Bluegrass Presentation

What is the Crooked Road?
The Crooked Road is a music heritage trail that runs along the southwest region of Virginia in and around the Appalachian Mountains. It is home to many bluegrass/old time musicians, music venues, and other musically historical sites. This trail follows US route 58, starting in Franklin County, Virginia and ending in Dickenson, Virginia. Music along this trail has rural influence with bluegrass, old-time, country, and gospel. It also has generational influence; music on this trail has been passed down through generations to keep the heritage alive. The purpose of my annotated mix tape is to display the influence of Virginia’s heritage on artists/musicians around the area and also those from outside of Virginia. Many of these songs have a connection with the crooked road due to the artist being from a geographically relevant location, while some songs have a connection to the crooked road merely through the content.
What does the Crooked Road look like?

Franklin County:

  • Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum (Ferrum)
  • Blue Ridge Folklife festival
  • Harvester Performance Center
  • Annual Crooked Road Dulcimer Festival

Floyd County:

  • Floyd Country Store
  • Floydfest
  • Street Jams
  • Mountain Fever Records
  • First Sunday Jazz Series

Carroll County:

  • The Fiddle & The Plow
  • Blue Ridge Music Center (Galax)
  • Fancy Gap Pickin’ Porch

Grayson County

  • Old Time and Bluegrass Fiddler’s Convention
  • Cabin Creek Musical Instruments
  • Donley Violins
  • Earth Mama Artisan Music
  • Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition (Grayson Highlands State Park)
  • Annual Gospel Sing (Grayson Highlands State Park)

Washington County:

  • Crooked Road Youth Music Festival (Heartwood)
  • Music on The Lawn (various artists participate)
  • Richard Leigh Songwriters Festival
  • Thursday Jams Concert Series in Abingdon
  • Mountains of Music Homecoming (various venues along the crooked road)


  • Birthplace of Country Music Museum
  • Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion
  • Second Sunday Concert Series

Scott County:

  • Carter Family Fold
  • A.P. Carter Museum

Wise County:

  • Mountain Music School
  • Gathering in the Gap Music Festival
  • Clinch River Days Festival
  • Lays Hardware Jam Sessions
  • Friday Night Bluegrass (Hardware Center for the Arts)
  • Mountains of Music Homecoming
  • Country Cabin (Norton)
  • Birth place of Ralph Stanley (Coeburn)

Dickenson County:

  • Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center (Clintwood)

My Playlist:

track 1 – Raining in Virginia by Breaking Grass

– Breaking Grass is an all-male bluegrass band composed of five members from around Mississippi

– Mountain Fever Records (Floyd)

– Song makes allusion to Virginia


track 2 – Can’t Sing a Sad Song by After Jack

– After Jack is a female-dominated bluegrass band with 3 members (2 sisters)

– Often found singing around the Crooked Road trail – Floyd Country Store

– represent mix of bluegrass, folk, old-time, story-telling, and other variations of “mountain music”


track 3 – Blue Ridge Mountain Blues by The Stoneman Family

– Stoneman family began with Ernest “Pop” Stoneman – Carroll County, VA

– recorded at Bristol Sessions in 1927 in Bristol VA

– Roots in SWVA

– demonstration of generation in bluegrass music


track 4 – Carroll County Blues by Doc & Merle Watson

– carroll county is significant on the trail


track 5 – Hesitation Blues by The New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters


