Second Time Around – The Sequel

Sequels are so often disappointing, Santa Clause 2 being a notable exception. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol 2: The Next Verse wasn’t bad either. If you recall, Scrooge becomes the manager of the Cratchit family band and together—with a little help from St. Nick—they put on a benefit concert to save the mill where Peter Cratchit is employed (now a Hallmark made-for-TV movie). For the most part, though, whether it’s in movies, books, or music, a good follow-up is hard to achieve.

There can be a variety of reasons for this. In movies, it’s often that the original storyline came to such a final conclusion that it requires very creative thinking to go anywhere else with it. For example, when the hero dies at the end, the writers must then focus on other characters that just weren’t that developed or important. This is also how you get sequels with titles like Son of the Great Gatsby or Romeo and Juliet: the Next Generation.

Often the motives for making a sequel are economic rather than artistic, and that tends to cheapen the result: the artist or creator of the original piece had no interest in a sequel, but the owner or financial backer of said piece felt there were a few more bucks out there to be made from the original idea. Meanwhile, some artists have just used up all their material and creativity in the first volume, never having anticipated doing another one.

Bluegrass music sequels have had mixed results, too. We all remember the ill-fated Manzanita 2 album by Tony Rice (to make up for the absence of banjo on the original Manzanita, Tony opted to record the same songs backed by five banjo players playing at once). Alison Krauss and Union Station didn’t fare much better with their album that followed So Long So Wrong, entitled So Short So Right, though in fairness, it wasn’t meant as a sequel, but rather a bluegrass tribute to Napoleon. And most people have by now forgotten the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s final entry in their Will The Circle Be Unbroken series, Circle Cinco, which featured guest artists Kanye West, P!nk, and Tony Bennett.

On the other hand, The Bluegrass Album Band recorded one of the most successful series of sequels in bluegrass music history. Most of us are still wishing there were more.

Is it possible to come up with better sequels? Perhaps, but it requires some advance planning. Most successful movie sequels were already in the works before the first one was released.

What this means is, don’t use everything you’ve got on the first release. If it’s a tribute album to a specific artist, for example, don’t use all that artist’s best-known songs on the first project. Some people get overly excited about their idea and want to record 18 songs on their concept album. Instead, hold six of them back, and you’re halfway to planning your Bluegrass Tribute to Duran Duran, volume 2.

Sometimes sequels just need better titles, or perhaps subtitles to accompany a nondescript title. An example is Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde.

Using that idea, these bluegrass releases could have had some attention-grabbing sequel subtitles:

  • The Country Gentlemen – Joe’s Last Train 2: Hobo’s Revenge
  • The Osborne Brothers – Ru-beeee 2: Still Mad at Her Man
  • Rhonda Vincent – The Storm Still Rages 2: Downgraded to Tropical Depression

Or, going the route of finding a better title for your sequel:

Del McCoury – The Streets of Baltimore
Sequel: Del McCoury –The Streets of York

The Lonesome River Band – Carrying the Tradition
Sequel: The Lonesome River Band – Loading the Tradition onto a Flatbed Truck

J.D. Crowe and the New South – You Can Share My Blanket
Sequel: J.D. Crowe and the New South – Stop Hogging the Covers

The Steeldrivers – The Muscle Shoals Recordings
Sequel: The Muscle Shoals Automated Mixes

Finally, sometimes it’s good to plan on a sequel, even if you never do one. The Mashville Brigade pulled just such a head-fake when they called their first album Bluegrass Smash Hits Volume 1. There never was a volume 2, but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean there can’t be someday. This just helps to keep the door open and build anticipation. Suggested title for the eventual follow-up to volume 1: Bluegrass Smash Hits Volume 3.