Mixtape – Bluegrass: Transcending Genre & Race, Uniting in Place


Appalachia has been known for the larger part of history as a primarily white Anglo-saxon population. The truth of the matter is that Appalachian culture and heritage happens to be as rich as the soil that sprouts its tobacco and as diverse as its mountainous terrain. That being said, bluegrass is largely claimed as “the sound of Appalachia,” when in fact a variety of genres have spawned from the region. It may surprise many to hear that prominent hip hop acts including Outkast, Gucci Mane, Wiz Khalifa, and even Soulja Boy, are considered Appalachian artists. Although the genres differ in sound and style, many common themes can be observed to transcend boundaries of genre and race.

Music has always been an outlet for relaxation, laughs, and good times, but it also has the ability to serve a larger purpose in bringing a voice to social issues and political discontent. Among this discussion in the Appalachian region, across genres, are the topics of poverty, race, hard labor, environmental destruction, drug abuse, and high levels of incarceration. On these fronts, no area, race, or individual is spared of these aspects of day to day Appalachian life.


It is no secret that Appalachia consists of some of the poorest counties in the United States. In Kentucky, often considered the heart of Appalachia, conditions are particularly poor. The majority of the population consists of working class people that do their best to get by. The people of the area are by no means strangers to hard work. Daily life remains a struggle throughout the area, times can be difficult, but a larger sense of accomplishment seems to come along with the survival in the struggle. Stomachs and wallets may remain empty, but in no way do their hearts.

 Nappy Roots – Po Folks
Hip Hop

 The Dysfunktional Family- Everyday
Hip Hop

The Dysfunktional Family is a group from Athens, Ohio, that formed in the year 2000. In 2007, they were signed by Plus One Records and released their first self titled album.They recently released their third album The Dysfunktional Family Reunion. The have been promoting their music over the past several years along the east coast, touring from Ohio down to Florida.

“Everyday” contains an inspirational gospel chorus that ties together the lyrical discussion of the struggle to get by, but the drive necessary to achieve success. It stresses the importance of working “everyday, 365, tryna make it by, [to] see the world, gotta make it mine.” Not only does the song discuss daily struggle, but also inspires others to walk forth with the energy and confidence to accomplish anything put in front of them.


 Kickin Grass– Little Piece of Cornbread
Modern Bluegrass

Kickin Grass consists of 5 band members that combines a fusion of genres including new grass, American folk, and Americana music. The band has many elements of bluegrass consisting of mandolinist Jamie Dawson, fiddler Pattie Hopkins, bassist Patrick Walsh, banjo player Hank Smith, and guitarist and lead vocalist Lynda Dawson.

The lyrics included in “Little Piece of Cornbread,” along with the rest of the songs on their 2003 album Backroads, contain feelings of old time and the warmth of home. Their sound is both joyous and lonesome, one in the same. “Little Piece of Cornbread” is fast paced, as if attempting to mimic the mind of a hungry child. It mentions “looking in the mirror” and “only seeing bones and sticks. It continues to tell the story of a trip down to the country store that only ends with the clerk telling the little girl that her family has no credit left and will have to go hungry. Although the song tells a story of struggle, the pace of picking and energy in the fiddle suggest thought of perseverance as long as they have “each other.”

Ricky Skaggs- Simple Life
Recent Bluegrass

Ricky Skaggs is one of the more prominent names in bluegrass. Although many consider him to have gone more country, while straying away from bluegrass, his roots are undeniable. He first performed with Ralph Stanley’s legendary band as a teenager. The roots of bluegrass are felt in this performance with a full band, the Kentucky Thunder.

“Simple Life” tells everything about just that, the simple life of the country. The guitar chords bring to mind feelings of nostalgia of younger days, the lyrics tell the story of the beauty of the simple things, and the fiddle keeps a fast, energetic pace, suggesting content in simple life and plenty more ahead.The song mentions “working all day, sleeping all night,” and having a wife, kids, a dog, and cat. The song overall expresses no longing for extravagant frills, but rather, the simple daily thrills. It is clearly written at a time in his life where he can see where he has come from as well as the road ahead. The message is clear that though they may not have a lot, at least the have what they have, and that is all they can ask for.

