Some thoughts on “Bluegrass Country Soul” and “Portable Community”

Class this week consisted of watching the film “Bluegrass Country Soul”, reading “Portable Community” by Owen Gardner, and some in class discussion on both of these topics.

“Bluegrass Country Soul” is a documentary-style film that covers Carlton Haney’s 1971 Labor Day Weekend Bluegrass Music Festival in Camp Springs, North Carolina. The film features some interview-like scenes, mostly with Haney himself, but mainly focuses on the festival performances.

Here are some of the performers/groups that were featured in the film:

Ralph Stanley

Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys

The Bull Mountain Boys

The Country Gentleman

The New Deal String Band

The Osbourne Brothers

The Bluegrass 45

Mac Wiseman & Blackwell & Collins & The Dixie Blue Grass Boys

Roy Acuff

The Bluegrass Alliance

Chubby Wise

Earl Scruggs

Overall I enjoyed watching this film and seeing an example of what Bluegrass festivals were like during this time period. I also found interest in looking at the instrument arrangements of each group. I saw that some groups were using instruments that may not be considered to be a part of Bluegrass (percussion, using amplification/electric instruments, harmonicas/”chromatic harp”). I like that the filmmaker(s) made the decision to include shots of the audience. This allows the viewer to see what types of people were interested in this type of music festivals, as well as their reactions to the performers on stage.

“Portable Community” by Owen Gardner takes a look into the community that is associated with these types of festivals. His study examines how an “increasingly mobile subset of individuals grapples with courting community in a society that frequently moves, travels, relocates, or pursues leisure or lifestyle away from home” (Gardner). Gemeinschaft and sittlichkeit are two terms associated with types of communities, and are featured in this piece. Gemeinschaft relates to the “communal grouping of individuals defined in opposition to self-serving individualism” (Gardner). This is “sought in multiple forms, places, and spaces and emphasizes the communal over the individual” (Gardner). Sittlichkeit is a communal term associated with the “places where we live and work and where social problems may be addressed. Contingent on a stable sense of geographically rooted place” (Gardner). Gardner also states that there are three rhetorics of motive when it comes to these types of communities – intimacy, inclusion, and simplicity. This piece is perhaps a bit more theoretical compared to other readings that have been assigned for this class. I feel like this reading could be a great addition to Dr. Fine’s Appalachian Communities class here at Virginia Tech, especially considering that community within a festival/music scene is not really addressed in that class.



Whose Bluegrass Is It Anyway?

The readings by Goldsmith and Rosenberg that were assigned for this week sparked an interesting conversation among my classmates on “authenticity” and if Bluegrass is a product of Appalachia. If you consider Bluegrass starting with Bill Monroe, it should be noted that he was born in Rosine, Kentucky. Rosine is located within Ohio County and is not included in the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) list of counties within the Appalachian Region.

This map shows the Appalachian Region divided into five subregions: northern, north central, central, south central, and southern Appalachia. For a list of county data by state, see the downloadable Excel file.

In the maps above, you can see that Edmonson County is the most western County in Kentucky that is within the Appalachian Region based on the ARC’s definition. Ohio County is located roughly two counties further westward of Edmonson. While I am rather unfamiliar with the physical geography, economics, and demographics of Central and Western Kentucky, I do question the decision to not include Ohio County within Appalachia based on the history of Bluegrass. Another reason I question this is because there are counties within Tennessee (specifically Lawrence and Lewis Counties), Alabama, and Mississippi that are located either just as far or even further to the west as Ohio County, Kentucky. Plus it should be noted that there are “breaks” within the region in Mississippi (Lafayette) and Tennessee (Bedford, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore) where counties bordering or between ARC definition counties are left out.

Again, I am unfamiliar with these counties/regions of these states, but I do not see how the differences between these counties and those nearby within the ARC Appalachian Region are enough to not include them within the region.

Okay, so enough rambling about me not completely understanding the ARC’s Appalachian Region maps and definitions. When it comes down to it, I don’t think it really matters all too much whether or not Bluegrass was “born” within Appalachia. Bluegrass has become a music genre that has not only become a tradition and celebrated within Appalachia, but also within many other regions of the United States and other countries across the globe.