track 6 – My Old Home’s In White Top Mountain by White Top Mountain Band


track 7 – Echoes of The Blue Ridge by White Top Mountain Band



track 8 – My Dixie Darling by The Carter Family



track 9 – Border Ride by Jim & Jesse McReynolds




track 10 – Dixieland (My Old Hometown) by Ralph Stanley



(maybe?) track 11 – Down The Crooked Road by The Dixie Bee-Liners



– Youtube














Listen Closely

In class this week, we were given a worksheet that consisted of boxes to fill in. We were asked to go outside of the classroom and walk around our large campus filled with many different environments. The sheet suggested we go to a quiet and woodsy area, a busy, pedestrian filled area, and other areas that would allow us to experience different sights and sounds. Our task was to ignore the sights; close our eyes and open our ears.
I first walked out onto the big open main part of campus which we call the drillfield at Virginia Tech. Here, I listened for the sound that people made as they went on their way to class, passed Frisbees on the lawn… the sound of feet hitting the ground and cars and buses driving around; their brakes screeching as they paused for pedestrians. I then walked to a pond/wooded area we call the “Duck Pond”. I expected it to be much quieter here, however, there were people talking amongst one another, little children running around chasing the ducks, the sound of people running and heavily breathing, and many other man-made noises. I sat underneath a willow tree and tried to concentrate on the sounds that were coming from the earth. I heard the wind breezily flowing through the soft leaves of the willow tree, the soft splashes of frogs jumping in and out of the water, the rhythmic singing of the birds, and the rain gently tapping the pond as it fell. I then made my way to Main St., a busier part of Blacksburg, where noises were louder and more constant. Car horns beeping, doors opening and closing, wind-chimes clinging together, and so on.
I had never realized just how many different sounds could be heard around campus and how each sound is so significant to its place. When we close our eyes and open our ears, it helps us understand the context of a situation and the complexity and rhythms that we normally wouldn’t notice. This was an important experiment that can be related to music very easily. A lot of the time, we can hear music without actually listening to every detail that is put into making a song sound the way it does. If you listen carefully to a song, you would be able to hear consistency and rhythm in the drum beats or the strumming, you could hear the contrast of high-pitched and low-pitched instruments, and how all of these things are tediously intertwined to make beautiful music. I encourage you to listen to the song below, maybe even a couple times, and listen… really listen to every note, chord, every sound that comes from the music. What do you hear? Did you hear anything the second time that you missed the first time?

Gender Roles in Bluegrass Music

When I think of bluegrass music I do not automatically think of a certain gender or a certain race, I focus my attention more on the music itself and how the instruments are strummed and the melodies are sung. I have noticed recently that this genre does have a strong connotation with men, specifically middle aged-older men who are also white. Maybe this is because the music is rooted in the Appalachian region which also holds the stereotype of being a home to people of this sort, however I think that there is so much more to the music than who’s playing it.
Music is meant to be heard. And I will admit that in the bluegrass genre, it just sounds right to here an older male vocal on top of the beautifully harmonized instruments, however, women can achieve just the amount of prestige that a male can! Not only in bluegrass, or music, but in EVERYTHING. Mastering a craft takes hard work, dedication, and talent. There is no rule book that says “only men can excel in the bluegrass music industry.”
There are many talented women in the bluegrass scene, for example: Rhonda Vincent with her powerful on-stage presence, Claire Lynch with her Stevie-nicks sounding gritty high-pitched voice, and the highly-acclaimed Alison Krauss with her fairy-like tones who has taken the bluegrass world by storm! These ladies are just some of the few examples of the powerful woman-presence in bluegrass music.
I think one of the main reasons women do not get as much acknowledgment as they should in this industry is because their lyrical content can’t always compete with that of a man’s. Men seem to be able to write about anything and everything whereas women cannot get away with saying as much with their music. I think it is important for women to create a presence in the music industry that celebrates feminism rather than attempts to overcome an obstacle. It seems to me that women feel they need to overcome something to feel just as powerful as men when the truth is: there’s nothing to prove! Walk the walk and talk the talk and don’t worry about what anyone has to say about it. When people find power within themselves and their own identity, I think it is then that people will be able to move past gender inequalities.

The following video is one of my favorite songs in bluegrass music sung by a woman. The audience is captivated by her siren-like vocals, which shows that she is equally talented when compared to male bluegrass artists.