As mentioned before, both bluegrass and Appalachia as a whole have been thought of primarily as white Anglo-saxons. Bluegrass has been influenced by traditional African music, jazz, and blues. Over the last 100 years the genre has been able to spread outside of the Appalachian area to other parts of the United States, and around the world. This has been aided largely in recent years due to humanitarian efforts from artists such as Abigail Washburn and the all female group Della Mae.

Bluegrass 45- Mocking Banjo
Japanese Bluegrass

During the time when Carlton Haney was gathering American bluegrass artists for his festivals in Fincastle, Virginia, another movement had begun across the Pacific. In an interview from the film Bluegrass Country Soul, member from Bluegrass 45 mention that at the time there were over 100 bluegrass bands that had formed in Japan, mainly among college aged individuals.

They provide both an entertaining and insightful look at the impact bluegrass had on the world at the time. Although they were located halfway across the world, something in the music attracted them and allowed them to express themselves. As clearly shown by the reactions of laughter and applause from the crowd, they are embraced with open arms by the bluegrass community.

Carolina Chocolate Drops
Modern African-American Bluegrass Musicians

Elizabeth Cotten
Old Time: Particularly impressive for her time as she was both African American and a woman in a time when bluegrass was dominated by white men.

Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1893. One of her most notable songs is titled “Freight Train” which she wrote at age 12 and continued to sing for over 80 years. She takes a right handed guitar and flips it over, basically playing in reverse.

She refers to her style of play as “cotton picking style.” Cotten picking style, as she calls it, is played with the pointer finger, middle finger, and thumb.

In the clip above, Cotten begins with song “Freight Train,” followed by an instrumental plucking of a song she calls “The Sweet By and By.” She goes on to play another song, whose name I cannot seem to make out, but she describes it as “very old.” Then comes the banjo.

She describes the influence her brother had on her decision to pick up the banjo. While her brother was off at work, she would take out the banjo, which she says she played so often she sometimes “broke it down to three strings.” Because she is left-handed, she only plays four strings instead of the five typically played by banjo players. This is due to the fact that the thumb string is situated at the bottom of most banjos.

She goes on to pluck two songs one titled “Shoot the Buffalo” and another that she calls “Georgia Buck.”

Appalachia has always consisted of those who have had to scrape a living out what they have available. The jobs in the region are largely blue collar, dirty work. Farming, mining, hunting, and gathering have almost always been a part of Appalachian life. The people of Appalachia are certainly not strangers to calloused hand, low wages, but a drive to work hard.

Free the Optimus: C. Shreve the Professor- Borrowed Time
Hip Hop

 “stand tall when the axe about to fall”

Del McCoury Band- Loggin Man – Live in Japan
1st Generation Bluegrass

“ He works in the sun, in the rain, and the snow, he works in the winter when the cold winds blow”

“stubborn as a mule and twice as strong”

Environmental Abuse
Coal mining consists of a large part of the economy in Appalachia. The hard labor, dangerous conditions,and union strikes are familiar aspects of the mining community. Almost the entire Appalachian economy relies on some aspect of the gifts of the land in order to make a profit. Growing education over the harmful effects of certain industries on the environment is slowly increasing. The land Appalachia is reliant upon has begun to develop a cultural movement to protect it. These artists are some of the many leaders of the movement.

Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien- Keep Your Dirty Lights On
Recent Bluegrass

Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are two extremely well known and notable artists in the bluegrass community. Although in the past bluegrass has not typically been associated with activism, some artists are changing the mold to speak on the importance of the preservation of their country homes that provide them with so much.

O’Brien and Scott are critical of the political campaigns that advocate for the continued strip mining operations and the use of “clean coal.” The fact of the matter is coal is cheap and the areas with high coal production often times also happen to be poor.

Beatty[Tymeless] – West Virginia Water

Another topic of discussion stemming from the heart of Appalachia is West Virginia’s problem with clean water. About a year ago, an estimated 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into surrounding water supplies after a malfunction in a chemical storage container. The contamination, spreading across 9 counties,  was later declared a disaster area by president Obama.

Instead of paying to fix the problems with contamination, local governments are attempting to pass bills lowering pollution standards to protect industries such as coal mining. Freedom Industries, the company found to be responsible for the spill was only fined $11,000 for the incident.

One year later drinking the water is still an issue effecting 300,000 residents of Charleston, WV, as well as many others around the state. Following the spill, several of the countries effected were rated the most miserable cities in America by marketwatch.com.

