What is that blue avi on Twitter?


Currently the music industry seems to be in an intermediate state. The transition from vinyl to CD to streaming services has transformed just within the last half century. Today, musicians are faced with new challenges such as: not being properly compensated or for a new musician establishing roots in a musical community. Earlier this week Jay z released his plans for a new online streaming service with videos called Tidal. There was a strong presence felt on social media with many musicians from Coldplay to Madonna using the tag #TIDALforALL to represent their feelings towards the proposed move initiated by Jay Z. The roots for this move are coming from the idea that these mainstream musicians are not being properly compensated for their music. Spotify is a huge market, sporting over 60 million listeners, but these listeners often are free listeners with the company profiting off advertisements and the musicians receiving a small portion. Jay Z in Tidal wants the musicians to own the streaming service. He envisions his streaming service to even move into more than just music and has hopes of making it an online community with concert tickets and merchandise following on the cite. The idea is that Tidal will cost a yearly total of either $10 or $20 (based on sound quality) but this money will be better distributed to the artists. I first researched some of the cons of Spotify after Taylor Swift removed her music from the application. Jay Z hopes this trend started by Swift will follow and result in a switch to Tidal.

To me, this is a smart entrepreneurial move from an entertainment mogul like Jay Z. He has the fame and notoriety to make a move this groundbreaking work. Though, I question how the equity within this company will be shared. At the press conference earlier this week, Jay Z was joined by: Madonna, Rihanna, Daft Punk, Beyonce, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Jason Aldean and many other large named musicians as scene below.


This to me does solve the problem of the mega stars not making as many millions as they would like but leaves out the little man. In this case, how does a band start out? Is Tidal going to be open to adding smaller name musicians? Based on limited speculations it seems that Jay Z does want to expand the streaming service to all genres, I mean the man had Jason Aldean at the initial press conference. That move shows he wants to branch out in genres. I still do question what the standard will be for musicians on Tidal, if I am producing in my basement a stood up mattress as a sound wall, do I have the opportunity to get my music heard or do I still have to rely on Facebook shares and YouTube? It is my hope that the music app is very open and easily accessible for every music fan. I recall the Beats app attempting to do something similar in creating a music app focused around playlists made by celebrities or certain types of stations, similar to Pandora. This app seemingly fell off the face of the electronic world. I do like the concept behind Tidal and hope that it is branched out for all genres and all musicians, not just the “rock stars” of music. Although this post does not mention bluegrass once, I feel that this topic is extremely important when accessing the change of how society hears music.

“Community” Development

Through the discussion around festivals and the bigger scope of the bluegrass community, I have been thoroughly entertained hearing stories of community from other classmates. This aspect in itself is one of the reasons I enjoy Tech. The university has such far reaching boundaries that you can hear such different stories. The film, Bluegrass Country Soul was a documentary concerning a festival in the early 1970s in Camp Springs, NC. The comradery present at the festival in the film was awesome. People were jamming together that were a couple generations apart, geographically people were from all over the east coast and audibly there was just about any type of pickin’ you could imagine. The conversation then led to Robert Gardner’s journal article, “The Portable Community.” Gardner’s article was something new for myself. I had never read a peer-reviewed scholarly journal article about bluegrass. Continuing, the theme of the article was concerned with the idea of a community, specifically why people either purposefully or accidentally join a community. Getting away from the traditional community definition being a neighborhood that waves as you pass one another on the street, Gardner really looks into a community being associative. I have included below a few pictures from Anna’s Restaurant in Narrows, Virginia. Every Thursday a small group from the area gets together and jams. It is a very intimate setting with a cozy atmosphere and tons of “southern” cooking. A strong community even these people were from all over the New River Valley.

IMG_1877 IMG_1883 IMG_1884

Separately thinking, I quickly became infatuated with this idea of community. The thought that no matter where you are, there will be someone in which you can easily associate with made me consider the roots of communities. Why do these groupings of people, often so different, come together for one event/thing? What causes people to remove themselves from the daily rut of life to go camp with people they have never met?

To me, the root behind communities is the human need for affiliation. This idea that everyone needs some type of relationship, and that it is physically impossible to keep to yourself is something I first heard in a course on Public Administration. David McClelland was the first scholar that really coined the idea that as a human some types of relationships are mandatory. He really focused around that if we join together then each person will feel this great sense of accountability to others and attainment. Connecting McClelland’s theories to bluegrass is not far reached.

