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Crystal Hill Billys / Blog

Bluegrass? Or not Bluegrass?

Who wants to get into this discussion? Certainly not me. But, it was interesting to hear the discussion going on-while some of us were trying to jam. All I want to do is play, but I guess we need to leave room, sometimes, for those more intellectual than myself, to "sound off" on what makes bluegrass music bluegrass. People throw around Bill Monroe's oft used quote: "That ain't no part of nothin'" and want to leave it there, but for one older man-well, it was actually two older guys having the conversation-he was bent on keeping bluegrass pure-while the other felt that the progressive "new grass" as it is sometimes referred to is a way to keep the music alive and moving forward; bringing new fans and younger people into the fold of the music that we all love.

I attended a concert a few weeks ago featuring Jim Hurst and he commented that bluegrass, as a genre, seemed more respectful and honoring of its founding fathers and mothers; often pulling songs into jams from The Osbornes, The Stanley Bros., Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin (Freeborn Man is my favorite!), while the Country Music genre, especially radio, does not pay homage to its roots. We rarely hear Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and the like being played on the radio or on the stage. In fact, this is a very unique aspect of the bluegrass genre; standing in circles, playing songs in the shade of a large cottonwood tree, or sitting around a fire, swapping stories about past festivals; or meeting the same people every year at the same festival that has been going on for years and years; THAT is Bluegrass. My children getting to not only meet band members, but getting to know them because they are not roped off and unavailable and untouchable; in fact, they are real people with incredible talent and they come off the stage and walk into the crowd to jam with the listeners and other musicians into the wee hours of the morning. THAT is Bluegrass. I think it's more than a style of music. It seems to me it is a lifestyle of music; music penetrates from the polite listening audience into their nimble fingers and their shared repository of great songs-old and new that they share with one another, in between stories and arguments and debates, with lots of laughing in between. So whether you like New Grass Revival or Crooked Still, or prefer the Seldom Scene or Third Tyme Out, I believe we can all agree that in the Bluegrass community, the music is primary; it is the thing that brings a diverse group of people together for a night-or a weekend-of reconnecting with each other and sharing songs-old songs, new songs; murder songs, gospel songs, because, at the heart of it, bluegrass music is about life and is woven into life and shared with groups of people-young and old who value music as a necessary and important part of this life, and needs to be shared and passed down to future generations of musicians.

Joseph Scott
Joseph Scott  (over 2 years ago)

You have a good point in the fact that bluegrass is played in campgrounds and weekly jams that keep the old songs alive. I know many players that go to bluegrass festivals for the jams and only occasionally listen to the performances on stage. The fact is, bluegrass has always been a conglomeration of many different music styles and it continues to evolve and incorporate other, newer styles of play. Listening to teens and young adults jamming is the easiest way to hear this evolution in action. It is also a very technical music with timing and chord rules of play that are ripe for breaking. While some will stick to the rules, there will always be a fringe that will stretch the music to new sounds. And you know, both sides are okay. --Joe Scott

The Poor Are Fed By More Than Bread

Reading "Poor But Proud" by Wayne Flint. In the 1930s, a relief client (that's what they called a welfare recipient back in the day) presented his grocery bill to be filled except for one substitution- instead of .25 cents in rice, he asked for .10 cents in rice and .15 cents in change to buy a guitar string. Flint used this illustration to show that the music, even for the poorest of Alabama's poor tenant farmers, was like bread for the soul.

Everything That's Old is New Again

Or as the Old Testament's Ecclesiastes says "There's nothing new under the sun." I was looking at lyrics from an old traditional tune ( Going Down That Road Feeling Bad) and arrived at the line "I'm goin' where the climate suits my clothes."....and it immediately called to mind the song "Everybody's Talkin'" a folk-rock song originally written and released by Fred Neil in 1966. It was later sung by Harry Nilsson and used in the movie, Midnight Cowboy....I know. I am dating myself. But hum the song to yourself and you'll remember the chorus "I'm goin' where the sun keeps shinin' through the pourin' rain. Goin' where the weather suits my clothes..."

Anyway, I thought that was interesting. Back to the laundry. Smile. Billy Joy

I Acquired a Bunch of Old Recordings

I went to a library sale and bought about 70 CDs that had some old recordings on them. I have been sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to them--scratched up and ancient sounding tunes....some of them are incredibly powerful. They may not be "mixed" or "smooth-sounding"...in fact, I think that's something I miss about recorded music. It is not celebrated in its raw and real state. Instead we nearly mix the authenticity out of it. These old recordings are priceless. There are even times when the singer stops mid-song to tell a quick little story, or to clear their throat.

I was reading the liner notes from one of the CDs and it said that the old songs helped a community to "sing the bitterness out of its soul." I really loved that. Though music is definitely entertainment, it has served to help the musician, their friends and family members to grieve a loss; to tell a story or share a precious memory. Something to remember. Music is more than just entertainment. It is a therapy of sorts: a balm for a troubled soul or hurting heart.

Joseph Scott
Joseph Scott  (over 2 years ago)

There is truth to the idea that music is a balm for the soul. I don't know how many times when I was feeling down that I picked up my guitar and soon felt worthwhile again. My wife and I lead the music in our church and we often hear comments like, "You don't want to hear me sing..." or "I can't sing..." In our experience, the sound of an entire congregation singing is a spine-tingling sound that no professional singer or trained choir can duplicate. The power of music to inspire, heal, strengthen, and create is why we choose this art form. Sing on.

Music is Communication

I love how music crosses over generations and classes, status, and even language barriers. I remember being with some Japanese musicians at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY and though we couldn't talk to one another, someone said "John Hardy" and they smiled and nodded their heads and then BAM, we were playing the song together. Words and all. That was cool. It also seems to work with the kids...I don't always know their language, but when we listen to songs together and pick out the melody lines, or talk about a good lyric, we are able to come together-even if just for a moment-and it is precious indeed.

Music is a Gift

Hello all, Just sitting here this morning feeling grateful for music. With all that is going on in the news and in the world, sometimes it is difficult to see the beauty and the gift of each day. As I read from some of the old song catchers like Alan Lomax, he talks about the sadness and the poverty that many of these songwriters lived in, yet their music grew and flourished. It talks about music and the balm, the soother of the soul's troubles. And I like that music has that kind of power. It is not numbing, but rather, liberating: it is finding the feeling, giving it a name, sitting together in a circle and singing the pain out, or celebrating the joy of the small things. Music is good. Music is unifying and I am so grateful to have it. Billy Joy