How to “Bluegrass” during a Pandemic

How to “Bluegrass” during a Pandemic

2020 has been a unique year to say the least. The world as a whole has been dealing with so many anomalies and hardships that COVID-19 has enhanced tenfold changing our lives and how we live them. Bluegrass has been just as hard hit as everything else, causing the vast majority of festivals across the country from March through August to be canceled and folks making a living in the business being the hardest hit.

Nobody knows when the virus will go away, even if the vaccine come out in late 2020 we may not see the end of the pandemic for many months. What has been done is done at this point so let us look forward to how we can get back to Bluegrass. Many folks are done with being trapped inside their homes and are pushing for a change to get some semblance of normalcy back into existence.  Let’s talk about some ways that everyone can get safely back to Bluegrass.

Personal Freedom

Before we get too deep into what steps each of us CAN take, lets quickly discuss personal freedom. COVID-19 is real, and its dangerous but just because you want to take certain measures, doesn’t mean everyone else has to as well. Keep in mind, you as a normal citizen are not going to mandate actions of other citizens just because your opinion of the situation is different.

As it applies to Bluegrass in this discussion just keep in mind: IF YOU DON’T FEEL SAFE, STAY HOME OR TAKE WHAT EVER MEASURES YOU MUST PERSONALLY TO FEEL SAFE. Your Personal Freedom does not take precedence over other’s Personal freedom.

Social Distance

Luckily most Florida Bluegrass events are outdoors, which makes it much easier to maintain space. Some social distancing guidelines already apply to these venues, but you can chose to exceed those guidelines. Find yourself a space away from folks where you can still enjoy the show. It would be best for you to call the venue ahead of time and see what Social Distance options are available to you (I suggest investing in a 10×10 pop-up tent so you can have cover from the ever changing Florida weather if the venue permits)

Live Streaming

Some folks just can’t come out to events yet and that is understandable. Luckily the Bluegrass as an industry has been trouble shooting this problem for months now and many venues have started to offer a Live Streaming option to the show to give folks their Bluegrass fix. Most of these streams are done via Facebook or Youtube and can be played on any device including a Smart TV. Reach out to the people running the Bluegrass event you would like to watch to see if there is a Live Streaming option and they should be able to walk you through how to best view the stream.

Radio Simulcast at the Festival

Want to get out of the house, but not get around too many people? Camping at a festival but listening to the show on local simulcast might be an option. Many of today’s Bluegrass festivals broadcast the show on a local radio frequency so that folks who might be less mobile than others can still hear the show from their camper. If you have internet access, Live Streaming might also be an option from the festival as well. You can reach out to the festival promoter ahead of time to see if there is a Radio Simulcast option before you make the trek.

Masks, hand sanitizer and other measures

If a venue doesn’t have a mask mandate, doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to wear one. Just because others are hugging and touching, doesn’t mean you can’t give an air-fist bump. There are many extra measures you can take to get to your level of comfort including hand sanitizer, spraying Lysol on your seats, sitting spaced out from others and much more.

Be aware and do what you think is best

In the end, even the “Experts” are making educated guesses during this pandemic so it’s really hard to say “Do _________ and you will be safe” for any situation. You need to do make decisions on your Bluegrass event involvement based on what is best for you personally and try to keep others in mind as well. There is no “One Size Fits All” measure out there, but please be courteous to others when you are figuring out what works for you.

There are been many successful Bluegrass festivals in just the past few months that haven’t resulting in any COVID spikes or any other negative fallout. SamJam, The Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver festival, SOS Lincolnton and many more! They took measures and allowed folks to do what was best for themselves.

This is going to be a long road back to “Normal” and each person is going to have to decide what their own speed limit is.



(Before I continue I am not condemning any current or former promoters. This is about the Florida Bluegrass Culture)

We had the opportunity and momentum to set the course for Bluegrass in the state for generations, yet we seem to only care about one generation.

We have had a rich history of Bluegrass music in the state for generations, with many of the top industry headliners making the state their winter stomping grounds but now it does seem like the state’s former glory is getting closer to some waterfall-like precipice.

