Bluegrass is engaged in a stylistic civil war. On one side, steadfast traditionalists continue to make music the time-tested way: acoustic instruments with minimal amplification, rooted in gospel and crowded with traditional hymns. On the other side, progressive elements are being introduced via drum sets, electronic instruments, and improvisation, strewn together with a cocky secularism that would be content leaving joints and a few shots of Jagermeister for the congregation on the collection plate. Yet, this is a positive melee.
This is a 5 page article in which the author interviews a number of artists, both traditional and progressive, in and around bluegrass music. He talks with Del McCoury, Billy Nershi from The String Cheese Incident, Ben Kaufmann from the Yonder Mountain String Band, Willy Vlautin from Richmond Fontaine, and finally David Grisman. He asks them all basically the same question.
What are your feelings about bands that are tweaking the traditions in bluegrass like the Yonder Mountain String Band and the String Cheese Incident, i.e. bands that add other elements to bluegrass? Would that be tainting Bill Monroe’s original intentions?
Their answers are both interesting and varied. While they all basically agreed that you have to play what you feel. That’s what Monroe did and that’s what they are doing. My favorite quote from the article is something Del said while discussing Bill Monroe.
Every new musician that came in brought out their own style into his music, and of course, they stuck to the traditional way but in a diverse way.
There are some great photos of Del and Grisman, as well as the other artists involved. If you are a fan of traditional or progressive bluegrass it’s worth a read. I’m not sure I agree with the premise of his piece that bluegrass is at war with itself over which direction to go. I’m not sure he agreed with that premise either based on a few of his comments. Personally I think traditional bluegrass is alive and stronger than ever. I also feel that the progress side of things has done a lot to bring the music to people who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise. So I think it’s a good thing to have that variety. It does open up a discussion about what bluegrass really is, which instruments are “allowed”, and so on. But on the whole, I’m happy with the direction bluegrass music as a genre seems to be headed.
Let’s hear from you. Go read this article and then comment here on what you think of this subject.