When considering the festival crowd in a region, these people rarely see each other if ever. Yet, this scene fulfills something in itself. Moving away from the norm of relationships such as: work, school, neighborhood or marital, the bluegrass community functions differently. Conversation, something that is becoming a lost art with time, is very prevalent in this community. People care and want to communicate what is going on in your life. A personal experience of this comes from some of my late Great-Grandfather’s friends. Although I was just a child, these older gentlemen seemed concerned about my life. Even though I would rarely see them and could only sometimes remember names with faces, they would often ask about how baseball was going for myself as they picked on a back porch.

When linking bluegrass to community, I believe the uniqueness is the overarching factor. People want something that is different from every day, and bluegrass festivals, in particular, benefit from not being something that occurs often. These are weekends people use to get away from the rut of every day life. Plus the overall genuineness of people linked to bluegrass play an influence as well.

Music, Place, Identity: What’s the Question?

Music unlike many other forms of entertainment has a unique characteristic to take people to a specific time or place. Strangely it seems that this quality of music remains dormant until someone leaves a certain place. For me, as typical as it may seem, I never realized a connection to the song “Country Roads” by John Denver until I left my home state. While a specific example, I believe that many people feel a connection similar after leaving one’s area.

It seems almost ridiculous to think that place and music have no relationship. However, historically music has had no boundaries, so why do we still associate music with a place? This broadness is noted in Hunter Thompson’s chapter on “New York Bluegrass.” Thompson talks of being at a bar in NYC and here come The Greenbriar Boys, a band from Queens, New York. Although there was no link between Kentucky and New York these guys are playing traditional bluegrass. Another interesting fact about this story is how quickly you can see the universality. Bill Monroe emerges in the 1940s and here The Greenbriar Boys are jamming in the early 1960s.

A strong mode of musical transportation from region to region is transferred through festivals. Carlton Haney, who really got the ball rolling for festivals, believes festivals are used to inform people. To me, this information received is a way to almost spider web knowledge of music. The spider web effect causes familiarity to grow rapidly. Focusing on bluegrass, we see that it was originated in western Kentucky but then the first festival being in southwest Virginia, a move into Appalachia. So why do people have such strong feelings about bluegrass being strictly Appalachian? The folk revival in the 1960s, which notably was no surprise to Hunter Thompson, took place all over the country and was strongly rooted in the west. Another important factor of cultural movement was from the radio. A radio allowed people to stay connected no matter location.

So as complex as it is to link music, place and identity, to me, the correlation between music and place tends to be a more personal question than a generalized statement that can be easily recognized. There is a strong example in my hometown. Just because certain people may not live the life of these famed rappers they envy and attempt to imitate, they still have the opportunity to convey their feelings even though it may lack validity. Attempting to wrap everything together, I believe the music has benefitted by not being stuck in one place. When you can diversify the sound and add differing styles it opens up the entire world of music. This diversity comes about from different modes like the radio, festivals or simply branching out from other genres. This new world of music has been seen as the transformations to bluegrass since it was coined as a genre. While scattered brained as this post may seem, I hope it proves that music really has no place with the globalized society that the 20th and 21st century have created.

“Everything is Political”

Being in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech I inherently have a strong interest in politics. John Street makes a connection that I somehow often times insensibly forget to link, the correlation of music and politics. Of course, I was informed on instances where regimes took over radio to build their ideology but never really put it in terms of every day radio. The regime that I was most informed on was the Nazi propaganda during Hitler’s reign. Street provides eye opening quotes throughout his introduction such as, “Music does not just provide a vehicle of political expansion, it is that vehicle.” This is something I feel may be exaggerated; however, Street has a point. People look to music to express themselves, and it serves as an extension to the common person. Beforehand I considered music to serve as an outlet for people, although music is really serving as an inlet to understanding lives. The song shown below is a prime example of how Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien characterize problems of daily hardships of into a song:

As the old adage states, “everything is political.” Scott and O’Brien produce a song that is an attack at just about everyone, but the story no way stops here. There are entire volumes linking protest movements to political movements. A song that jumps out in my head is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song characterizes how music is intrinsically political. Street would agree that this song fits his definition of when music becomes political. He says that music becomes political when music forms a “site of public deliberation, rather than private reflection.” This to me is masterfully asserted. When music is no longer played only in one’s kitchen as something to do before bed but is instead played to express the hate for an industry or disliking of a government action then music is political. Street is very smart in his wording saying that he does not believe all music is political. He deems that music must form collective thought for it to be considered political. An instance of this collective thought was Woodstock in 1969. At the time, there was war in Vietnam, women’s rights and civil rights, but music acted as a glue for people. This festival and music allowed people to unite during a very hard time for the United States. woodstock

Connecting Street’s view about music being political, I hope to focus my annotated bibliography on this relationship. I, like Street, believe that “music stands as the epitome” of freedom. I will focus my mix tape on the relation of music in the coalfields as a message of desired changed. I believe that this project will help me better understand the coal industry, but also comprehend the linkage between protest music and political change. Often times coal camps were setup with company towns and in these areas the coal company controlled every facet of one’s life. The company provided the shoes you bought, food you ate and the church hymns you sang; however, the company could not control the music that influenced collective thought. Andrew McKnight and Beyond Borders sing in the song below about a company town. I hope to continue to dig into coal, music and politics of southern Appalachia and find more links to better understand the place where I call home. At the same time, keeping Street’s ideas of the link between music and politics will help me better plot my journey.

Relationships, Bluegrass, and the Kenny and Amanda Smith Band


This passed Wednesday it was a great honor to have John Lawless provide our class with commentary about his lifelong journey with bluegrass. Lawless conveyed many exuberant stories of his friends in the industry. One topic he spoke on that interested me was the strain on relationships that attempting to play music professionally puts on a couple. My curiosity next led me to the Kenny and Amanda Smith Band, a married couple that Fred Bartenstein lists under the 4th generation. In Bartenstein’s eyes the 4th generation encompassed musicians that were born between 1963-1976 and started recording in 1976 and still continue today.  This generation unlike the 3rd generation returned back to the classics of bluegrass that Bill Monroe had made popular a few decades prior.

To better under the story of Kenny and Amanda Smith it helps to understand where their story started. Kenny was born in Nine Mile, Indiana, and Amanda was born in Davisville, West Virginia. Not surprisingly, the love of music is the roots of this relationship. The future couple met at the Milton Opry House in Milton, West Virginia as Kenny was playing with the Lonesome River Band. By the time the couple met in the late 1990s Kenny had already established himself for his flatpicking-style guitarists, winning IBMA guitarist of the year during his spell with the Lonesome River Band. On the other hand, Amanda had been more sheltered, singing in choirs and continuing to sing more locally. It is hard to believe that just a few years later after meeting in a small opry house, the couple released their first album together entitled Slowly but Surely. This album was noted for the intimate setting that Kenny and Amanda created. The album also showed the couples strong faith in their Christian beliefs. Shortly after, in 2003, the Smith’s band received the award for IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year. The band’s next two albums continued to solidify them as serious musicians in bluegrass. Finally, in 2007 the band did something that they had been aspiring to do since their formation, an album dedicated completely to gospel music (as seen below).

kenny and amanda smith

Connecting the music to their relationship, Kenny and Amanda both acknowledge that their faith has kept them together. This faith is what many people note as what makes their music so true and powerful. The death of Kenny’s Father really told the Smiths that it was time to record this gospel album. Looking back, both Kenny and Amanda speak much about how this album not only brought them closer to each other; it brought them closer to the Lord. When you hear the couple sing you cannot only see and hear a relationship with each other, you see a strong relationship with their faith. This is seen in the video below:

Going on about the relationship of Kenny and Amanda Smith, they both mention their trust in each other frequently. Starting out they realized financially it would not be easy; however, they trusted in themselves to produce good music and that they were doing the Lord’s work. Both Kenny and Amanda do admit it was tough getting their start with producers wanting past work with the two, but their persistence has stayed true. They are so grateful to be able to continue to do what they love as their “job.”

Today, the couple is still producing music. Overall they have now had eight albums together, have been nominated for a Grammy and received a couple of IBMA awards. Before conducting research on this group, I embarrassingly, was unaware of their existence. Now, I agree with many of their reviews. Amanda has unmatched vocals that almost compete with Allison Krauss and Kenny can play his guitar remarkably well. His two Guitarists of the Year from the IBMA are well deserved.