(I know this is going to be an odd way of telling this timeline, but you will understand why)

The State of Florida Bluegrass Today

The sheer number of Bluegrass festivals has dropped drastically over the last two decades with many of our historical festivals either fading into history altogether or being supported by a small contingent and being operated as a shadow of its former self.

Where there used to be massive lines of RVs and campers vying for the venue’s spaces and overflow, now most festivals struggle to even fill their powered sites. The “Bluegrass Circuit” in Florida that used to take folks and their RVs from festival to festival not missing a beat all winter has now become a story we tell the younger generation. Even with social media, easier access to the music, and the “Brother Where Art Thou” shot in the arm, it seems harder and harder each year to pull in a crowd large enough to break even on the cost of putting a festival on. The crowd that is a staple of the Florida Bluegrass festival is a far cry different from those in the 70s and 80s, even though many of them are the same people.

The festivals themselves have changed. It’s much rarer today to see jams now than it was even in the 90s and those jams in Florida end about midnight where their predecessors often saw the sunrise before cases were put away. (Personally, in the last calendar year I have had people complain about my jams at 5 different festivals, once even storming into our campsite and screaming in my face. None of those jams went past midnight or had anyone drunk or rowdy…I just wasn’t in bed by 10 pm). Folks constantly cold shoulder younger pickers at festivals and don’t invite them into their jams. They seem to see them as some kind of threat or just assume they don’t like the “Classics” and kind of blackball anyone under 30 (I HAVE SEEN THIS HAPPEN FIRST HAND). The most progressive songs you are allowed to play at LRB and Blue Highway songs from the 90s and they better not have more than 4 chords. There is no “improvising” or “learning on the fly” anymore just the same songs, in different keys using the same licks.

Nearly all the Bluegrass venues stick to a strict No-Alcohol policy forcing those who do enjoy a drink during their recreation time to either abstained, hide their beverage, or take other measures. Folks get their assigned seats (no first-come), sussh folks for talking or being too rowdy, and are in bed just after the stage show is over (and it better end by 10 pm, or they will pitch a fit)

Because we have chased the fun-loving, jamming, youthful generations away, promoters have all but had to cater their festivals to this “60s, 70s, and 80s” age group in order to stay afloat. All the Bluegrass MUST be “Traditional” people cant move around the stage, cant play any percussion, no “hippie bands”, the sound cant be too loud… I missing anything???…O-yes…defiantly no dancing!!! Florida Bluegrass is becoming “The Fun Police”

How much longer do you think Florida Festivals will survive only catering to folks in their 60s, 70s, and 80s? How do you see Bluegrass in Florida 10 years from now? 20?

If I was a promoter, I would honestly be frightened…This path we are driving doesn’t seem to have a light at the end of the tunnel…..

Florida Bluegrass in its “Hayday”

To understand how we got to today, you must look back at the ’70s in Florida. Bluegrass was starting to spark and catch fire in the state. Large Bluegrass festivals and associations were sprouting up all across the sunshine state, and folks couldn’t get enough of that festival lifestyle. Even monthly festivals in a place as urban as Miami was pulling in thousands each first Sunday. Bands and fans alike were starting to ride the “Florida Bluegrass Circuit” going from festival to festival which seemed to happen nearly every weekend. There was so much innovation, folks were creating bands, songs, and traditions seemingly out of midair, and what I call “The Florida Bluegrass Boom” happened.

Promoters and associations were so excited about this boom that they latched on with both hands and started to ride this generation of Bluegrass excitement into the 80s and 90s, holding tight to the methods and traditions of that 70s Bluegrass boom. They decided that that generation was the standard, and all other things after would be judged against that. As those 20-somethings from the 70s started to get older, Florida Bluegrass got older with them. Instead of evolving with the next generations as most music and cultures did, they decided that they would hold onto “The Bluegrass Boom” and keep the Traditions started only a few generations ago by the 20-somethings in the 70s who were now getting closer to their 50s.

