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.