Bluegrass Festivals: All Kinds of Kinds

After reading Robert Owen Gardner’s The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Festival Life I have learned a lot about how Bluegrass festivals display a sense of community formed of an unlikely mix. In his article, Gardner discussed the meaning of community and how that is reflected in the Bluegrass festival scene. Community is a very vague term. For some, community is a neighborhood or the small town they live in. For others, community is a group bonded by a similar characteristic or interest. Gardner showed a bias towards the idea of Gemeinshaft relations. Gemeinshaft is a German term meaning a “communal grouping of individuals defined in opposition to self-serving individualism”. I think this term is appropriate when discussing Bluegrass festivals, or even music festivals in general. If you’ve ever been to a Bluegrass music festival, you know that there is a diverse variety of people ranging from the “long-haired hippie” type to a more conservative-looking people.
Bluegrass music festivals are composed of many different types of people; all kinds of kinds! This is a great representation of Gardner’s “portable community” idea. These festivals create a space for people to embrace their individualism while also connecting with others who share their love for this music. Although not geographically rooted, this community can call itself such because it is a network revolving around a culture of bluegrass. Festivals present an opportunity for this unconventional community to come together, united through a love for music and culture.!
^Above is a website listing some of the many upcoming bluegrass music festivals

Robert Owen Gardner’s “The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Festival Life”

Are Bluegrass and Appalachia Synonymous?

Bluegrass and the Appalachian region have always had a strong connection to one another, however the question raised when discussing the two is this: Are bluegrass music and Appalachia synonymous? It is widely concluded that bluegrass music began with Bill Monroe who was born in Rosine, Kentucky. But wait! Rosine, Kentucky isn’t Appalachia! This might be true, however, it is in my opinion that while there is a lot of bluegrass music played and rooted in the Appalachian region, the music is not linked to the region necessarily by being solely played there. I think that what connects bluegrass music to Appalachia is not only the physical region, but the concepts and identity as well.
Just like in other genres of music, many people can connect to a certain song or genre. For example, someone who listens to country music songs about farming, trucks, fishing and hunting, and beer may not directly relate to these subjects, however they can relate to the emotion that is emitted from the music. The same goes for bluegrass music. While much of this type of music is written about coal mines, lost love, mountains, family/community, and other subjects pertaining to Appalachia, there are musicians and listeners across the country who relate to this genre; even across the world! There are bluegrass music festivals all over in places such as California and bluegrass styles appreciated all the way in China; for example, Abigail Washburn.

this video is of Abigail Washburn, showing how bluegrass music style can be appreciated all over the world.

Although bluegrass music is made and appreciated all over the world, its strongest ties reside in the Appalachian community. I think this is because of the importance of identity. Bluegrass music strongly identifies with the scene of Appalachia; the people, the lifestyle, etc. The music creates an identity of a culture that is associated with the Appalachian region.

The Importance of Business in Bluegrass

When discussing bluegrass music, many of us immediately hear the twangy pickin’ of the banjo, the beautiful siren like sounds of a mandolin, strummin’ and pickin’ of the guitar, a fiddle, and the high lonesome sound of the musicians. However, we don’t often take into consideration all of the hard work that goes into the music on the business side of the spectrum. This goes for all music in general when I say, it would not be possible for music to preserve a place in an industry without a foundation of smart, decision-making, business men and women who work in many different fields of the music business industry to make it possible for music to be heard and enjoyed all around the world. For example, in chapter 51 of Thomas Goldsmith’s The Bluegrass Reader, he mentions the bluegrass trade show put together by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). This event was ideal for the professional musicians of bluegrass music and also for fans to not only watch their favorite bands perform, but also get a chance to perform themselves with the FanFest concerts. This trade show/concert series embodied both the musical aspect of bluegrass and the business-oriented side of bluegrass. The business-oriented portion of the event came into play with the many seminars they held that discussed very important behind-the-scenes aspects of music.

In order for music to become “legitimate” or made professional, a musician or band needs to have certain things. For one thing, the musicians need music to present to a record label who will then decide if they think signing them/giving them a contract would be a profitable decision for the label. There are many factors that play into to this process such as considering whether or not the music will sell, if the artist(s) are a good fit to the brand of the label, and so on. If the label decides to sign the musician(s) then a contract must be built to establish the rights of the artist and the record label company. This stage involves lawyers and other business officials to decide how to get the most profit while still being fair to their artist. The artist(s) can negotiate their contract and once that is settled, they start to build up a name for themselves in the community they are looking to reach. Marketing plays a huge role in popularizing music. The marketing team of a record label company must figure out which audience they want to speak to and promote the musician(s) in a specific way that speaks to that audience. For example, some bands might want to attract a younger generation and therefore may change their sound slightly depending on what the audience wants to hear. This is not true for all bands of course, some have no interest in changing their music to appeal to certain audiences but rather let those who enjoy their music come to them. This brings me to another good point made by Ben Ratliff in chapter 53 of The Bluegrass Reader.