In the early 2000s, there were still plenty of festivals going strong, but you could start to see a change. You could blame economics, demographics, or strict traditions but one thing was for sure Bluegrass wasn’t getting healthier…crowds were getting smaller, venues were becoming stricter with alcohol and other “no-Fun” policies and things just started to shift to make these events more somber. You started to see less and less young folks hanging around, even children of long time Bluegrassers in the state started opting to go to other music and hobbies instead of picking up the torch.

As we get to the present day, folks have started to wonder if we have hit some wall at the end of the line that there is no turning back from…..

That is not the case!

Is it fixable?

Bluegrass Music is alive and well across the country. In rural areas, in cities, in northern states, in southern states, out west, east, and everywhere else you will find Bluegrass thriving. Greyfox pulls in tens of thousands of people each year in New York, Charm City Bluegrass keeps getting bigger each year, Rocky Grass has become a behemoth out in Colorado and even Ohio has such a Bluegrass following and tradition that they are actually starting new festivals even now in this time of COVID! We aren’t talking anemic, barely surviving festivals….we are talking money makers and music culture spreaders. Festivals which have hundreds of children, teens, and 20-somethings mixed in with the prior generations…..BLUEGRASS ISNT DYING….Florida “BOOM” Bluegrass is!!!

How We Fix It!

Like any change, this is going to hurt a little….or at least be a little uncomfortable. This will be especially hard on the “Bluegrass Boom” generation but in the end….don’t you want to leave something behind?

Here are some suggested steps from myself and other industry people:

  1. Get ready to suffer a little: Promoters and Associations have relied on the “Bluegrass Boom” generation as their safety net for so long, that it is inevitable that business might hurt a little while you transition.
  2.  Youth Outreach: You need to start programs, grants, and do anything you can to foster young people at your event. The more they are around “FUN” Bluegrass, the more likely they are to keep coming back.
  3. Youth Opinions: It is a smart idea to add youth positions to any board or focus group used in the planning of festivals in events. No matter how “Tuned In” you think you might be, if you are over 30 years old, you are not.
  4. Plan your operation around the younger crowd:
    1. Do away with reserved seating, you want the more animated people (and those are who get there early to get a seat) upfront.
    1. Set aside a section up front for standing/dancing. Some folks enjoy being able to get close up and move around.
    1. Don’t be so strict on drinking alcohol. People are there to have fun, it’s not a funeral. I have been to dozens of festivals that allow/sell alcohol and I have never seen any problems.
    1. Foster progressive or “MASH” jams. Have some of your artists wade into the jams too to help get that new school jam feel.
    1. Book at least one “Progressive band” per day at your festival. It’s easier to ease folks into it, and usually, it will grow on them.  
    1. Reach out to local music teachers/facilities to see if you can bring in younger pickers.
    1. Anyone under 18 should be free to get in. You want the young people there, and you don’t want to give their parents any excuse to leave them home. This is a win-win for you!!!
    1. Have a quiet camping section at your festival. Some folks will still only be there to watch the show and won’t want to be kept up late. Set up a section in the camping area at your venue for these folks to be at and make sure everyone knows about the sound curfew in that section.
  5. Be patient: It took generations to create this problem in Florida and it will take some years to reverse it. Stick to your guns and it will be a net-positive thing for you in the long run if your goal is to be supporting the music in the next generations.

We failed Bluegrass in Florida, but there is still time for a makeup test before the final grade is written in!


If you are too good to practice, raise your hand….



We are talking about Practice???

Yes, we are going to talk about practice.

No matter your skill level, experience level or age practice is the only way you will learn new material, learn a new instrument, retain the skills you have already learned and/or progress your music theory firsthand knowledge.

Think of an NFL QB who just won a super bowl the year before…They are at the top of their game, champions of the world…do you think they stop practicing? Do you think Brady, Elway, Montana, Farve or any of those guys just showed up one day and could beat the best of the best….obviously not.

On the Bluegrass side we marvel at the touring bands and their tight harmonies, complicated arrangements, stellar musicianship and sheer talent. You hear a brand new song from Balsam Range and think…wow those guys are good. How do you think that happens??? They practice constantly. I doubt 48hrs goes by where high level musicians don’t touch their instruments or practice their material.