Beatty has received high praise across both the music and political communities for his role in drawing attention to this unthinkable crisis. He mentions aspects of daily life for those effected, mentioning having to bathe with bottled water saying that  you “better shower fast, hit the gas to get some more.” In the background of a portion of the video is the WV capitol building. This only adds to the strength of his message as he turns his back to a government seemingly no longer listening to the voices of their people.

Jim Ringer – Black Waters

Jim Ringer was born on February 29, 1936 in Yell County Arkansas. He was born into a family that was heavily affected by the Dust Bowl. His family left the Midwest for California. It was there that Ringer developed a reputation as a lawbreaker, which eventually landed him in jail for two years. Shortly after being released, Ringer and 12 friends purchased a 1948 Chevy schoolbus and began traveling as the Portable Folk Festival.

Although he grew up in Oklahoma and California, he often refers to Kentucky as his home. He is known as peaking often about the troubles of the life of a coal miner and the destruction of the land he calls his home. In Black Waters, he mentions “sad scenes of destruction on every hand, black waters, black waters run down through my land.” He talks about his mountains being torn down, death of children, and toxic black waters flooding his home.

In the beginning of his career, Jim Ringer was believed by many to be on his way to stardom. Although he never achieved widespread fame, he has developed a large cult following over the years and is often associated with the sound of protest music, particularly in protest of environmental destruction.


 Drug Abuse

Yelawolf – Billy Crystal
Hip Hop

Soldier’s Joy- Performed by Doc Watson & David Grisman

Became associated with the alcohol and morphine abuse that became popular during the civil war

Memphis Jug Band – Cocaine Habit Blues
1st Generation mention of drug use

Prison Incarceration

Osborne Brothers – Shackles and Chains

Flatt & Scruggs – Doin’ My Time




Ultimately the themes spread across genres. No one is spared from the aspects of Appalachian life that make us who we are. We are mountain people and we eek out our existence through what our land provides for us. It certainly would be a strange seen to have someone like Gucci Mane standing on stage with Ralph Stanley, but in reality the may not be as different as we believe.

Learning from Experience

“Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”

Overall, I can thank this class for giving me a larger appreciation for everything Appalachia. Before taking this class I had never taken a course in the school of Appalachian Studies, but I have found few classes as rewarding as this one.

Not only do I appreciate the place I live more, but I have found an entirely new avenue of art and culture that I find joy and pride in. As a result of taking this class, which I took as an elective, I will always have a strong association between my Blacksburg home, or the Blue Ridge as a whole, and the soundtrack that has become my bluegrass education.

I have learned plenty through the textbooks, outside reading, and recordings we have discussed, but books and classrooms do not teach the way real experience can. Early in the class, I decided to come along on a trip down to the beautiful mountain town of Boone, North Carolina.

The trip has been one of the most rewarding in my college experience and was, by all means, a full emersion into Appalachian culture. The clogging, mountain music, sense of family and community camaraderie were felt just as strongly as the ground on which I stood.

I have always seen flatter-footers in my family at weddings, family reunions, and other gatherings, but I had never seen anything like the Green Grass Cloggers. The perfectly synced steps and stomps of the dancers and the smile on the face of one woman (dressed in red) in particular (whose name I am unsure of) made the stage glow. Not that any of the other dancers were any less enjoyable.

The fiddle, loud stomps, and high kicks filled the room with something so undeniably rich in Appalachia heritage. When I closed my eyes I could envision myself in the cellar of some long forgotten pub back in Europe,  in a crowded market during early colonial times, around a fire while at rest as a soldier in the Civil War, and in my grandparents home with all twenty one cousins.

Through actually experiencing bluegrass in the way it was performed at the Fiddler’s Convention, I was able to feel the spirit of my blood line carried through time to the present. No music has ever had the power that bluegrass has shown me, and I can say it proves to be truly timeless. The same joys felt hundreds of years ago can be felt today through performances like I saw in Boone.

On April 18th, I also had the chance to see a band that goes by the name of Welcome to Hoonah. They performed in a bar in the city I call home: Blacksburg, Virginia.

Welcome to Hoonah is a creative fusion of folk, americana, rock, and old country, and some elements of bluegrass influence are undeniable. They incorporate a wide range of sounds from stomp rock with originals like “Poor Molly,” while also being able to slow things down and soften things up with beckoning tenderness in “Sweet Marjorie.”

