Bluegrass – now with 40% fewer songs in the key of B!

Chris JonesI was noticing a fast food chain’s recent claim that their bacon was now made from pork raised “without the use of antibiotics,” and I was reminded again that what’s popular today can so easily become unpopular tomorrow.

It seems like only yesterday (Monday at the earliest) that we were busy buying a range of products that were “antibacterial.” Apparently people wanted everything from their soap, to their socks, to their tire irons to be killing bacteria while doing whatever else they were supposed to be doing (like ironing tires), not realizing that some of these bacteria were the good guys.

One day, though, we turned a corner on the whole issue of bacteria. Perhaps we’d killed so many that we needed to replace some of them, and we entered the probiotic era. Now we’re discouraging the use of antibiotics; and probiotics, once strictly the domain of yogurt, and food that we’d left out at room temperature a few days too long, is something we see advertised in a variety of products as a selling point. The more germy the better!

Now, instead of using the fact that the pigs used to provide the bacon on a bacon cheeseburger had never had pneumonia, thanks to a 10-day round of Penicillin at just the right time, we’d rather promote the fact that we’re completely indifferent to the state of their health. The important thing is that no one ever medicated them.

Sometimes these different marketing trends happen simultaneously, sending a mixed message. For example at the same time that we’re inundated with soy milk, soy-based ink, soy guitar cases (or am I thinking of hemp?), and other soy products, I stopped by a booth at a local farmer’s market, where a local pork producer was promoting “soy-free pork.” I didn’t ask about the antibiotics.

It just strikes me that if we advertise it with enough conviction, we can turn whatever seems healthy and appealing now into something we need to avoid at all costs, or vice versa. Wouldn’t you be just as easily impressed by a sunscreen that made the claim “now with PABA!” than by ones we see claiming to be “PABA free”? We’ve gone through all of this with tropical oils, and polyunsaturated fats. The fact that we use the term “good cholesterol” would be shocking to people living in 1975.

Couldn’t we accomplish the same thing with our music? The quality that one band or artist might use as its selling point could be just the thing another band could go out of its way to say that it doesn’t have. In fact it might be even easier than with pork products, since we’re talking about art here, and people’s impressions of it, which can be highly subjective.

A good example might be a band promoting the fact that their new release contains “100% original material.” Even if people don’t particularly like this band’s original material, and would just as soon hear them do a bunch of Jimmy Martin covers, the claim makes it seem like it’s something you ought to like, and so you just might learn to. The same band could get people excited about a new release featuring nothing but covers.

Here are some possible advertising talking points for bluegrass bands, some of which  may seem unconventional, some of which contradict each other, but think of them as the bluegrass equivalent of probiotics or monounsaturated fat:

  • “Our new release focuses on the banjo, with over 50% of the songs featuring banjo kick-offs!”
  • “Our new release: a bluegrass album with no banjo whatsoever!”
  • “Our slow songs are now up to 30% slower!”
  • “The new release: widely distributed online and in retail outlets, available in multiple hard copy formats.”
  • “The new release: available as a download only, and only through our web site!”
  • “Bluegrass with a positive, uplifting message.”
  • “Bluegrass with a dark, brooding appeal. No happy endings here!”
  • “Now with 40% fewer songs in the key of B!”
  • “Using only the highest quality recording equipment, and the very latest in digital technology.”
  • “Recorded live in analog, without the use of overdubs or headphones. All members of the band played together while standing in the same kitchen (some dishwasher noise adds a percussive effect)”
  • “All tracks featuring drums!” (sure to be a winner)


Let’s not forget bluegrass events:

  • “Now with 30% less bluegrass than last year”
  • “Featuring lots of new and exciting talent, appearing at our event for the first time.”
  • “Featuring all the same bands we’ve had for the last 8 years!”


And finally, a festival promoting its green appeal:

  • “The only bluegrass festival in the eastern U.S. with absolutely no electric hookups for RVs!


Next week: a column that’s up to 40% less funny than this week’s!