Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners – quarantine edition encore

Mr. Bluegrass Manners was deluged with quarantine-related etiquette questions, not only because we’re all in uncharted territory now and have plenty of questions about it, but also because we just have lots of time on our hands, at least when we’re not making our own yeast, sewing our own protective masks, and knitting our own toilet paper. I managed to persuade him to stay on one more week and field a few more reader questions:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

What is the correct form of a quarantine cocktail hour via Skype, Zoom and the ilk? Is an opening prayer or invocation in order? Is it good form for bluegrassers to invent drinks like the Larry Cordial or the Jimmy Martini? As always, awaiting your ruling with bated breath. Good Health to you and all! 

The Lonesome Liver in New York

Dear Lonesome Liver,

Don’t forget the Gin & Jesse, and my personal favorite, the Martin Gibson (gin with an onion and a spruce top). At one time I took a dim view of newly-invented cocktails like these but it’s clear that we live in times that demand that kind of creativity and DIY cocktail initiative. I would say an opening prayer would be advisable, too, and you might want to begin with a prayer for less weight gain than we fear is taking place on a national scale, what with all the cocktails and bread-baking.

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

So many of my musician friends are turning to Facebook Live to present worldwide house concerts from their very own houses. Sometimes there are several going on at the same time! Since the performers can’t see me, they have no way to know whether I am paying rapt attention or just commenting every now and then while I change my strings or read a British spy novel. On the other hand, they CAN see exactly how much I throw in the virtual tip jar, unlike in real life, when I can get away with a wadded-up dollar bill that I hope looks like a twenty. My question is, if I’m not going to actually watch the performance carefully, how much do I have to donate to PayPal or Venmo or AtLeastItsGasMoneyDotCom to keep from being a terrible person?


Multitasking in Michigan

Dear Multitasking,

I might argue that you’re not necessarily multitasking any more than some bluegrass festival attendees whom I have observed reading, texting, napping, and occasionally succumbing to sun stroke, all while a rousing version of The Mule Skinner Blues is being played on the stage. 

You bring up an interesting feature of the livestream concert, though, one that’s of great benefit to the performer: he or she can simply imagine that every person listed as attending the show is sitting through it fully engaged from beginning to end, hanging on every note, even if that’s unlikely to be the case. This helps make up for the lack of audible applause that performers usually feed off of. Getting to the heart of your question, though, about how much to donate, the answer is “a lot,” since you’ve chosen to tune into an unsponsored concert by a musician who has just lost months of vital work. If you choose to read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold while changing strings, pausing occasionally to punch down the bread dough, that’s your choice. While you shouldn’t feel bad about it (it’s not bad manners if it can’t be seen or heard, I always say), the artist shouldn’t be punished for your busy quarantine life.

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

Is a quarantine situation a good time to introduce housemates to bluegrass, perhaps by playing it loud and long? 

— Optimistic in Oklahoma

Dear Optimistic,

The short answer is “no.” But, to expand on this a little, it was this very issue that was cited in one of the first documented quarantine-related marital separations (social distancing taken one step further). The spouse in question, when asked the reason for the split, simply said, “It was the Red Allen and the Jimmy Martin, day and night, loud and long. And the banjo started to feel like tiny hammers inside my brain, until I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!” You might think that the quarantine atmosphere is the perfect time to try new things, but that’s not the same as it being the perfect time to get others in your intimate lockdown party to try new things that you may like a lot, but that could be an acquired taste some. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it’s best to use the gradual introduction method, perhaps subliminally at first, then in quiet and short doses. Who knows? By late May, your quarantine mates may be blasting Earl Taylor’s The Children Are Crying and Bill Monroe’s My Last Days On Earth all on their own. If they do, don’t get overconfident and decide to take up the fiddle for the first time in your life.

Respectfully and distantly yours,

Mr. Bluegrass Manners