Discussion with John Lawless

This week in class we were lucky enough to meet with John Lawless, main editor and author for Bluegrass Today, one of bluegrass’s top websites for news and information. He has been writing and reporting on bluegrass for over ten years, as well as being a talented banjo player. He discussed several topics with us, including his start in bluegrass and folk music, how he came to be a writer and the origins of Bluegrass Today, and how people define “bluegrass”.

Bluegrass can be looked at as a very defined and rigid genre with strict guidelines for what makes it bluegrass, but it can also be viewed as a very experimental and progressive form of music as well. Defining what is and isn’t bluegrass is a heated topic that people from all places discuss, with a wide range of results. Some as Mr. Lawless mentioned, find that the banjo must be present, and must be played in the Scruggs style, to be considered bluegrass. Others hold that Bill Monroe was and is the only person to have played actual “bluegrass” music. On the other end of the spectrum, bluegrass could be considered anything that includes certain instruments such as the banjo or mandolin, or the type of vocals.

This issue of defining bluegrass was further explored in our readings, Thomas Adler’s “Festival People and Lore” and Chris Pandolfi’s “Bluegrass Manifesto”.  Both authors discussed the same topic and how different crowds approach the bluegrass genre. From family-oriented shows, to the introduction of the hippie and folk culture of the 60’s and 70’s. At the end of the day though, bluegrass is a genre that is continuously changing and evolving, just as blues, rock and jazz are constantly updating their sound. How one defines their idea of bluegrass is certainly defined by their personal tastes, but should also keep an open mind to current music trends.