In chapter 53 of The Bluegrass Reader, Ratliff focuses on the idea that music should be heard as music and not as a person with an instrument. I somewhat agree with this statement. I think it’s safe to say that some music becomes great because the artist puts his or her identity into the music whereas other music stands out because the musicians create a fully integrated sound that makes it difficult to pick out one player from the other.
In conclusion, it is important to appreciate all of the hard work that goes behind the music making it possible for us to hear it on the radio, a live venue, or through other technology. Without the business-oriented side of the music industry there would most likely be no industry at all.

Thomas Goldsmith’s The Bluegrass Reader

Accepting A New Generation

In recent years there has been an immense amount of controversy among the bluegrass music fan-base debating one thing: What is bluegrass? With an increasingly large number of bluegrass and “newgrass” bands and artists rising up, the sound of this genre has been changing. Many bluegrass fans from an earlier generation are dismissing the music coming from newer bands. This may be because they grew up with a certain sounding bluegrass genre with a Scruggs style banjo and high lonesome mountain vocals. It’s perfectly understandable why people who grew up with bluegrass being surrounded by Bill Monroe and a strict set of stylistic rules; it’s nostalgic! This music they grew up with is supposed to sound a certain way, but, come on! I think it’s time people open their minds to these 3rd and 4th generation bluegrass artists.

Bands such as Old Crow Medicine Show, The Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, The Avett Brothers, and countless other new generation musicians have received criticisms from fans who say they are not “real” bluegrass musicians and that they are destroying the genre that they hold so sacred.

Now, I’m no bluegrass expert, but I believe that there is a lot of room for interpretation in bluegrass music. Of course, bluegrass music will always revolve around the original artists such as Bill Monroe and his bluegrass boys, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, etc., however I think it is important to allow newer artists to push the envelope and test the boundaries of the genre.

These newer generation bluegrass or “newgrass” bands aren’t limiting themselves by the sounds originating from their predecessors. They are exploring their genre and taking the structure of bluegrass music to new levels by incorporating different instruments, unconventional lyrics, and different styles of playing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that these new bluegrass artists should be held in the same category as original bluegrass musicians, however, I think that they should be accepted in the bluegrass community. I strongly believe that when older generations reject these new artists they are hindering the growth of the bluegrass community and eventually the genre will dwindle.

Bluegrass should be a community that accepts both new and old generation artists. It is important for not only new artists, while exploring new style, to stay true to their roots, but also for older generation fans to keep an open mind when forming opinions on the direction of bluegrass music today.

Doyle Lawson Biography

Tennessee native, Doyle Lawson, was born on April 20th in 1944 to parents: Leonard and Minnie Lawson. He grew up in a place called Ford Town with his two brothers and sister listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio. This radio show allowed him to become exposed to a major influence in his life: Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. “[Monroe’s] music was different, more intense. High lonesome is the term we used for it. I could hardly wait for Saturday nights to arrive so I could listen. I decided early on that I wanted to play that kind of music.” Said Lawson. The Lawson family sang gospel music together which inspired Doyle’s interest in singing in groups. This is shown by the fact that he has a band backing him up throughout his performances. His group is called “Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver”.

Doyle Lawson first learned to play the mandolin, by listening to others play via radio shows and records, however he soon realized that he could increase his musical diversity by learning to play other instruments. This would help him become a more flexible and interesting artist in the bluegrass community. He learned to play the guitar and the banjo on top of his already impressive mandolin skills and singing abilities.

In 1963, Lawson got his first legitimate gig as a banjo and guitar player with Jimmy Martin. He also worked with other artists including JD Crowe and the Country Gentleman band in 1971. Lawson gained a lot of band experience (over 10 years’ worth!) by 1979. It was around this time that Doyle Lawson decided he needed to break away from these bands that had already procured their style and sound in order to create his own. He then formed a band by the name of “Doyle Lawson and Foxfire” which had to be changed to “Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver” after realizing the foxfire name had been taken.

