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.