“First, do no harm”
Since the 30’s and 40’s Bluegrass has grown from seemingly ones man’s idea about how to present the old time mountain music in Appalachia to today where it’s an international music loved and performed by folks from around the globe, most of which couldn’t point out Rosine, KY on a map. There are massive festivals across the world celebrating weeks in each instance dedicated to the love of the Bluegrass sound. In America, there are hundreds of Bluegrass Music associations dedicated to the music’s survival and heritage spanning every state of the union.
While the music is prospering in many places around the world, there are some areas where the music is drying up. The festivals are shuttering their doors, associations are folding, bands are disappearing, and the culture in those areas is drying up like a puddle in a drought. While this is not un-common in any music (ebb and flows are the nature of music) there are plenty of causations you can point to. Cultures in general change, popular culture changes what people place value on, geographical population changes effect audiences, age demographics change for an area (are you seeing a pattern yet?)….plus about a hundred other things effect the health of the music in any given area….but the thing that controls it the most, and is the most helpful/harmful is…..its current care-takers. Associations, Promoters, Bands, and fans have such a huge impact on Bluegrass music and that can be a positive at times….and at others it can be a HUGE negative.
Change is inevitable
Nothing is constant but change, and in the business world (like the music world) you adapt or you die. The music has changed, it has been woven into American culture and like most items of this nature it has been adjusted somewhat depending on who is consuming this culture. They have made it their own and in most cases it isn’t “Bill Monroe 1-4-5 Only” now. Bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, New Grass Revival, Billy Strings and so many more bands over the years have pushed the envelope of Bluegrass and grown the music while simultaneously fueling a war…..
The Battle for “Bluegrass”
Some of the care takers of Bluegrass (mentioned above as Associations, Promoters, Bands and Fans) have been waging a constant war with their own music since the music began. “That’s Not Bluegrass” has become their rallying cry, and it has been heard from the hills of Tennessee all the way to Japan. While in places of Bluegrass influence, this faction of caretakers have been alienating moderate and progressive opinions and holding so tightly to the “Standards of Bluegrass” that they don’t realize what they are doing is choking the life out of the music they love. They push away the next generations of Bluegrass people (caretakers) in an futile attempt to take a time machine back to The Bluegrass Boys stepping on stage at the Opry. This alienation, and segregation is causing the Bluegrass gene pool in their respective areas to dry up…which is why so many “Strictly Bluegrass” events, associations and more are gone.
How do we end the war?
We have to realize that change is inevitable and if we would like our musical legacy to carry on realize one thing….IT IS! There are still way more traditional Bluegrass bands across the genre than there are “The Sierra Hull’s” of our music (fyi I LOVE Sierra) and that traditional Monroe, Stanley, Martin sound is still being carried on the backs of so many young musicians. The only way to “Carry the Tradition” (Like LRB so eloquently put it) is to make sure there are still young people to Carry that tradition with them in and around the music. We need to start making more young people feel welcome at Bluegrass events. Encourage youths to play whatever Bluegrass song/style feel right for them. Heap the Bluegrass traditions onto them while they are learning and let them meld that into their sound. We need to support youth programs and ANY Bluegrass event brining in Young People. Also, don’t be scared to have non-Bluegrass acts at your events….Its a fact that most people love Bluegrass after seeing it live and the people who come out to see that non-Bluegrass fan might be the difference between Bluegrass living on into the future and all of our musical for-fathers effort being for not.
If you “LOVE BLUEGRASS” please do not be one of the people not letting it breathe.