Tradition vs Change

It is amazing how one word can cause so many conflicting feelings in so many different walks of people. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, hate, anger…but also joy, anticipation, vindication and……HOPE….all from one word: Change

As a people we attach a personal preference to everything; You like your coffee a certain way, your prefer a certain uniform your ball team wears, your prefer one season over another but regardless of what your “Preference” is on any one thing, change rarely seems to listen. We grow accustomed to a way something is and any change to that is nearly always met with trepidation and skepticism. Even if such change is brought about with the best intentions, masses of people will always prefer It the old way.

We all have our “Traditions”….they make us comfortable, they give us a secure feeling, they cause us to reminisce on a “better” time (regardless of how shaded our rose colored glasses may be). Change in itself, is the kryptonite of Traditions.

When you are a Bluegrass fan, change can be especially troubling because of how much our music is based of traditions. The first generation of this music crafted traditions so strong that their songs, feelings and ideas have stood the test of time and can be experienced across the world in nearly the same manner they were in the 30’s and 40’s.

While many of our traditions still are palpable in today’s Bluegrass, change has effected it and that is nothing new to the music. Since the very beginning, change has molded the music even more than it’s Traditions. Bill Monroe changed the musicians (and instruments) around in his earliest “Bluegrass Boys” lineups until the lineup with Earl and Lester fell into place. People tend to think this was set in stone at Bluegrass’ conception, but even the great Bill Monroe had to change things to make it work for him.

Lester & Earl formed Flatt & Scruggs shortly after that and again things changed. The high vocal parts were replaced with a mellower feel and the Dorbo was featured (which Monroe hated). Flatt & Scruggs also focused more on getting Bluegrass into venues that raised the awareness of the music across the country. Their show, combined with their more tame vocal combinations (some people don’t like the high lonesome feel) brought in even more fans and grew the music.

Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers, JD Crowe, The Osborne Brothers, Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene, Tony Rice, Newgrass Revival and so many other acts through the 70s, 80s and 90s changed the music in their own way. The music you hear today, even by the more traditional bands is a far cry from those early Bluegrass Boy Opry Days.

The music changed, because it had to. Music is an interpretation of an art, each person hears it differently, each person feels it differently, each artist makes it differently and in the end, that is the only think that keeps any music ALIVE.

If Bluegrass was only done “The Bill Monroe” way…it would no longer exsist. It would have died off years ago if we would not have allowed artists to interpret the music their way and create their own sound. Blue Highway, Balsam Range, Rhonda Vincent and so many of today’s premier acts have taken those traditions and changed them, added to them, evolved them and have kept the music vibrant and strong.

Another way to look at this is as a gene pool; if everyone was the same and didn’t add their own unique genes into the mix, the species would die out. Some genes are carried on, some are dormant. Some cause Blue Eyes, some cause abnormally tall people…but again that is what makes our society survive and adapt to an ever changing world.

That is why I cringe every time I hear “Nobody Plays Truegrass anymore” or someone is keeping “Real Bluegrass” alive….

Do you feel like the bands/artists further away from the center line are doing less for the music? For every fan a “TrueGrass” band makes at their gig, a “Non-truegrass” band makes just as many and often times many more because of their appeal to a wider audience.

Do you feel like because your “preference” for the music isn’t the most popular anymore that the music is “Dying”? There are dozens if not hundreds of Bluegrass events across the world that do not tailor to just “True-Grass” that are hugely successful bringing in a new wave of fans and a new age of pickers into the mix.

Do you feel like the “Monroe Doctrine” is the only way to go? Flatt & Scruggs, John Hartford, and Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out would probably disagree with you.

I have my own preferences. I have my own rotation of artists, albums and songs I prefer over others but I understand that my choices and traditions aren’t “Right” or “Wrong” they are just what they are…choices.

We as a Bluegrass community need to do a better job of supporting all the different veins off the “Bill Monroe” river and encourage anyone who is bringing in new people to our music. We need to stop being scared of change and clinging to our traditions so hard because we are strangling the thing we love most in the process and if the music ever does “die” it will be from that and nothing else.

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