FEB 16 [reading aids/guides]

As we begin to discuss the 2nd and 3rd generations of bluegrass performers we will be reading chapters  28, 33, 37, 45, 46, and 47 and an article on Jimmy Martin by Lance Leroy (we have watched Jimmy Martin in previous posts). Please view the following videos along with the readings:

The Country Gentlemen:

Notice Charlie Waller’s vocal style and range.

Do you notice anything different about John Duffey’s musical style from previous performers and mandolinists? (Also: please note his attire!)

What did Charlie Waller think about amplification and drums?

What did Waller think about venue size?

What does the interview seem to imply about the music’s growth (a mere generation after it’s “birth”)?

How do musicians make a living playing bluegrass? Are there other types of employment like this?

Larry Sparks

How did Larry Sparks begin performing?

What considerations were made in the creation of his album cover?

Do you know of similar accounts of bands touring? Do you have any insights into the life of a touring musician (any genre) in 2015?

Do fan clubs currently exist or have groups taken a different form?

Sam Bush

A very young Sam Bush with Bluegrass Alliance playing twin fiddles (Bush is the picker with the longer hair):

Performing alongside Tony Rice:

New Grass Revival:

According to the article by Alice Foster (Gerrard) what is the creative potential of bluegrass music for Bush? Where does he wish to explore his potential?

The Bluegrass Alliance

What is “newgrass?”

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

A more recent video clip narrated by Del McCoury is found below. Try to first listen to the song without watching the video… what do you hear? Then, watch the video… does your “hearing” of the song change? What stands out to you about the video in comparison to other popular videos on CMT?

Why did Neil Rosenberg have a difficult time putting DLQ in the “progressive” camp? How can we differentiate between evolutionary and revolutionary and what is the function of such terms?

The Johnson Mountain Boys and Lucketts, VA

What is the role of the audience in bluegrass? How did the Johnson Mountain Boys approach their audience?

Does their seem to be a difference between bands that work with a record label and bands that do not? (For instance, JMB’s worked through Rounder.)

Peter Rowan

How did Peter Rowan discover bluegrass?


post-return to bluegrass:

Does Rowan’s vision for music tend to be shared by all second generation pickers?

More on the bluegrass scene today [Wendesday 4/22/2115]

Happy Earth day week!

What is newgrass? The term new does not refer to a temporal component, but a progressive style. The name is directly connected to the group New Grass Revival.


Sam Bush is often heralded as the Father of New Grass. More on him here: http://bluegrasstoday.com/sam-bush-documentary-trailer-goes-live/

Lesser known groups who have had a huge impact on the shifts in bluegrass include jazz/americana bands like the more experimental Dixie Dreggs:

Tony Rice is also a different type of progression and has encouraged performers in different directions. His introduction of singer/songwriter material, the lyrical shifts (he’s not singing about home… at least not all the time) and the movement of the guitar from a rhythm instrument to a lead “voice” within the band made a huge impact on  those who heard him.

Today, Mountain Heart, The Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain, and Greensky Bluegrass are perhaps examples of both influences (as well as popular country). As we learned in Chris Pandolfi’s Manifesto, these bands cater to different than audiences than traditional bluegrass bands.

Traditional bluegrass is alive and strong as seen from the billboard and Bluegrass Today charts.


How does one identify? How are they identified? What are the modern uses of labels?


Traditional bluegrass bands who play to more typically traditional audiences are also influenced by new grass, Tony Rice’s style and use of singer songwriter material, as well as the proliferation of Acousticana and Americana scenes.

For example, some even sing (and win IBMA Awards doing so) of the difference between bluegrass in 2015 and 1945:

And some sing to traditional crowds, using traditional material, while the instrumental and vocal arrangements are unquestionably influenced by newgrass/spacegrass/doggrass movements:

Hull’s phenomenal guitarist is actual influenced by jazz via Tony Rice.

And then there’s Thile.


Many young performers are drawn to the music through more typically traditional artists and a goal to preserve or conserve music and traditional music’s folkways.

