stoic manner. Bands would stand on stage, not move more than was necessary, keep very serious expressions while wearing matching suits and ties. At that time, bands and musicians were trying to show the general public that the music was sophisticated regardless of its mountain sounds. It was very structured, it had very defined boundaries and walls. They were very deliberate with their storytelling, careful with their jokes and always tried to keep things as professional as possible so that the music could earn the respect it deserved.
While this was a general practice, there has always been those artists who have chosen to do their own thing. Jimmy Martin and his crass storytelling and clothing, John Hartford with his unique personality, Jim & Jesse with their pop-esq songs and vocals…ech chose to forge their own path and give their audience something different. Bluegrass is steeped in traditions that have been passed down from generations and still today you can find bands who still play like the Bluegrass Boys, Stanley Brothers or the Carter Family. Traditions are great, borrowing from someone’s style is flattering but in the end, if you take the stage as a band…you are there to perform.
There are so many pickers who can play note for note the songs from bygone days. You can pass any jam and hear “Blueridge Mountain Home” done just like Lester Flatt used to sing it and there is nothing “wrong” with that but if you take the stage as _______band….you need to perform the song like you. You need to find what makes you different and convey that to the audience.
When you take the stage in the Bluegrass world you are accepting the responsibility to PERFORM your music with people. Danny Roberts (from Grascals fame amount other things) recently said “Sometimes a person’s first exposure to Bluegrass is to see a local Bluegrass band who isn’t practiced or who don’t put on a show and assume that all Bluegrass bands are that way, and they just are not. “ That is why Danny prefers a person’s first experience hearing Bluegrass to be at a festival. That was you ensure (hopefully) that they are experiencing well-practiced musicians who work hard in their performance. If someone enjoys music and sees a good Bluegrass band perform, we know they are going to be hooked.
There are so many factors that contribute to a good performance:
Skill (obviously…but this is not the “end all be all”)
Look (have some self-respect and at least look good. No need to match or anything but at least look like your taking pride in yourself.)
Song Selection (Play a few hits your way to bring them in, then hit them with the originals. That way they have a baseline for what your sound is)
Communication (Nobody comes to a live show to listen to the radio, they come to Experience the music. You need to be able to keep them interested in between songs. They want to hear your stories and be a part of the song. Don’t go overboard here, there can be too much communication.)
Stage Presence (You don’t need to be dancing around all over the place, but people need to know you are enjoying yourself. Smile, interact with your bandmates, get into the song…do whatever it is to give the audience a reason to look up from their phone. If your miserable, they will know)
In the end, you are up there to perform not play. Anyone can play (ok, well probably most people can) but it takes an artist to perform. If you perform well, people will respond accordingly.
Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network
#fbn #floridabluegrassnetwork #bluegrass