The band provides a delightfully casual, but articulate sound. The band consists of five talented members who are listed on the band’s Facebook page as follows:

Spencer McKenna, ridin’ the electric neck and wailin’
Jessica Larsen, ratatattin’ the washboard and singin’ along
Chris Eanes, holdin’ down that low end on the bass
Brian McKee, keepin’ it high and tight on the kit
Alex Faught, toetappin’ banjo master

Welcome to Hoonah just happen to also be from Roanoke, VA. The center base of perhaps my entire family. They lay testimony to the fact that although bluegrass has changed, it is transcending the boundaries of genre and, through artists like them, remaining a relevant part of American culture.

Both events I attended this semester provided an awesome time full of smiles hoots and hollers that will hold a place in my memory for years to come.

I have always attached music, especially that which contains elements of bluegrass, to home and family. Watching performers playing traditional music from my bloodline’s past, as well as, performers from my family’s city will invariably hold great value to me. Live performance is by far the best way to fully grasp and understand the entirety of an artists music.

This class has provided a wonderful experience over the last sever month. To me it has been not just a class, but something far greater, an experience.

Listen to Your Mother

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”  – John Burroughs

As artist paint a scene on canvas, so too do musicians create images, evoke feelings, and remind us of scenes we have witnessed or enjoy imagining. In many ways the music we listen to reminds us of what surrounds us in our daily lives. As we plug into our mobile devices to chase these “synthetic” pleasures, an entire symphony of the sounds of life surrounds us. Often times we do not take the time to appreciate it.

In a setting like a college campus, the majority of these sounds are a testament to  the noise we as humans create. It is easy to forget the life around us as we attempt to live our own. The convenience of engines, electricity, and other technologies that we use daily can make us blind to our natural surroundings.

When we remove our headphones and actually pay attention to what goes on around us, we can both hear and see the life that surrounds us. The same ability to hear the music we appreciate has a much greater purpose in our survival, a fact that can easily be forgotten.

Our ability to hear is a phenomenal adaptation meant to make us aware of what surrounds us and alert us of potential danger. However, somewhere in the human mind came a moment where this means of survival also became an ability to experience joy, sadness, melancholy, terror, and nostalgia.

All of these emotions can be felt through the music we create, but can also be found in nature. The sound of wind in the trees, the gentle lapping of ocean against the shore, and birds softly chirping as you awake, can provide a wonderfully soothing effect. A crack of thunder, the splitting of a branch, and the rumble of an earthquake evoke terror. Our earth is just as alive as we are and it only takes tuning out the noise we create to appreciate it.

One artist in particular has found a way to fuse the sounds of nature into music.

Diego Stocco is an innovative composer, sound designer, and performer who has composed scores for notable features including the films “Immortals,” “Into the Blue,” “Crank,” and many more. While busy in Hollywood, he also finds time do do experimental work on the side, which involves fusing the sounds of nature with modern technology.

By recording the sounds of nature playing “instruments,” such as the tree, Stocco creates a unique, captivating sound while also providing a metaphor for the coexistence of nature and mankind.

Diego Stocco provides an interesting fusion of sounds that suggests that what the “human world” and nature are not necessarily separate entities, but rather all part of one system. All we have to do is listen. One mother, one earth.

The Queen

For years Rhonda Vincent has won over the hearts of millions of fans with her animated performances, pleasing harmony, and southern charm. The respect and widespread adoration for Vincent has granted her, in the minds of many, the title of “the queen of bluegrass.

At the age of eight she was playing mandolin, and by ten was performing on the fiddle in her family band. After several years playing with her family, she decided to set out to make a name for herself all her own. She began performing with Jim Ed Brown from the Grand Ol’ Opry and was signed by Rebel Records. Shortly after releasing her first album, she was noticed by James Stroud, the president of Giant Nashville Records. Stroud then offered Vincent a two album contemporary country deal.

After completing two country albums, Vincent reached back to her roots and produced recordings with a more traditional style, similar to what she was used to playing and listening to while growing up.

In 1999, she was in a car accident that limited her ability to travel for auditions. Instead, she decided to hire a band and collaborate on the album online. Storm Still Rages was nominated in 2001 for seven IBMA awards, including Female Vocalist of the year. She then went on to hold the title of Female Vocalist of the year.

In a genre that is largely dominated by men, Rhonda Vincent is a standout female artists with the utmost respect from the bluegrass community. She has shown perseverance in the face of obstacles and determination to make music not just for sales, but from the heart.