For example:


Further, educational programs that focus on performance seem to encourage a firm foundation of “traditional” sounds within their curriculum:

To put this conversation of traditional music being made within a “new” scene or to more clearly present the ways in which we place a temporal quality to sound, we can look to the current country music scene.

Imagine country radio.

The artists are currently releasing albums (and both have cross over connections from bluegrass) :

You may remember him from the Steel Drivers…

Videos in class on March 18, 2015

These videos go along with our discussion in class about festivals, folk and authenticity. There are a few included just for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Listening assignment:




Cool things I didn’t want you to miss:





The President notes Bluegrass…

“We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.
We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.”



notes on readings 2.2.15

Mac Wisemen mentions a few of the following songs in his interview:

And later, by Flatt and Scruggs:

And today, by the Earls of Leicester:

Mac Wiseman (live with Lester Flatt)

Jim and Jesse as a country act:

Jim and Jesse’s as a more traditional bluegrass act with, “Cotton Mill Man,”

Jim and Jesse performing a gospel tune featuring the mentioned “cross-picking” mandolin playing:

A note on the relationship between jazz and bluegrass, with consideration to Mayne Smith’s points on p.76-77:


Further on the jazz/bluegrass discussion:

The New Lost City Ramblers are mentioned as being distinctly “not” bluegrass by readers of Sing Out:

Further, old time is more closely connected with dancing:

Resources for Oral History


Jan 17 2015 Phil Zimmermans house 4[An image from a recent interview-based project in Connecticut, Jan. 2015]

As we begin interviewing visitors and traveling to shows and venues, here are a few helpful guides:




a more journalistic view: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/features/online/how-interview-your-favorite-musician

We will discuss ethics and specific procedures in class. Please let me know if you have any questions.




The Usefulness of Definitions.

January 28, 2014

Christiansburg, VA

We are presented with the task of attempting to define Bluegrass music as we begin our journey of exploring the genre’s roots and influences. The readings (the introduction to Rosenberg’s history, Goldsmith’s collection, Ted Olson’s Encyclopedia of Appalachia introduction, and the film, “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music”) were collections of names and band formations, anecdotes and song clips, but together… a picture began to form; the constellation of this genre is slowly emerging.

The task of studying bluegrass is (for me, at least) an incredibly challenging one. As Rosenberg writes of his own experience, “I was hesitant about studying something in which I was so deeply involved, and my teachers and most of my fellow students gave me little encouragement in this direction. . . Folklore department head Dorson had built his reputation by opposing what he termed “fakelore”—the inauthentic and commercial material palmed off in popular culture as the real folklore, for big bucks” (4). Unlike Rosenberg, I have found the study of Appalachian music and bluegrass is supported by the University, however the personal difficulties of dis-entangling oneself from the topic remains. How do we remain objective while being so moved by the music? How can we critique (read: deeply engage with) a culture with which we identify or feel strongly about? This is the challenge not only of defining bluegrass but of place-based and cultural studies as well (and the two should not be mistaken as synonymous).

I am not going to focus on the technical or historical definition of the genre– that is being done beautifully by others on this blog. But I would like to reflect on the function of bluegrass or offer other ways for exploring. Perhaps, rather than ask, “what is bluegrass?” I should have posited the following:

1. Where is bluegrass?

2. Why is bluegrass?

3. Who is bluegrass?

I believe the beloved quote of Saburo Watanabe sums up nicely an entrance into this conversation when he said (something akin to), “I have bluegrass in me and you have bluegrass in you.” This is touched on in bluegrass songwriting, as the late Glen Laney (Knoxville Grass, Buddy’s BBQ) shares:


Bluegrass has been said to be class-based, commercial, capital-driven, regional, rural, urban, a diaspora in it’s identity, communal, and an imagined community (I argued this through Benedict Anderson’s use of the term). Perhaps we can begin to dig deeper in this discussion by attempting to answer the following: what would be lost in a world without bluegrass?