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.

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