Rhonda Vincent represents everything sweet in every country girl who has ever had a broken heart, and every woman a man never wants to see cry. She is a talented fiddler, skilled mandolin player, and has a voice that sings so smoothly it could almost be confused with a dobro at times.

Vincent represents a wonderful combination as both a traditionalist, as well as a renegade in what she has done for the place women hold in bluegrass.

Roots & Sprouts

I have always had an extremely high interest in new music, emerging artists, and the evolution of the sounds of a genre over time. However, in the last several months, after deciding to take a course on bluegrass music, I have redirected my attention to music, both old and new, that has come from my area of the country.

My mom and dad have never let me forget that I have Blue Ridge blood. Although the more deeply rooted Appalachian cousins of mine joke with me about being a “city boy” from Southside Richmond, I have always found a strong connection with the bluegrass and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The sound not only reminds me of the family that I see less than I would like, but of particular places that been painted in my memory. Long, aimless drives with my grandpa, heading no place in particular, but to find a good look at Smith Mountain Lake, or the mountains surrounding it.

In the bluegrass community today, the definition and classification is highly debated. I find it ironic that Ralph Stanley, widely considered one of the fathers of bluegrass, considers bluegrass to be strictly the music created by Bill Monroe.

While there is such a hot debate going on over what is considered bluegrass, place is undeniable. Just as bluegrass music is widely considered the sound of Appalachia, I have begun to associate the music from artists nearby to represent myself and my culture. When we are sprouting from the same valleys and rivers, there are sure to be similar ideologies and shared beliefs.

The evolution of music in Appalachia has come a long way in the last 100 years, and yes, of coarse, this is due in part to the advance of modern technology, but certain elements from old time bluegrass, even if they are minimal, can be heard in the music of emerging artists.

Mipso is an emerging group from Burke County, NC. The have been praised by critics as cutting edge traditionalists, incorporating  strong harmony, fiddle, upright bass, guitar and mandolin. Elements of bluegrass influence are evident as they put their own unique “dark holler pop” sound on display. There certainly seems to be something truly Appalachian in their sound.

Jim White vs. The Parkway Handle Band also incorporate undeniable aspects of bluegrass. Their group sing, swing stomp sound has elements of bluegrass that aren’t quite old time, but are sure to provide a good time.

Other notable artists such as Travis Book, the bassist from the Infamous Stringdusters, and Gill Landry, supporting member in Old Crow Medicine Show, have also been working on their own projects. Book has teamed up with his wife to form the group Sunnier, will Landry has been pursuing his solo career.

All of these artists are coming from areas all around the Blue Ridge. I can honestly say they are representing the area well, while also not entirely forgetting their roots. As they grow in popularity and times change, it is good to know that the evolution of music in the area can still remain relevant and relatable to the people.

For more emerging artists in the Blue Ridge Area checkout Blueridgeoutdoors.com.


Music has always been a quintessential aspect of culture and human expression. Long before music became the billion dollar industry that it is today, songs could be heard at family gatherings, celebrations, and other social events. Instruments have been throughout history, tools that create a language that has the ability to transcend any kind of cultural border. It is something every culture indulges in and nearly everyone enjoys.

The sounds of music can be said to be something truly human, and just as each individual has a different personality, so do they have a different way of expressing themselves. Originality seems to be a valid quality in the arts, especially in western culture. That being said, the influence of those around you, who share similar experiences and joys, is undeniable.

Certain styles of music can be noted from different regions of the world, and have become associated with the culture of the area. Americans can proudly claim the roots of genres including jazz, blues, country, and hip-hop.

Bluegrass came into existence as a colorful combination of the expressive styles of country, blues, and some could argue, elements of jazz. This fast paced, fingerpickin’ sound seems to have grown straight out of the earth itself, as its name suggests. Bluegrass is a product of the Appalachian people and is an audible representation of the legends, labor, and perseverance the men and women of the Blue Ridge carry with them.

Bluegrass serves as a platform for the expression of religion, labors of daily life, and the appreciation for the breathtaking scenery surrounding the area. Although the exact origin of bluegrass is credited to the Kentucky, many of the folks of Appalachia claim bluegrass to be the sound of the people.


