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.

The 42nd Annual Everglades Bluegrass Festival

In its 42 year existence, The Everglades Bluegrass Festival has played host to some of the most amazing bands in the Bluegrass world. Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Chubby Wise, LRB, 3TO, The Osborne Brothers, The Grascals, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Special Consensus and so any more. This legendary festival has been taking place since the late 70’s in South Florida thanks to the country’s oldest music non-profit, The South Florida Bluegrass Association.

This year’s festival was another huge bill headlined by mutli-IMBA award winning artists Kenny & Amanda Smith. Although this festival may not be as large as its 80’s and 90’s years, it is one of the Florida Festivals on the upswing back to prominence thanks to the help of an all-volunteer group of passionate Bluegrass fans.

This past weekend at Greynolds Park in North Miami Beach was filled with great music from a diverse band roster, multiple killer jams, and a master class workshop done by 2-Time IBMA Guitar player of the year Kenny Smith. Sound was provided by Evans Media Source, and the staff was as friendly as they were helpful. Campers started showing up on Tuesday for the festivities and the party didn’t stop until Sunday evening.

The 42nd Annual Everglades Festival kept this Florida Bluegrass Festival season driving on! We aren’t even done with January and already this season has been fantastic.

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”?

Personality

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.

Show

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.

Effort

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.

Positivity

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?

Support

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…..

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