  • http://www.herald-dispatch.com
  • http://www.kenny-amandasmith.com
  • http://www.countrystandardtime.com/


Sam Bush: Father of Newgrass

Sam Bush

Sam Bush was born in 1952 in Bowling Green, Kentucky and is noted today for his remarkable ability to play the mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and guitar. He also is renowned for his beautiful vocals. According to Fred Bartenstein’s Generations Chart, Bush is a 3rd generation bluegrass musician. The 3rd generation is noted for broad geographic regions, careers in several genres, fewer fiddles and taking bluegrass to new directions and audiences. Much like many other musicians we have studied, Bush’s family played an imperative role in early childhood musical development. Bush’s grandfather played the banjo and fiddle while his father just played the fiddle, respectively. Since there was such a great deal of music around the house, Bush started playing the mandolin at the age of 11 and called it his first love. Likewise, he began playing the fiddle around the age of 13 or 14. Hearing a record of The Dilliards pushed Bush’s interest in Texas fiddling. This instrumentation won Bush multiple contests during his youth. Relevant to the material at hand, Bush attended the inaugural Roanoke Bluegrass Festival in 1965. Looking into historical times, around this period rock n roll was becoming popular. Bush was interested in fusing bluegrass and rock n roll.

Sam Bush started gaining his fame in the late 1960s. By 1970 he had played in a couple of bands such as the New Deal String Band and Bluegrass Alliance. Although the Bluegrass Alliance broke up, a few members added a couple new members and formed the New Grass Revival. When Bartenstein mentions that the 3rd generation started taking bluegrass into new directions, New Grass Revival personified this description. Their sound, heard below, planted roots for progressive bluegrass:


Unfortunately, New Grass Revival broke up in 1989, but not before releasing three albums. Also in 1989, Bush joined Strength in Numbers, another newgrass band. Strength in Numbers produced one album and was noted for incorporating more jazz styles characteristic into their music. Since 1989, Bush has recorded some solo. He also released a DVD of a live concert. Most notably, he performed on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Today, he is considered the “Father of Newgrass” and some even joke that he is the “Mother of Bluegrass.” This comparison of being the “Mother of Bluegrass” is an honor to Bush as idolized Bill Monroe. Throughout the years he has been awarded 3 Grammys. Below is my favorite Sam Bush song:

The Bluegrass Reader entry on Sam Bush does a great job hitting on his open mind when it comes to music. The article really shows that Bush was a free spirit who had a passion for music. This passion expanded into his life as well, he is a two-time cancer treatment survivor. Bush is still touring today, and will be performing at FloydFest 2015. He is active on Twitter and has a very informative website: sambush.com.


Radio, Place, Future

In Robert Cantwell’s article, Hillbilly Music, he goes into great detail about the beginning of Bill Monroe’s career along with how the radio influenced cultural identities. Cantwell is not shy to admit that he believes the way people listened to their music in the early 20th century did put a “dust” over the pureness of the sound. He credits this dust to ideas that quickly became associated with bluegrass and old-time music.

Throughout reading this article I continually questioned the idea of stereotypes associated with music. I pondered about the recent Grammy winning songs and what makes them gain their level of popularity in today’s world. To me, I use music to take me back to my childhood or bring back memories of my home; however, when listening to today’s “popular” music it is simply the same overused topics. I, unlike most, do not consider certain stereotypes to be negative. For example, many people characterize bluegrass music as hick or rural; yet, to me this just states that this genre has a sense of identity. This music is easily identifiable to some. While listening to Sam Smith’s music that has gained him much fame I cannot help to feel disconnected. He is a homosexual man from England who has been trained vocally for years, my life and his do not share many of the same roads. I would much rather listen to songs about my region that provoke conversation amongst my family and I about history or outlooks on life. Below is a song that I recently came across that is about a place about 20 minutes from my home in Bluefield, WV. I find much enjoyment listening to this song as it reminds of family as well as past and current hardships people are facing.

