On Bluegrass and Politics

“Music embodies political values and experiences, and organizes our response to society as political expression.” – John Street

Bluegrass, as we have discussed in class, is markedly apolitical. This trait cannot possibly be attributed to the genre’s regional roots, as Appalachia is and always has been a political hotbed for a number of controversial issues. Perhaps it was the conception of Bluegrass as a legitimate musical genre through the media that prevented musicians from addressing political issues through their music, or perhaps it was the respect for tradition and recreating old sounds that set the precedent for its largely even-keeled themes. Maybe audience had something to do with the apolitical development of Bluegrass music, in the sense that their taste for more wholesome and uncontroversial expression changed the way the genre took shape. Or most likely, perhaps it is a combination of all of these things that led Bluegrass to the apolitical path that it is on today.

Bluegrass is a genre that unites people of all ages, and it’s possible that this is achieved through its accessibility to all listeners, regardless of their political positions. Perhaps the function of the music is not to rally or polarize people, but to offer simple and beautiful expression around which communities can gather. In the end, I can’t help but wonder what the genre, its audience, or even Appalachia might look like today had Bluegrass always been a political tool for gathering people and effecting change.

Cited: Music and Politics, John Street.