Bluegrass music represents the hardworking people ranging from Mississippi all the way north to parts of New York. The time spent in the field, the hours in the coal mines, the broken hearts, and the bourbon bottles run dry all seem to be understood in Appalachia. Bluegrass helps shed light on the struggles, some more pressing than others, in the daily lives of these people.


The heart and soul, blood of the people, and spirit of the mountain can all be spoken for through the twangs, pangs and foot stomping jubilee that comes along with bluegrass music.

Appalachia can proudly claim bluegrass as their own, just as other regions of the world claim their own respective styles and genres. Each variety of music is a voice for the people who have surrounded it, nurtured it, and allowed it to grow. As the people work to develop a culture, music becomes the language capable of expressing the hardships, joys, and pleasures of existence when words seem to fail.

The rich variety of music across the world is in many ways universal. Music is truly a human creation. The relationship between the existence of humans and music is intertwined. Just as we create music, so too does music breathe life into our lives. Without our ability to perceive and interpret the sounds we hear, music would have very little significance.

We grow throughout our lives to associate certain people, places, feelings, and memories with the music that surrounds us at the time. In a way, the coupling of music with memory allows us to write our own biography. At any moment, particular sounds and songs have the power to open pages from the past, present, and those which have yet to have been written.

Don Rigsby: 4th Generation

Don Rigsby is native to the remote, backwoods town of Isonville, Kentucky, an area rich with bluegrass tradition. He was raised in a family of talented Bluegrass and Old-Time musicians. It only made sense for him to pursue a career in the sounds and traditions he was brought up around.

As many bluegrass musicians of his generation, Rigsby grew up listening to the songs of Ralph Stanley. He also grew up around two of Stanley’s Clinch Mountain boys, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, who happens to be Rigsby’s cousin.

Don’s family influence taught him many of the traditional sounds of bluegrass, which he has carried with him throughout his career. He is known not only for his mandolin player, but also his powerful tenor.

At the age of 6, Rigsby attended a Ralph Stanley concert for his birthday. During the show, Keith Whitley came into the audience, grabbed Don, and brought him backstage to meet his idol, Ralph Stanley.

The influence of Ralph Stanley’s style has been evident in Rigsby’s music over the years. He has produced multiple critically acclaimed solo albums, while also playing as a member in the award-winning, Lonesome River Band.

Other noteable acts include the Bluegrass Cardinals, as well as collaboration with J.D. Crowe. He has also been involved with Longview, a group of top-ranked traditional bluegrass artists assembled by Rounder Records.

Don Rigsby is a two time Grammy nominee, two time Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America Male Vocalist of the Year, shared two IBMA awards while playing with Longview, and was also featured as a vocalist on John Fogerty’s Grammy winning album, Blue Moon Swamp.

In 2001, Rigsby returned to his Alma Mater and became the first full-time director of Morehead State University’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. Through this position, Rigsby aims to preserve traditional music and pass his heritage and experiences with the next generation.

In 2013, Rigsby recorded ‘Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley.’ Just as he has throughout his long, rich career, Rigsby preserves the traditional bluegrass sound while tipping his hat at and even singing on the same track as his hero.


David Grisman: Dawg Music

David Grisman is widely considered as the most influential mandolin player in the 2nd generation of bluegrass. He is known and associated not just with bluegrass, but also for his jazz and folk influence. The meshing of these genres was often difficult to classify. When asked what style of music he played, Grisman would often refer to his style of mandolin as “dawg music.”

Although mandolin is the instrument Grisman is widely known for, he was versed in playing piano and saxophone by the time he was teenager. He attended college at New York University. In 1966, Grisman joined Red Allen and the Kentuckians as a mandolin picker. Eventually he joined the group Earth Opera, a dynamic rock group that blended folk, rock, country, and jazz.

After two albums with Earth Opera, Grisman  began collaborating with Grateful Dead member, Jerry Garcia. He recorded with the Grateful Dead on the album ‘American Beauty’ and continued to collaborate with Jerry Garcia on their well known project Old & In The Way. Later, with collaboration with others, the two formed the American String Band. Grisman’s time with the American String Band allowed him to develop his trademark style of energetic improvized breaks. Other members of the original band included notable contributions from Taj Mahal and Richard Greene.

The Great American String Band: 6-13-1974 Keystone, Berkeley, CA


Later on, Grisman formed a new group called the David Grisman Quintet, which recorded the breakthrough album ‘Hot Dawg.” It was at this time that he truly began to be recognized as a leader in the “newgrass” movement, as it incorporated elements of jazz, long improvizations, while maintaining so elements of traditional bluegrass.