Enough about why you should Practice… lets talk about ways of making “actually practicing” easier.

There are so many things for a person to do in todays world. Outside of work and normal household chores you have TV, Streaming Video, Facebook, Youtube, video games, sports and so many other “Time Consuming” tasks presented to you in the easiest to consume way possible. You barely have to click a button and you have hours of endless entertainment poured into your brain.

How do you fit time to practice in while “Life” is going on??

The trick is, to remove as many hurdles as possible. Here are some tips & tricks to trick yourself into practicing.

  1. Keep your instruments out of the case: Having an instrument on a stand close by to where you rest your feet can remove the “Laziness” hurdle from you not practicing. Obviously this might not be ideal for households with small children our curious pets.
  • Form a routine: Many experts say the best way to get yourself to start doing any task is to mold it into your daily routine. Pick a time each day to sit down for 30-60mins and practice. It will be hard at first but it will eventually become second nature.
  • Set an Alarm: A frequent pitfall for most is just flat out forgetting to practice. (this is kind of #2b) Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to practice for a time. I have found that just before dinner or just before bed usually are the best times to get your time in.
  • Make a space: set up a space inside your living quarters to practice in. it should have a comfortable seat, your instruments on a stand, and materials to learn from. This could be a closet, a bedroom or anywhere you can play without causing your roommates too much shrieks when you scratch out a number on the fiddle.
  • Cut out distractions: The biggest hurdle to practicing as we stated above is distractions. Turn of your cell phone, tv and anything else that might keep you from putting in the work.
  • Set Goals: You should always try to set a goal for yourself so that you get some kind of accomplishment for the work you put in. Pick a cool song or fancy lick to work on along with your normal material so you can check your progress.
  • Record Your material to practice with: If you are in a band setting use a phone app, or a physical recorder to record the material you need to work on for the band that way you will be able to play with it directly instead of guessing at the speed, timing and phrasing of how your band does that tune.
  • Change it up: Even though you might be focused on playing one instrument, learning another (or learning that particular song on another instrument) will not only keep things fresh in your brain but it can also give you insight into how the song plays out from a different angle.
  • LISTEN TO THE MATERIAL: The biggest mistake folks tend to make when practicing is failing to listen. When possible, play the song you are learning dozens of times so that you hear all the elements that make that song different. Sometimes it takes a few times through before you notice key item that you didn’t hear before.
  1. Practice how you will play: While making yourself comfortable while practice can defiantly help keep you doing so, you would get the most value out of practicing in the way you plan on playing that instrument/song. If you’re in a band that plays standing up around one mic, it will be valuable to practice doing that. You may not notice it, but how you hold your instrument while actually performing the tune can change how you play it.

First, do no harm

“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.

What can you “DO” for Bluegrass?

‘I Just love bluegrass, and want it to carry on”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard how much people love Bluegrass and wants what’s best for it…but yet what actions have you taken? What have you offered this music that you love other than opinions? What have you “DONE”?…..I cannot help with that question but I can help with another question:

What can you do?

Here is a list of things you can do to support Bluegrass on a mico and macro levels.

Support Bluegrass Associations

Bluegrass 501c3’s are on the front lines supporting Bluegrass and bringing the music to new generations. There are many ways to support them:

  • Pay for a membership
  • Attend their events
  • Bring friends with you to the events
  • Buy t-shirts and other items from them
  • Donate money
  • Donate instruments
  • Volunteer you time
  • Spread the word of the associations existence and events to your people and social media

Support Festivals

Festivals are such a mainstay in the history and development of the music and is a place where many people come together to bring their flavors of Bluegrass into the mix. These are the summits of our culture that helps fortify the following. Here are some things you can do to help Festivals:

  • Buy tickets (even if you are not going)
  • Volunteer at the Festival
  • Share the event on your social media
  • Bring people to the festivals
  • Buy festival shirts & merch
  • Buy items from bands at Festival directly
  • Buy 50/50 tickets
  • Reserve your tickets/camping for the next year

