Fincastle Presentation

Here’s where I live and where Fincastle, Virginia is:




Fincastle, Virginia:

   Fincastle, Virginia 1965

Carlton Haney:


Doc Watson and a local resident of Fincastle
Don Reno
Bill Monroe

Set the stage for:

Bean Blossom  
Many have said it set the stage for Woodstock.

Fincastle, Virginia set the stage for many other festivals to come. Sadly, the festival did not stay at the Cantrell sight very long. The festival was moved to Lithia, Virginia (which is 10 minutes from the original site) around the late 1960s-early 1970s. Today, there are not any festivals held in Botetourt County, but many people still pick the guitars and play “them ol’ fiddle tunes” on the streets on Friday nights and pack the fair grounds every August at the fairs.

As the title of my blog states, Fincastle, Virginia was just the beginning, it has since set the ideas and ways that festivals are held today and will be held for years to come.

Can you hear what I hear?

On Monday, we were given a worksheet with lenient directions to go listen to what is around us as we walk to different places. The first place I went was the Duck Pond on campus because it is away from all the hustle bustle of campus and it is a quiet place to just relax. It also reminds me of the ponds in front of my house back home.

While at the Duck Pond, I watched ducks glide across the pond, birds congregate in trees, and geese go “fishing”. There were other people around me, but I managed to block them out and focus on what most would miss. While focusing on the natural world and not the human aspect of the pond, I was able to hear the geese and ducks swimming under the water and pushing against the water with their feet. I heard a turtle break the surface and then stealthily slip back under where he thought I could not see him. It is amazing at what you can hear if you just stop and listen.



I then went to Main Street in Blacksburg. Talk about a definite shift in speed. Main Street is always busy. There were cars and people, stop signs and traffic lights. Bikes and mopeds. Everyone was running around the sidewalk trying to get to a job, a meeting, a friends house, a party, anywhere fast. It seems as though no one truly stops to  take in the moment. If they stop, they would be able to hear the footsteps of people as they walk by, the soft sound of jackets swishing as people walk, and bookbags softly tapping peoples backs. It’s amazing what you can hear when you stop and listen.

It is the same when it comes to Bluegrass music as well. The newer music, formally known as “New Grass” may not initially sound the same as what Bill Monroe played, but if you listen close, the fiddle still whines, the banjo still resonates, and the guitar still has the old twang to it.

The Carter Family and Carolina Chocolate Drops


In class we have been discussing the gender, race and class struggles within Bluegrass music. It is clear that Bluegrass was, and to a point, still is, primarily a white men music. Most all of the Bluegrass performers in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, were white males. The Carter Family was one of the first to officially step out of the norm.

The Carter family involved mainly females. It was unheard of that females could be onstage with a male, much less sing songs and play instruments. The Carter Family made a name for themselves by breaking the norm. They were a big hit everywhere they went. They were the “First Family of Country Music” after all. I would and will argue that you can classify The Carter Family as Bluegrass as well as country music. They have the sound, the instruments, and to me, they have the heart and soul of what I believe is Bluegrass.

By recording at the Bristol Sessions, they set the stage for other women to record, whether that was their goal or not. It was one of the first times that women’s voices were heard on the radio. I never fully considered what they did as a stand against the gender norms, but looking at it from a different perspective, I could see how they did break the gender norm back then.

Then you have the Carolina Chocolate Drops:

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are considered Bluegrass to me as well. They majorly break the Bluegrass norms by having a female singer/instrumentalist, and they do not fit the standard white men norm. There music is just as Bluegrass as any other band, and I kind of enjoy listening to their music. By breaking the norms, they are able to open the doors for others.

I believe both the Carter Family and Carolina Chocolate Drops pushed to break the norms that have always been associated with Bluegrass. Though, it may not have been their over all intentions when they began performing, I believe both groups have made a statement and have helped to open doors for so many others, as well as, opening the minds of people who enjoy the music.

