Breaking up is hard to do… isn’t it?

Chris JonesThere’s plenty to worry about in the world of bluegrass, if you’re the worrying sort. Even those that aren’t the worrying sort can get that way in an election year, so let’s go ahead and worry.

We have the issue of voter participation in the IBMA awards, the aging audience for traditional bluegrass festivals, the price of rebuilding a diesel bus engine, the Russian hacking of the Earls of Leicester’s emails, and so much more. And yet none of this worries me much, I have to confess. You know what keeps me tossing and turning at night (besides cheap taste in hotels)? The fact that bands don’t break up anymore.

It’s not that I long for bands to go away. Most bluegrass fans, myself included, fantasize about Flatt & Scruggs still being alive, together, and making plans to go into the studio to record their 187th record for Columbia. I wish that J.D. Crowe hadn’t retired, and that he, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Bobby Slone were all still playing together.

If a band has to break up, though I want them to actually break up. If they’re no longer playing, touring, recording, or speaking to each other, I’d say it’s pretty much over.

Instead, bands have taken to going on “hiatus.” This implies that, although the lead singer is embarking on a solo career, two of the other band members have gotten jobs with Doyle Lawson, one is managing a Waffle House, and the other has become a full time pro golfer, this band is only taking some time off and will probably return to touring in the near future.

This is no way to call it quits. I say, go ahead and own it. Take a page from great bluegrass acts acts like Flatt & Scruggs, New Grass Revival, and Pink Floyd: breakups should happen with some hard feelings between at least two of the band members, the awkward fulfilling of record contracts and concert bookings, a few nasty rumors, and maybe a temporary spike in album sales.

If your concern is that a $20,000 Christmas party gig might come in at any time, why not say nothing at all? I’ve never understood why bands issue breakup or hiatus press releases, anyway. Just stop touring and recording, and wait for someone to notice. Then, if that big gig comes through (the one with the free appetizer pastry things), go ahead and take it. You can always sub for the member no one is speaking to, or not.

I think the Spice Girls started this “hiatus” business back in 2000, and what good did it do them? As Dan Hicks (or am I thinking of Dan Hays?) put it, “how can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

Just embrace the dissolving of your band; the more dramatic you can make it, the better. If all the members are getting along and are just “pursuing new opportunities,” (this is so rarely the case, but it could happen) pretend they can’t stand each other anyway. Start some rumors. This is even a good opportunity to fake your own death, if you’re in debt or just don’t want to show up to your day job on Monday.

Remember, this is all part of setting the stage for the best part of breaking up: the reunion tour! This is where you travel around making twice the money you used to make when you were still together, performing for your wistful and nostalgic fans.

Can you really do this if you’re just on hiatus? Not really, because you never took the step of disuniting; you just took a lot of time off. There’s not much drama in that. People want to know that you haven’t played together since that fateful day when you all hung it up, seemingly for good. Moreover, this is a reunion tour that may never happen again, especially since one of the band members is suing the others over the rights to the band name, and and another one has just recently—and only temporarily—come back from the dead.

It would be one thing if bands on hiatus picked right back up after they left off a year later, but the statistics don’t favor this scenario, so really there’s no advantage to it. Remember that whether you break up publicly, or just say nothing about it, you can always use the same business cards, and you can still take that Christmas party gig.