Support Jams

Bluegrass Jams not only strengthen the musician community but also bring in new fans. Here are a few ways to support jams:

  • Attend Jams
  • Support other jammers
  • Share jams on your social media
  • Share pictures and videos from jams
  • Support Youth Jammers
  • Support the venue where the jam is being held

Support Local Bluegrass Venues

Anyplace that supports live Bluegrass music should be themselves supported. The more local support that happens, the more other venues will want to try Bluegrass out. Here are the ways you can help:

  • Attend the Bluegrass events
  • Share the venue and events on your social media
  • Buy food/drinks
  • Talk to the manager about the event in a positive manner
  • Bring friends with you to the events
  • Leave positive YELP feedback for the venue and mention Bluegrass

Support Local Bluegrass Bands

Local live Bluegrass is the foundation for a healthy Bluegrass community around the state/country. There are a ton of things you can do to help local Bluegrass bands:

  • Attend their events
  • Share their events on your social media
  • Buy their merch directly from them (not from Amazon or iTunes)
  • Take videos and pictures at their events and share that media
  • Talk to local venues about having local Bluegrass Bands
  • Buy tickets to events, even if you cannot attend

Support Youth in Bluegrass

This should be the most obvious one, but oddly its the one people neglect the most. Supporting young folks in Bluegrass anyway you can not only assists them but sets Bluegrass up for a new generation. Here are some things you can do:

  • Bring youths to Bluegrass events
  • Support Youth programs at local Bluegrass events
  • Give youth musicians positive reinforcement
  • Donate unused instruments to youth musicians
  • Be inclusive in jams to youth musicians
  • Pay a student’s Camp fees

Support IBMA, SPIGMA and similar organizations

National organizations already have multiple programs and events that are focused on targeting new Bluegrass fans and fostering young musicians. Here is how you can help:

  • Become a member of each
  • Attend organizational events
  • Donate to the organizations and their funds
  • Volunteer at events
  • Pay for youth musicians to attend these events

There are just a few of the things you can “DO” to support the music. If more people just did a few of these things instead of complaining about what other people are “Doing” we would have a more prosperous music around the world and beyond. If you LOVE Bluegrass music, I beg that you do as many of these things as possible.

Ask yourself, have I given back to Bluegrass in a positive way? What have you done? Are you proud?

When I leave the world, I hope I can say I have done all I can to leave it in better shape then I found it.

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.

Takes no Talent

The level of talent in Bluegrass as a whole is staggering. You can attend nearly any Bluegrass festival and see a 12-year-old picking out tunes faster than an octopus eight cups of coffee in on guitar then go another jam and see a 60 something-year-old sing a classic song with such control and power that you would swear it’s the first time you’re hearing it. Thousands of talented singers and pickers across the country have taken the mantle in Bluegrass and have turned the skill level up to 1000.

At the same time, the number of Bluegrass bands who have achieved success, and stayed successful for many years is few and far between. For every Blue Highway and Doyle Lawson there are hundreds of bands with as good (if not better) talent that never make it. Some of it is luck (A bigger chunk than anyone cares to admit); Some of it is timing (some bands just missed their window) but a big part of what makes those long-running, successful bands happen are the things that take no talent.

This isn’t a phrase I came up with (I stole the premise from the Dolphins, who probably are one of the dozens in line who stole it from someone else) but I think it explains a lot about what makes some folks more successful than others. How many times have you heard a fellow musician compare him/her self to someone on stage and say “Man I could be up there”. This happens more times than you would think, and if success and talent were directly correlated that wouldn’t be the case but it just does not work that way. So, what are the things you can do as an artist/band to be successful that “Take No Talent”?


Artists by nature tend to be a bit different than the norm. They tend to spend so much time on their craft that cultural and social norms can take a back seat. Your talent can speak for itself at times, but you will have to be even luckier than the average person if your personality doesn’t lend well to social environments. If you sing a great song, pick a killer tune but then are unable to carry on even a small talk conversation with fans and/or promoters the likelihood of you obtaining sustained success will be very low. It may not be “right”, that people take that into account when choosing between you and another act but its part of the equation. People tend to gravitate towards people they enjoy being around.