What does “Genre” even mean?

In class we discussed “genres” briefly today. It kind of struck me a little differently than I expected. It brought back an old memory of mine I had long since forgotten. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I asked my father and grandfather what made country music country music. I remember my father turning to my grandfather anticipating an answer from him. My grandfather simply said, “It is whatever you want it to be. If your heart thinks it’s country, then it must be country.”

His words were in my head today when we discussed genres. I came to the conclusion, that genres are mainly used to help people find and classify the songs they enjoy. I posted a couple weeks ago about what classifies bluegrass music as bluegrass. The theory that I came up with then still stands true in this blog. Music is what you classify it as. If you believe the music is country, then by all means it is country. If you want to believe a banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar is Bluegrass, then it’s Bluegrass.

Ricky Skaggs is one of my favorite performers. I remember his songs being played on the radio in the truck back home. His song, “Country Boy”, was one that I truly fell in love with. The song was reassuring when I went to college because the meaning of the song, to me, was that no matter where I go or what I do, I will always be a country girl in my roots.

Anyways, in the readings we looked at the other day, it discussed Ricky Skaggs and how his concerts were set up. It discussed how he would do Bluegrass than country and vice versus. It makes sense that he would add or take away instruments in order to appeal to a greater crowd. In a sense, he would genre hop a lot within the concert alone. I think most artists who genre hop are more interested in trying to make more money and appeal to greater audiences. However, I feel Skaggs just wanted to return to his roots. His song, “Country Boy” did appeal to that. My favorite verse, “I may look like a city slicker/Shinin’ up through his shoes/Underneath I’m just a cotton picker/Pickin’ out a mess of blues.” discusses how he may look one way, but in fact he knows who he is and where he started. I think the ones that genre hop know where they came from and know where they are going. As I mentioned early, however, I believe that the genre should only be classified by yourself. You should decide what kind of music it is and believe that. If you want to believe Mumford and Sons is straight up Bluegrass, then that is your choice, not anyone elses.

Festivals are Families

Recently I read, “The Portable Communities” by Owens Gardener. The “portable communities” he referred to were the communities found at the smaller bluegrass festivals. It describes the way people interact at festivals, and how festivals tend to bring people together. I enjoyed the writing because it perfectly describes what I define as Bluegrass music.

To me, Bluegrass music has always been a way to tie a community together and make it a family. The Gardener piece described that feeling. The piece discussed people inviting others to eat dinner with them at the festivals or to come around a pick with them. It talked about the older people picking with the younger ones and helping them to learn new cords and new styles to music. Most importantly, it perfectly reflected the low discrimination at the festivals. The older generation picked with the younger generation, the men and a few women played guitars together, and the Americans played with a few Japanese artists. In the end, everyone respected each other and everyone played the music and listened to the bands.

The piece really hit home in the effect that it clarified why everyone got along so well. Everyone had a common interest. Everyone that attend the festival, wanted to be there and wanted to hear the music and pick banjos, strum guitars, and make the old fiddles whine. It was what they wanted to do. It was that passion that made them travel all over the country in order to visit festivals and make small communities. It was the passion that made the people and the people that made the communities that made the festivals.  

Place and Location… It Matters

The Big Question is…. Is Appalachia the only region associated with Bluegrass music? I am no expert, by any means. I am from the Appalachian region and I grew up listening to the banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and guitars, but I am more cautious when answering this question. From listening to the songs and being around the music, I admit that quite a few songs have to do with coal mining, farming, and growing up in hard times. However, the Appalachia region is not the only place that had farmers and hard times.

It is easy to listen to Breaking Grass’s Song, “High On the Mountain” and immediately assume that most Bluegrass has to do with the Appalachian Region, but then in the same instance, you could listen to Old Crow Medicine Shows, “Sweet Amarillo” and think, “Texas is not Appalachia”. Not all Bluegrass involves Appalachia. It’s roots may have started in Appalachia, but there are vocalist who play the old stringed instruments and make the fiddle whine from all different places.

