What is Bluegrass?

After reading the introduction texts to “Bluegrass: A History” by Neil Rosenberg, and “The Bluegrass Reader” by Thomas Goldsmith, I had formed a good idea for what a true, technical definition for bluegrass would be. “Bluegrass” in the academic, dictionary idea, is a genre of music defined by the use of acoustic instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, and guitar, as well as other instruments, playing medium to fast tempo songs and ballads. This definition serves to encompass as much of the music as possible, while keeping Bluegrass separate from the folk and country genres.

However, after watching the film “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music”, and considering my personal experience with bluegrass, I have my own definition. Bluegrass is simply music from people’s homes and experiences; it can be about whatever you’ve experiences, or stories and tales from back home. Like they said in the film, “bluegrass was considered folk tunes on overdrive”. Bluegrass has such a wide variety of styles and musicians, who come from all different reaches of the world, that they are redefining the genre whenever a new song or rhythm is played. Bluegrass from the Catskills Mountains is bound to differ from the melodies and tunes of the Shenandoah Valley, but its the idea of the music that binds it together.

As an example of this, Here is a particular song I enjoy from a group called Iron Horse, based out of Killen, Alabama. They’ve done excellent covers of famous songs, such as “Fire on the Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, as well as covering dozens of songs from heavy metal band Metallica. A personal favorite of mine, this is their rendition of “Enter Sandman”.

One thought on “What is Bluegrass?”

  1. Thank you for sharing the Iron Horse video– it is almost surreal to see two facets of one’s identity merged through music.

    I particularly appreciated this reflection and think it would be a great area to continue to “dig” deeper:
    “However, after watching the film “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music”, and considering my personal experience with bluegrass, I have my own definition. Bluegrass is simply music from people’s homes and experiences; it can be about whatever you’ve experiences, or stories and tales from back home.”
    Your definition seems to have transformative potential for people who participate. I am curious as to how this can be read as “political” meaning (are) there are layers of power behind the ability to share stories and experiences? If so, how do we see those performed in bluegrass (and beyond!).

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