Live music is and always has been the life-blood of Bluegrass Music. From the early days of Bill Monroe to the first Bluegrass Festivals all the way to Feature Films like “Brother Where Art Thou” Bluegrass has always been a spectacle. Part of the attraction of the music is the experience of seeing it played in person. The energy, the drive, and the fun are what sets this music apart from the pack. That is why acts like Little Roy and Lizzy, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have been successful for so long, they entertain. They are full of amazing musicians and singers sure, but they also know how to put on a show. They mix their talent with stories, fan interaction, band interaction, comedy and so much more. They sell a ton of albums, but they also sell a lot of tickets to shows because folks want to see them in action. This, in turn, helps promoters and gets them even more bookings. It “Takes No Talent” to work hard at making your show something worth watching.

Being Social/Networking

Today’s music world is a far cry from the early days of Bluegrass. Social Media has made it so local bands can have the same national reach as any touring act, but they have to put it to use.

Networking has become a huge part of the industry and getting shows/deals/chances tend to fall in line with who you know. This is why being a successful artist/band doesn’t just apply to being on stage, the time leading up, and the time after you get done can be just as vital as the sick licks you crushed during BlackBerry Blossom.

Spending time jamming with folks at a festival, interacting in a positive manner with folks online and just talking to the people who came to see you makes a huge difference in your success and can often lead to more opportunity. You need to have folks invest in you and your project. Once you have shown them the investment you have made in it yourself, and the effort you are putting in to do all the little things, they will often times invest in you and be your “heralds” so to speak telling folks about you.


This seems obvious, but it needs to be said. The amount of effort you put in doesn’t always equate to success, but it can be a barometer of the probability of that success. Being successful in Bluegrass is a full-time job. You have to work at your craft musically every day, you have to always be trying to improve, you have to take every personal encounter with others (Online or in-person) as a chance to prove yourself to others. You have to “Do Your Time” as folks like to say, and you should try to make that “Time” as productive as that can be. Sitting back, waiting for it to come to you has rarely worked and has almost never been sustainable. Be aggressive with your dreams and always be willing to work harder than everyone else.


The world has enough negativity in it and you feeding into that isn’t going to open many doors for you.  While people do like to get together to “Talk smack” about one another, in the long run people find that exhausting. It is super easy to see the negative in everything and be a reason that negativity spreads. It is so much harder (and refreshing) to stay positive. No matter the conversation or adversity, you need to make the effort to steer things to the positive side. This is one of the hardest things you can do that “Take No Talent” but it is probably the one I would say is the most valuable. People find positivity to be a magnet, and it draws other positive people to you. I don’t think I can stress this point enough “Positivity is a currency” it’s worth a lot and rarely found. Some people are just wealthier than others.

On the flip side, one negative post, comment or interaction can sour the well permanently.  Sadly, people will remember those moments much longer than they will the dozens of other positive things you said/did. If you treat every conversation, social media post and interaction with others like its being live broadcasted to the world…you should be safe. Try and refrain from talking about sensitive subjects when at all possible on your social media, stage show or even just conversations with others. I know some of you will think this is not “Keeping it real” but honestly, whos mind are you changing with your strong opinion anyway? Is that worth you sabotaging your own opportunities?


You need to invest in others. One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself is to invest your time in supporting other artists/bands. It a positive thing to do on its own and it also opens the door for you when it comes to future possibilities for you and Bluegrass as a whole. For instance, if a venue is booking band A to play a show each week and they see you promoting that show to others then they may hire you to play a different date at the venue or ask you to fill in when band A isn’t available. This may also give a different venue the courage to add a “Bluegrass” date to their event lineup.  It shouldn’t take this extra incentive to help folks out but it is there. So many artists/bands see everything as a competition and will go out of their way to put others down or sabotage those opportunities for others. If you would just take the time to support others, others will be more willing to support you in return.

