Pete Ward, a theology professor at Durham University in England, has begun doing research for a book on Bluegrass and Religion.
To that end, he has created an online survey and is asking bluegrass lovers worldwide to take a fe minutes to provide answers to questions about familiar songs. The entire survey includes 20 multiple choice queries, and anyone with an interest in bluegrass and old time music can easily provide the responses. The songs Pete asks about are Keep On The Sunny Side, Little Mountain Church House, I’ll Fly Away, Angeline The Baker, All The Good Times Are Past and Gone, Bury Me Beneath The Willow, and Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
Ward is a bluegrass musician himself, so he has a good bit of knowledge about the subject already, but is interested in hearing from others on the question.
When we contacted Pete, he fleshed out his concept for his book, which will provide an academic’s keen eye to a fact most grassers understand, the centrality of the Gospel message in the music.
“The book traces the roots and reasons for religious music being central to the genre. I will also be working on lyrical content for bluegrass standards. The other half of the book is about the use and meaning of these songs for fans in jams, with artists, and also the recent popularity of bluegrass Gospel in some churches for worship.
The survey has been primarily a means to get bluegrass people to engage with my project, and I am currently doing longer interviews with people around the topic. I am interested in what bluegrass means to people, and what the Gospel aspects of it mean. It has been real fun, and I have had a whole range of people talk to me – I should have around 30 interviews when I am done.
It has been interesting to hear how, for some, the songs are deeply meaningful and for some others they are less so – as one person said I don’t really pay attention to what the songs are about, it is just a chance to play my banjo. I have talked to Atheists, Secular Jews, Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics – whole bunch of people.”
To participate in the survey, visit Pete’s Bluegrass and Religion web site.
Here’s Ward on mandolin with his band, Assembly Lane.