Breaking Grass, “High on the Mountain”

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Sweet Amarillo”




The place where Bluegrass “began” was in Kentucky. The songs were about farmers, coal mines, and hard times. A lot of Bluegrass songs continue to carry that spirit with them to this day. When times were tough, songs were taken with the people that ad to leave the mountains and traveled along the “Hillbilly Road”. As we read in class, a group of men from New York formed a group called the Greenbrier Boys. Where they were from, the Appalachian region was not near them at all. They sang about the stereotypical components within the Bluegrass world.

The question remains, is Appalachian the only region Bluegrass is associated with. The answer, to me, is no. I believe Appalachia helped lay the foundation and set the roots for what Bluegrass has become, but Appalachia is not the only region associated with Bluegrass. The location does not always make the music. The people and their history are what truly influence the region.

Decisions Decisions

On Wednesday, we were given the opportunity to have John Lawless, head editor of Bluegrass Today, visit our class to talk to us about Bluegrass music and many other interesting topics. One of the things that hit me the most was how quick he was to give his definition of Bluegrass. He told us, “If it has mandolin, fiddle, and a banjo in it, and I like it, then I consider it Bluegrass.” I thought about what he said and I have to wonder, what is Bluegrass?

“If it has Mandolin, Fiddle, and a Banjo in it, and I like it, then it is Bluegrass.”

The older generation considers Bluegrass music that is played with the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. Some even claim that it is not Bluegrass if it is not played in Scruggs style. My grandparents always considered Bluegrass to be played with the banjo, fiddle, and bass. My grandfather used to say, “If the banjo ain’t playin’, then the music is Blue-trash”.

Times have changed, and as we read in the Pandolfi article, musicians have had to adapt to the audiences. Nowadays, band like Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons can and are considered Bluegrass to the newer generation. It’s considered bluegrass because they still play the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, but their style is more upbeat and the use of drums and amplifiers have made them sound different than the string sound of the older bands. Many people do not consider them Bluegrass, but the newer generation hears a fiddle or banjo and consider it bluegrass.

Old Crow Medicine show can be classified as Bluegrass because of their wholesome sound and the instruments heard in their songs. I have seen them perform in concert, I know they do not stick to the standard mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. I’ve seen them run around the stage, playing drums, playing piano, and different kinds of guitars. There sound is more Bluegrass than some of the other bands, but they do not stick to the old time sound either.

Here is a video of Old Crow Medicine Show, and incorporating the use of drums into their music:


I do not know how I classify Bluegrass to be honest. I would like to say that I have a simple definition, but I do not. The banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and bass are all similar instruments played within a Bluegrass band, but I do not believe those are the only classifiers that make a bluegrass band a bluegrass band. Bluegrass is whatever you want it to be. If it hits you in your heart with an old song about your childhood, or it has an old lonesome sound, or if it just makes your first instinct assume it is Bluegrass, then it is Bluegrass. Bluegrass is more of an idea, to me, instead of an actual thing. The old string instruments being sawed on on a Saturday night in the heart of town are considered Bluegrass, and so are the amplified banjos and guitars played on the stage of an Old Crow Medicine Show concert. Bluegrass is whatever you think it is, noo what someone tells you it is.

Don Reno

Don Reno

Don Reno, a master of the five-string banjo and the one credited for the emergence of the guitar, was a superior master of the tenor vocalist and songwriters of his time. He was born in South Carolina in February of 1926. He grew up in North Carolina and as a kid, built his own banjos. When he was in his teens, he recorded with the Morris Brothers and Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. He recorded with Woody Guthrie and was asked to become part of Monroe’s the Blue Grass Boys, but he denied in order to serve in World War II.  {}

In 1948, Reno replaced Earl Skruggs in the Bluegrass Boys. He was a little irritated that people referred to his banjo picking as “Skruggs style”. He always believed that if he would not have gone off to war, “Skruggs style” would have been “Reno style”. He played for two years with the Bluegrass Boys until forming Reno and Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups. The band lasted for nearly fourteen years and realeased pick hits like, “I’m Using My Bible for a Road Map”, “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could”, and ‘Don;t Let Your Sweet Love Die”. His son, Ronnie Reno, played mandolin for the group that quickly became a regular on RFD TV.