Also, you should support festivals and venue’s even if they are not booking you. This is an investment in not only you but Bluegrass in general. The more festivals and venues there are, the more opportunities there are for everyone to share their music with the world. Attend all the shows/festivals you can, promote them on social media, and show folks the added value in having you involved.

Takes No Talent

These are just a few of the things you can do as a band/artist that Takes No Talent but can lead to success for you and those around you. I am no expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express Last night so…..

How to Bluegrass Social Media

Bluegrass Social Media

People love social media…people hate social media….regardless of your personal stance on the platforms, a social media presence is a must for any Bluegrass Musician/Band wanting to play gigs. Festivals, Venues, Sponsors and all the other gig-makers hire on the basis of a person/band’s following,  social media presence, and Brand. There are so many talented musicians and bands out there who do not have any following at all, so they find it hard to compete against the folks who take full advantage of all the platforms possible. This guide will be helpful to those of you who don’t social media at all and those of you that do might pick up a hint or two that they find helpful.

Which social media to use

There are multiple options when it comes to social media. Keep in mind that the more of them you use the better you will be able to take advantage of their benefits. Having too many may cause you not to take proper advantage of each one. Here is a list of prominent social media platforms in order of usefulness for Bluegrass promotion:

  1. Facebook: Most used platform. Best to get detailed information out on the web. Widely used by Bluegrass people.
  • Instagram: 2nd most used. Good for sharing media. Short pieces of info. Can be connected to a Facebook account.
  • Reverbnation: Good to show band music, media, gigs and all their details in one location
  • Twitter: Good for details but not widely used by Bluegrass People

Social Media No-No’s

  1. Don’t talk about religion: While your beliefs may be strong, you will alienate a portion of people who may be fans. It’s ok to promote gospel album or songs just don’t get in debates or go too over the top. (unless you are a gospel band then, do your thing!)
  2. Stay away from Politics: People love to bait and troll people on the internet and politics is one of the main tools they use to do that. If you post about politics you are taking sides in a debate and potentially alienating a portion of your fans.
  3.  Don’t Post Too much: A band or musician should not post more than two or three times a day unless it’s before or after a show or its something substantial. You do not want to be viewed as a spammer.
  4. Don’t be negative: Negativity is the quickest way to lose fans. Don’t respond to trolls (just delete their comments) Don’t put down anyone (or anything) just make your posts as positive as possible.
  5. Don’t change your picture frequently: People get used to a certain photo for a band or musician’s page so don’t switch them up too often unless you have to because of personnel changes. Consider this your Brand’s logo.

Social Media Tips:

  1. Post at least once a day: The point of social media is to put yourself out there and let people know you exist. Posting once in a week or once a month is a failure to do either.
  2. Add media into your posts: While people don’t mind reading a sentence or two they are much more likely to do so if they see a picture or video accompanying it.
  3. Let people get to know you: Do a top ten list of your favorite things, tell them about your gear, tell them stories about your music. People are much more likely to support you if they have an emotional investment in you. Show then you are a real person.
  4. Make your posts interactive: Ask questions, ask for opinions, do anything that would entice a fan to respond to a post. Comments are as good if not better than “likes” on social media.
  5. Respond to questions and comments quickly: People love to be responded to quickly, it shows you are paying attention.

Promote Shows on Social Media

It is always in your best interest to promote your upcoming shows. It not only helps the venue get more attendees but it also shows that you are busy with your music making it more likely for other venues or promoters to book you thinking you are “in demand”. Your promoting of your own shows (and other shows that venue has) is part of your overall value.

Support other bands and musicians

This might seem counterproductive in the competitive world of music but it will actually help you in the long run. The more you support others in the industry the more likely they are to support you. Each connection made is an investment in your brand. This also comes in handy when a connection has to back out of a show and is thinking of a replacement or a venue is asking them for other bands/musicians to book. There really isn’t any drawback to helping others promote themselves, and it honestly shows you’re a good human.

