TIME TO JAM!

OPINIONS FROM THE ROAD

Bluegrass music is special in so many ways. The tight-knit community, the festival lifestyle, the accessibility of the bands and the jamming. Anywhere you find festivals, Bluegrass Conventions or shows you will find jamming. Early in the morning until sunrise the next you can find pickers of all walks coming together to share their take on the music. Traditional jams, progressive jams, Grass-Country jams and so many variations on each that finding a new jam is always like unwrapping a new gift.

It has been a tradition since the music started that you can find band musicians, local pickers and people who just enjoy the music all mixing together and having a good time. So many national touring acts have formed just from the simple act of meeting at a jam and finding a common passion and sound. Jams are also a boon to local festivals and associations. If a festival has bountiful jamming then more jammers are likely to come and that means more ticket and camping sales which turns into more money for the Bluegrass Scene. Jamming is so vital to Bluegrass that many “Jam Only” festivals have popped up.  

While jams are innocent and fun, there is an underlying event going on….networking. While it may not be as obvious as “After Hours” drinks with co-workers or large trade conferences, Bluegrass Jams are a place people come together to meet others and be seen. You can have the guitar skills of Norman Blake or the vocal prowess of Russell Moore, but if you don’t have “people” in your corner…your just another person. While this is totally fine if that is your only goal (some people are totally content with going from jam to jam and never doing anything more) if you have aspirations of Bluegrass “Success” you will need to jam well with others and show people your passion first hand.

“It doesn’t matter WHAT you know, it’s all in WHO you know” couldn’t be more fitting for Bluegrass politics and exposure. Promoters and labels look for bands and musicians that are not only good at their trade (not to mention original) but they also must have a following. They must have a network of people who will attend gigs, buy records and also have the ability to add more of a following all the time. The best way to make this happen is to jam! You could beg on social media, you could spend money on adds online but the best way is to jam. Jamming also opens up new gig opportunities all the time. Bands/musicians who are asked to play a show and can’t do so will often suggest a friend/band that they know through jamming.

It is sad to see musicians stop jamming once they join a band. They come to a festival, play a set and then pack up and leave (I understand some may have other gigs) losing the opportunity to share themselves with other jammers who make up such a large portion of the Bluegrass world. I am of the opinion that they lose sight of what got them to that level or maybe they just don’t understand the value. I also know of many players who get “burnt out” on the Band member life, and then find their passion again after a good jam or two. In the end, Jamming is positive at all levels and if it is possible for you to join a jam…why the heck would you not?

Jamming is your Bluegrass Street Cred, Jamming hones your people skills, jamming broadens your musical horizons and best of all…..jamming is fun!

Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

Opinions from the Road – Don’t be a “normie”

When you think of the legends of bluegrass music, what names come to mind? Monroe? Flatt and Scruggs? Wiseman? Stanley?

Why is that? Why are those the names you come to? It’s because those artists were original. Regardless of you Bluegrass style preferences you recognize them for their originality. Nobody remembers the guy who sounds like Josh Graves, you remember Uncle Josh.

The reason I bring this up is just a few months ago I met a musician who was not only supremely talented but played his instrument with a style and enthusiasm that set him apart from others and I was pumped. I saw the same guy again recently and he was different. He was much more tame and “normie” he explained that a band member made him tone the “him” down to fit the “normie” style….and I was disgusted. I told him man, don’t let people tone your artist down.

There are so many people that work so hard to sound like Rice, Scruggs, Skaggs, Crowe or whomever that it makes the feat seem mundane. These are the people I call “normies” They put all their effort into sounding just like someone else that they lose all their…..them. The problem with “normies” is they not only suck the life out of Originality but they also force their status quo on the rest of the music. “That’s not how Bill did it” (eye roll)

Be you, soak up the legends and hero’s, find what made them great (to you) and then find that thing that makes you…you and cultivate it.

Will everyone like it? Hell no. The normies won’t like it because they can’t be you. You might not play that Reno lick note by note like Don did but you can sure as *bleep* play it like you.

“normies” will try hard to fit your circle block in their square wholes but eventually you will need to cut your own path and run.

Be original, be you and when the “normies” start their squawking….smile and be you even louder!

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Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network

Opinions from the Road – “Support Your Rival”

In sports, rivalries are everything. Teams play harder against their rivals, fans come out in droves to see rivalry games and it makes each player involved strive to get better in order to beat their rivals. Yankees-Redsox, Bears-Packers, Lakers-Celtics…the list goes on. Those strong leagues become stronger for it.

In music, rivalries are abundant but they can go too far. The Bluegrass community tends to be a very small town style gossip train. Rumors, stories, and information tend to spread like wildfire while their validity is rarely questioned.

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I can’t count the times I have heard “That band ___________ doesn’t play real Bluegrass”, “I heard _______band gets gigs because ________ member is a woman” or “We should be playing that show, we are so much better than _______ band.” (And those are the more tame statements I assure you). Each time I just shake my head and think “Good for _____band for booking that show” (along with the realization of the character of the musician who made the statement) While that person might see their rivalry as the nature of the business….that level of negativity really just ends up hurting Bluegrass as a whole.

We forget that every door another Bluegrass band (or musician) opens is a door that your band can walk through. Each new venue hosting Bluegrass, each new jam that pops up, each new audience that is introduced to Bluegrass just gives us all more opportunities to spread Bluegrass to more people. (which means more opportunities for you) That is why I always say “Good for them”

Even if your rival band gets a show, puts out an album or achieves any kind of success, you should support them. You should want successful Bluegrass bands to be around you, it helps shine lights all around you, Bluegrass and Bluegrass in Florida. Every time you see them get a new gig, it should make you smile. You know that Venue ______ might be a possibility in the future. Every time they get a good slot on a big festival you should know that it might be you next time.

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In the end, let your rivalry (if you must have one) fuel you in a healthy way. Get better, try harder and find figure out what they are doing, that you may not be. Support your rival in any way you can, because their success will be your success and in turn breed Good Bluegrass music that can spread to all reaches of the Sunshine State.

Justin Mason
Florida Bluegrass Network

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