The group recorded two albums, separating shortly after. Notable banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck then collaborated with Grisman for several recording sessions. Fleck has mentioned Grisman as a strong musical influence on his own work.

Grisman has recorded over 40 albums, and received 5 Grammy nominations. Throughout his career he is noted for playing many classic bluegrass songs like Bill Monroe’s ‘Moonlight Waltz’ and Django Reinhardt’s ‘Swing 42.’ He is one of the most sought after mandolin player to live and can truly be credited as one of the pioneers in the bluegrass genre.

The following includes a compilation and interview of Grisman tracks recorded throughout the expanse of his long and rich career:



Traditional Plus

When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.” – Doc Watson

Music seems to always be evolving, no matter what genre, what country, or what time period. Part of the beauty of creating music is the ability to make a sound your own. Every listener could be said to hear a song “their way,” or perceive their own message from the music being played. Naturally this translates into a vast array of renditions and takes on the preexisting songs and sounds of the time.

The rise of the radio, as mentioned in Robert Cantwell’s piece titled “Hillbilly Music,” set a certain standard for the style of traditional bluegrass as artists like Bill Monroe began to be broadcast nationwide. People as far away as Hawaii were even tuning in to hear the high lonesome sounds of bluegrass.

With the change of times and the wider, faster dissemination of information made possible by the radio, a certain homogenized society tends to form, while the rural isolated traditions seem to lose importance in the minds of the youth.

At the time of the rise of radio, rich the traditions of the backwoods were shared with the world. As these isolated cultures were shared with the masses, so too were the cultures of the masses shared with the backwoods.

In years since, these traditions, songs, stories, and general ways of life have intrigued and brought great joy to people all over the world. That being said, there also seems to be somewhat of a loss of certain primordial customs. Is it possible for a way of life once exposed to the public to avoid influence from outside of tradition? Can a culture truly remain authentic and unadulterated in modern times?

As Cantwell mentions, the old time bluegrass sound was followed by and influenced by Chicago style jazz. The improvisation and breaks seen in the jazz movement of the time were heard in music from groups like the Prairie Ramblers and Clayton McMichen and the Georgia Wildcats.

In the Prairie Ramblers’ “I’ll Never Say ‘Never Again’ Again” elements of the new jazz influence are evident.

Over the years the evolution has continued. The raw purity of the old time, backwoods sound may be nearly as difficult to hear in present day as it would have been living in an urban setting before radio. Collaborations of artists across genres and covers of pop songs in bluegrass style have been made from the beginning. Even for those who treasure old time bluegrass above all other styles cannot deny that often times the result can be both tasteful and eloquent.


Roscoe Holcomb: Mountain Wholesome

Roscoe Holcomb was born in 1912, just one year after Bill Monroe, in Daisy, Kentucky. He is said to have influenced artists such as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton and was greatly admired by the Stanley Brothers.

Holcomb is credited as one of the founders of the “High and Lonesome” sound. His voice is echoes the troubles and joys of living the tough life of an Appalachian farmer and coal miner.

Although he was known to be a talented guitar and banjo player and a decent harmonica and fiddle player, some of Holcomb’s most notable songs were recorded acapella. The lack of instruments in some of Holcomb’s recordings reflects a strong influence and root in the Old Regular Baptist Church.

Roscoe is one of the true products of the raw American backwoods playing songs with titles like “Little Birdie” and “Hook and Line,” as seen below.



Although the heart in Holcomb’s music is apparent, he claims to only casually play about once a month. He dresses professionally, as many of the bluegrass musicians of the time did, but carries with him a sense of the dirt that filled his hands in farming, the coal dust that filled his lungs, and all the bumps and bruises that are necessary to receive in order to survive in the backwoods of Ol’ Kentucky.

He truly was one of the “good old boys,” living only several miles away from Hazard County, the setting for the hit TV show Dukes of Hazard.

“I thought there wasn’t nothing but work,” Holcomb says, in an Interview with Mike Seeger. He continues saying, “I’d give anything ever I seen if I could just get to where I could start back to work again.”


Holcomb never intended to become a star. Although he was recorded and even performed for audiences for a short period of time, he would have been just as happy playing to the open air of the mountains.