Support Festivals and Venues

Your much more likely to be added to Bluegrass Festivals and venues if the booking agents see you supporting them on social media. In today’s world, this is one of the first things promoters consider when filling out a musical lineup. This may seem like your giving away free promotion, this again is an investment in your Brand and future dealings. While you may not get booked to the festival your promotion, other festivals may see it and reach out. This also gets your “Brand” mentioned in the same sentences as established brands which helps promote both.

Show your Creativity

There are thousands of Bluegrass bands and that many more of Bluegrass musicians. Each one may be similar in some ways (or they wouldn’t be considered Bluegrass) but each has its true value in what makes them different. Creativity is the best way to show this difference and social media is a great platform to show that off. Original songs, live performances, cool album artwork and things like that should be featured on your social media. Figure out what your band does best (ie Vocals, originals, instrumentation, and improvisation) and make sure people get to see that in the forefront. This creativity will help in building your “Brand”.

Building your brand

In the end, Social Media’s man value for a band/musician is helping build your brand. You want to let people know you exist, what makes you different from others, what style/type of music you create and it helps build a network of people invested in your brand. When someone is looking to book a show, event or venue, the better “Brand” you have the more likely you are to be considered for that booking. Try to keep your “Brand” out of any negativity, keep it on peoples feed daily and always try to bring in at least one new fan a day to your brand.

Social media has its downfalls, but if a band/musician is careful and consistent they can greatly benefit from a social media presence.

I Am Not on Your Level

Opinions From The Road

Since the dawn of music, musicians have measured themselves against their peers. People who have the passion to learn a certain instrument, set goals on themselves like “I’m going to work so hard on this guitar until I can play like Tony Rice” or “Man I am never going to be on Jerry Douglas’ level, but I would like to get close”. While it is always good to have a goal, achieving a level that is impossible to measure can set people back in their development or make him/her give up altogether. This targeted comparison also causes the musician to “clown or copy” their targets traits without neither developing their own “artist” nor realizing the influences that created their idols artist.

After learning the basics on your instrument (and the basics of the music you are trying to play) and basic music theory, it is nearly impossible to quantify your development. There is no “Stage 2” that will take ____amount of hours to surpass or a set of skills that advance you to some next level because growth is not a liner measurement. It is not a point A to point B timeline that you can track, it’s not a check sheet you can fill out. You also cannot measure yourself against another musician properly because his/her timeline is different.

Learning an instrument is like floating in outer space. You want to move, but that movement is only accomplished by what happens to pull you into its gravity. You can want to learn, and practice hard to be better but your growth depends on what is influencing you. Your growth is pulled hard by certain influences and away from other ones. You might become well versed in dozens of chords but not as skilled with the rhythm in which to use those tools. You might become skilled at Monroe style mandolin for instance but struggle to play with bands who play in a more modern vintage.

This is why comparing yourself to other musicians is so detrimental to your development. If you measured a fish & squirrels ability to climb trees, the fish would look worse each time, but if you then do the same for a swim across the pond, the squirrel will look the fool. To take the analogy further, Barry Bales can win Bluegrass bassist each year but not even make a chair in the symphony. That doesn’t make Barry any less of an artist. He’s musical development is just better suited for what he is doing.

Instead of measuring yourself against other musicians, it’s better to just set an ideal or goal of what kind of “Artist” you want to be and be very cognizant of what influences you surround yourself with. You may find yourself surrounded by other players of your same instrument but their development is at a different point in the universe than yours is. Different influences, different goals and so many other factors that it would not be fare for either of you to compare to each other.  You will also want to surround yourself with people who want to help you develop, not those who are nervous about that development. Some musicians, like any part of society, want to hold other down in order to boost themselves up. Once you realize these, just pass them by and heed not their drama.

You have to set a point in YOUR universe that you want to achieve, work hard to push yourself in that direction but be ready for that path to be a very windy road that sometimes goes all directions but forward. At the end of your journey, you won’t care you who (or others) compared you to, you will remember that zig-zag line that helped to create the artist you became.

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

#fbn #floridabluegrassnetwork #bluegrass

Don’t Play, Perform


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

Blog at

Up ↑