Bluegrass goes to UC Berkeley

Joel Sidney with his collection of bluegrass CDs. Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez.Here’s a cool story that demonstrates a bluegrass, can-do attitude.

Joel Sidney graduated yesterday from the University of California at Berkeley. Joel’s story is unique though. His grade-point average was almost perfect, his degree in American Studies, the subject of his honors thesis was bluegrass music in the Bay Area, and he’s done it all while dealing with autism.

The official title of his thesis paper is as follows.

Innovation and Tradition in Bay Area Bluegrass: Historical Review and Analysis of Distinctive Regional Features

Joel went the extra step and actually produced a 20 track CD to accompany the paper, including compositions by Laurie Lewis, David Grisman, Sandy Rothman and Rich Wilbur.

So how did this young man come to have such a fervent interest in bluegrass music? He tells his own story.

My fanatical interest in bluegrass began when I was 9 years old. In 1991, my obsession was initially sparked during a concert at the Freight & Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley. … We sat in the front row and I still recall that the band members appeared immense and seemed to be performing right in front of me for my own benefit.

It didn’t stop there. Joel had been bitten by the bluegrass bug. At age 13, he took his bar mitzvah money, and instead of spending it on video games or any of the normal things a 13 year old might be interested in, he went down to the Freight & Salvage Coffee House and purchased a lifetime membership so he wouldn’t miss a show.

Parents present their graduates with all sorts of various gifts to celebrate the completion of their studies. Joel’s parents are considering rewarding this young man with a vacation trip to the Southeastern US so he can immerse himself in bluegrass music for a while.

If you have a minute, click here to read the complete story. If you should see Joel at a bluegrass festival, be sure to congratulate him and thank him for his scholarly presentation of bluegrass music.

  • Having been “raised” in the California bluegrass scene before I moved to Nashville, I came to expect to see Joel’s attentive face out in the audience when I played the Freight and Salvage or other area venues. He is an incredible fan and an even more amazing young man. Congratulations to him on his accomplishment. Bluegrass and the world are lucky to have him.
    Cheers, Megan