In 1964, Red Smiley retired from the Tennessee Cutups, so Reno joined his guitarist, Bill Harrell and formed Reno and Harrell. Red Smiley joined Reno and Harrell on occasion until his death in 1972. In 1976, Harrell and Reno parted ways and Reno settled in Lynchburg, VA. He played alongside his sons, Don, Wayne, Dale and Ronnie until his death in 1984. {}

Don Reno’s legacy was known for his wicked Banjo and creating room for a lead guitar. In all the bands Reno played in, he brought his unique banjo style and his high tenor voice. His legacy is carried on through his sons, The Reno Brothers.

Bristol Sessions Performers

In September, I was given the opportunity to visit, “The Birthplace of Country Music” in Bristol Tennessee. I was able to learn about “The first family” the Carter’s and many others. A.P. Carter, his wife- Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle, were a few of the first performers to make the Bristol Sessions successful and well-known.  They sang wonderful harmonies and shape-note hymns. There music was popular when the sessions first began and their music has carried over to today. Maybelle play the lead guitar with her thumb while the other sang in great harmony.

Jimmie Rogers, another great performer, split from his band just before the Bristol Session. When he split, he sang solo at the Bristol Sessions. The Carters and Jimmie Rogers tend to overshadow other major performers at the Bristol sessions. Some include Reverend Phipps and his Holiness singers, Alfred Karnes and Alfred Reed; all of which sang for the holiest of people. They were all tied in with religion, like most all Bluegrass and old time at the time. Reed grew up in Bedford County, VA (maybe 30 miles from my hometown!), and soon worked his way to Bristol, VA/TN.

Here is a link for a performance by the Carter Family and Another for Alfred Reed:



Bill Monroe- Reminds me of Home

So after watching the documentary last night called “High Lonesome”, I felt exactly like that. I will elaborate on this as well. So, growing up, I heard stories from my granddad about “the Good ol’ days”. He always talked about singing in the fields, singing in church on Sundays, and listening to the radio with the family every Friday night. He would tell me about going to barn dances, fiddler’s conventions, and about having the opportunity to go to the Grand Ole Opry to see Bill Monroe perform. Last night, I watched the documentary; it was the first time since I have started college that I truly felt homesick. Granted, I do not live that far from here, I still am not home everyday like I was. The songs Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and some of the other musicians played in the documentary were some the I grew up listening to as a child. When Monroe played “Uncle Pen” last night, I can still remember sitting in the hay field, after the hay was baled, singing that song with my dad and granddad. When Monroe discussed his childhood as  “work, school, church, huntin’, fishin’, and swimmin'” it reminded me of the stories my granddad used to tell about hunting grouse and “finishing feedin’ the hogs early” to go swim in the swimmin’ hole to escape the hot July sun.

The documentary hit a little too close to home and made me reminisces on the past. I remember playing pick up games of baseball, hanging out on the backs of trucks, and listening to the old banjos and guitars screaming at the old country . stores. You could never go to the old country stores and be back “in just a minute”. When you would go to town, you knew you had to have time on your hands because you would be stuck there for a couple of hours.  Times have changed in the last ten or so years. The little country store my dad would take me to as a little six or seven year old has been shut down. My granddad doesn’t go to town as much since the old banjo and guitar pickers have all packed up and moved away. Some traditions will never end though. We still sing old songs out in the fields to remind us of what we have and to remember that we are not alone. This whole documentary simply reminded me of home every step of the way.