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.
2 thoughts on “Decisions Decisions”
“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.”
Beautifully written, Courtney. You are indeed finding a voice. If we understand how bluegrass is constructed… what can we learn about the people who defend and love the music? What can we learn about the ways places are similarly created within our hearts? So much to think about!
I love the way you describe your thoughts on Bluegrass in this post and can tell that you are passionate about the music. I definitely agree with you that Bluegrass is more of feeling rather than an actual definition. For me, it is the gospel bluegrass songs being played at my church on Sunday nights and the local bluegrass band picking at the county fair on the Fourth of July. We all have different places where bluegrass takes us and that is the beauty of the genre!