From time to time, people from the Luthiers and Merchandisers constituency of the IBMA (unless I’m thinking of the Groupies and Stalkers constituency) ask me to test and review some of the new bluegrass-related products that have come out in the past year. I guess I’m chosen because, aside from the basics like strings, picks, tuners, instrument cases, a guitar, etc., I don’t buy a lot of newfangled music products. I’m just not much a of a gadget guy. I guess they thought this gave me the right amount of objectivity (with just a hint of indifference) to attempt to rate the latest crop of bluegrass merchandise.
After extensive testing and research, then, I’d like to present what I feel are bluegrass music’s most innovative and promising new products of 2017:
The Blow-up Sideman – $49.00
This is designed for bands with a lot of personnel changes, especially those who have band members who quit a few hours before a show. The life-sized and semi-life-like blowup doll was designed to literally stand in for your lost band member. While the doll will not actually kick off Toy Heart or provide any other actual musical service, it will appear as if it is. Plus, the deluxe model comes with a recorded voice that will ask for more of his instrument in the monitor, timed to blurt out the request every 10 minutes. Available in banjo player, mandolin player, fiddle player, bass player, guitar player, dobro player, and singing bus driver. Also, depending on the stage presence of your former band member, all dolls are available in either “smiley,” “surly,” or “distracted.”
The Decoy Phone – $34.95
This is particularly useful at events like the IBMA World of Bluegrass, where you may get stuck talking to a long-winded person you barely know for an extended period of time. This is a phone-like device, which has a clearly audible ring, which after you say, “excuse me, I need to take this call,” will actually simulate a call on speaker phone to add legitimacy to your excuse. You simply need to learn your end of the conversation, so it will sound something like this:
Decoy phone: “Hello, there. It’s Robert from the Major Grass Festival. Have you got a minute?” (other names and voices are available, such as “Sheila from Rolling Stone,” “Cal from Dolly Parton’s office,” “Dr. Seymour, your cardiologist,” and “your wife”).
You: “Sure, but hold on just a minute.” You turn and apologize to the stranger you’ve been held captive by.
Decoy phone: “It sounds like we may have a problem with March 18th, and I wanted to discuss the options.”
You: “Okay, let me move to a quieter spot.”
At this point you should pretend to switch the speaker off, then talk into the phone as you move safely out of ear shot. One of the most impressive features of the decoy phone, is the remote decoy pen, which when pressed, will send a wireless signal to trigger the “phone” to ring. This is useful in a variety of socially awkward situations, like high school reunions, and wedding receptions, therefore having appeal far beyond the bluegrass market.
The Bluegrass MC Line Generator $8.95
A product designed for those who are uncomfortable talking to an audience, but who, for whatever reason, have to do it anyway. This is a smartphone app that will randomly generate bluegrass MC clichés and display them on your screen in print large enough to read when your phone is mounted to your mic stand. So, when the song is over, it will no longer be necessary to stand in awkward silence before resorting to the “tu-ning” joke as a fallback. Now you simply have to look at your phone, which will be giving you zippy lines, like “Thank you just a whole lot,” “We’d like to bring our fiddle player up to the microphone for this next one,” “Don’t forget that we’ll have our CDs and other merchandise for sale immediately after the show,” or one of my personal favorites, “If any of you folks would like to invite us over to your camp site for a meal later, we’d love to join you.”
The Book of Bluegrass Pickup Lines $14.95
This is a booklet about the size of a typical foreign language phrase book, but it’s also available in app form. It’s for bluegrass musician singles who would like to meet, hook up with, or even marry like-minded musicians who play the same instrument they do. The company, Single String Techniques, started with banjo player pickup lines, but now publishes booklets for all major bluegrass instruments (except dobro, because of some state laws that apparently classify dobro players marrying each other as a form of incest). These are a few examples from their first banjo edition:
- “I love the way the moon reflects off your tone ring.”
- “You put so much of your true self into your forward roll.”
- “Am I the only one who hears the sexual tension in Fireball Mail?”
Recommended comeback: “Yes you are.”