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.

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.

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