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver have taken traditional bluegrass music and combined it with gospel music into a quartet-like sound to create an original sounding band in the bluegrass community. The band also incorporates traditional bluegrass instruments with the sound of an electric bass which separates them from most of the other bands associated with this genre.

Although Gospel music and religious lyrics are a big part of Doyle Lawson’s musical style, the band released several secular records before releasing a gospel album, Heavenly Treasures. He then continued to incorporate the gospel lyrics with a bluegrass sound throughout his career, even including an acapella gospel album.

The above video is a music video created by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver called “Country Store”.

Radio Influence and Hillbilly Music

In Robert Cantwell’s article, Hillbilly Music, I learned many things about how the music industry played a big role in bringing “hillbilly music” to life in the early 20th century. Cantwell begins by introducing Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, and reviewing his start as a boy in rural Kentucky who travelled to Whiting in order to make a better living. Monroe is known as a traditional bluegrass artist. Most would agree that it doesn’t get any more bluegrass than Monroe, who was influenced by music he heard growing up around a musical family in Kentucky. This reading narrated his journey into fame in which the radio played a major role. If it weren’t for a WLS radio station agent approaching the Monroe brothers during a show, Bill, Birch, and Charlie would have probably been playing at local scenes for their entire career. It was the power of the radio that exposed the talent of these musicians to the world.

Cantwell notes that “radio…made excellent advertising, and they used it to attract audiences to their personal appearances.”. This shows how the radio was important in not only exposing great music to those who would not be able to hear it otherwise, but also advertising live performances that would allow listeners to see their favorite musicians in person. The radio also allowed musicians to influence listeners with their lyrics socially, politically, and in many other ways. It had the “power to transmit its message over geographical and cultural boundaries.”.

It is possible that without radio, this so called “hillbilly music” may have never been heard by anyone outside of the Appalachian region. Author and historian, Bill C. Malone, suggested that the beginning of “hillbilly music” on the radio could be credited to WBAP’s square dance program in 1923. As radio shows such as this and others such as the Grand Ole Opry became increasingly popular, more attention was brought to bluegrass and “hillbilly music”. These musicians were also provided with the opportunity to hear other music, especially Jazz, which became an influence for bluegrass artists such as Bill Monroe. With the rise in New Orleans Jazz, the bluesy sounds were emanated throughout bluegrass.

One thing that really stood out to me while reading Robert Cantwell’s chapter was the idea of bluegrass being traditional Appalachian music. This had me questioning whether or not “traditional’ music loses its validity when it is exploited commercially. So, I have composed two questions regarding this:

1) Traditional Appalachian music is thought to be music passed down through generations from family and friends. Is it possible to commercialize true traditional Appalachian music? Or does commercializing this traditional sound contradict its identity?

2) Many bluegrass fanatics and musicians have a strong opinion on the definition of bluegrass music. Does changing one aspect of traditional bluegrass music to incorporate a musician’s personal style change the genre of that song?

Who is Buell Kazee?

     In the 1920s, folk music had made its introduction and was on the rise in the Appalachian region of the United States. Buell Kazee, being born in Burton Fork, Kentucky in 1900 was bound to become apart of this scene as a result of the strong presence of music in this region. He grew up with not only the musical influence of his town and family, but also his church. Buell began pickin’ the banjo at the age of five in his church and later went on to study English, Greek, and Latin.

     Buell was taught traditional folk music, which he later looked to contemporize while still maintaining the history and importance that tradition plays in this music. He was asked to record songs for Brunswick in 1927 in New York. His “high lonesome” mountain sound appealed to the new infatuation many had with bluegrass/folk music.

     A major influence in his music was religion. As a teenager, Buell prepared for the clergy. In songs such as My Christian Friends, Bread of Heaven, and Eternity, there is a strong presence of Christian influence that shaped his identity as both a musician and minister. He put his music aside in the 1930s to focus on his ministry in Kentucky.

     As folk music once again began to boom in the late 1960s, Buell returned to the music scene with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival. He continued singing, playing, and preaching until his death in 1976.