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”
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.
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”.