Also while reading Cantwell’s article I could not help to question the future of bluegrass music. As noted in his article and throughout much of our course, many bluegrass musicians also served as advertisements for certain products during the genre’s infancy. Then, the larger acts seemingly started touring and playing at the Grande Ole Opry in about the mid 20th century. Fast forwarding a bit, today it seems that bluegrass often plays second fiddle (pun intended) to country music on the radio. Where does bluegrass music belong today? In my opinion, bluegrass fits well outside the mainstream. Bluegrass flourishes in smaller communities throughout Appalachia whether it be at jams, festivals or competitions. This background personality gives the genre its substance. Helping bluegrass in this current world is technology. This has helped the genre that Bill Monroe start grow into a worldwide community. Defining the future for bluegrass is challenging, but it is my hope that the music continues to keep up with technology. It is my belief that if the genre keeps up with technology it will be able to continue and grow. The idea of keeping up with technology is seen through the websites listed below, these websites allow people worldwide to be informed about festivals:

  • www.bluegrassfestivalguide.com
  • www.nothinfancybluegrass.com
  • www.bluegrasscircle.com
  • www.bluegrassisland.com
  • www.tidewaterbluegrass.org


Tommy Jarrell: The North Carolina Fiddle King

tommy jarrell

To begin my research on Tommy Jarrell I thought it would be appropriate to see his most popular song on iTunes. I was shocked to find that his most sold song is “Cotton Eyed Joe,” however his version has much more instrumental works along with expanded lyrics from what is heard today. Lucky for me, Les Blank created a short documentary in 1983 about the life of Tommy Jarrell. While this is not a typical documentary that has a deep voice over, begins at the start of a person’s life and concludes with the death, Blank creates a more personal feeling for the viewer. During this documentary, Blank and Jarrell talk one-on-one, it is at these points that Jarrell reminisces and the viewer learns of his past. Also the film shows Jarrell playing his fiddle. He gained much fame for how quick he could play the fiddle and was notorious for singing and playing at the same time. This unique style is shown below:

While he is remembered mostly for his fiddle playing, Jarrell also played the banjo. Jarrell talks of how he was a farmer until it got too expensive. A recurring theme throughout the documentary is alcohol. It is mentioned that Jarrell would make moonshine during his young adult years, as it was more profitable than farming. Jarrell also talks how he and his family would go to other family’s houses and jam around a bottle of whiskey until the wee hours of the night. These jams may start as a corn shucking or some other type of farming game but would eventually end in a jam. It is also noticeable throughout the film how much family meant to Jarrell. Interestingly, Blank brings in Jarrell’s sisters to speak about him, but also speak about their lives during the in the early 20th century. While alcohol is prevalent throughout the film, Blank also shows that Jarrell was religious. To conclude the film, Blank follows Jarrell to a festival where he is a celebrity.

While Les Blank’s film was entertaining and put a voice and sound to a face, afterward I desired more factual information about Tommy Jarrell’s life. My search then led me to the Old-Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame website to an article written by Thomas Reavis Lyons. The author was very interested in Jarrell so he traveled to his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina to interview surviving family members about Jarrell’s life and legacy. He found that Jarrell was born in 1901 and passed away in 1985. During his childhood Jarrell would often work in the fields with his parents where they would sing songs and tell stories. Jarrell bought his first fiddle when he was 14 for $10, that fiddle now resides in the Smithsonian Museum. Pertinent to Blacksburg, Jarrell married his wife Nina in Hillsville, Virginia. Jarrell recorded seven albums and was even selected for the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship. It is also noteworthy that he was an amateur fiddle player; he worked 41 years for the Department of Transportation. Today, Tommy Jarrell is buried beside his late wife in Mount Airy. To keep his tradition alive, there is a Tommy Jarrell Festival each year in Mount Airy that last a couple of days and has events ranging from a youth competition to workshops and has numerous concerts. The website for this festival is shown below:


Blog 1: Definition of Bluegrass

According to Goldsmith, bluegrass is expansive 20th century acoustic string-band music based in traditional styles. Rosenburg tends to agree with Goldsmith as he writes, bluegrass is a music where people accompany themselves with acoustic instruments, rapid tempos, high-pitch and lonesome vocals. While this definitions tend to overlap, the Encyclopedia of Appalachia and Merriam-Webster correspondence tightly. These sources are more simply put that bluegrass is an American music played on stringed instruments with harmony singing and gospel. The film, High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass, puts a more specific example to define bluegrass. The film reads bluegrass as Bill Monroe’s sound composed of hillbilly style, high pitch, fast tempos and religion. To me, I combine these definitions. I phrase bluegrass as 20th century American music with fast tempo, harmony, lonesome sound with high-pitch and acoustic instruments. This sound is best shown thrown Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and to the ear registers as a fast folk.