From The Side of the Road… 500th column reflections

This is my 500th column for Bluegrass Today. This has taken me a little by surprise; I thought I had run out of ideas by column 50, and perhaps I had. But somehow, even if running on fumes and a lean mixture, here we are.

To be honest, I don’t really know what to do for a 500th column, so I consulted my old friend, the reclusive but always polite and helpful Mr. Bluegrass Manners. Here’s what he had to say:

“I recommend being as low key as possible: so called ‘milestones’ like this are more important to the achiever than to anyone else. If you attempt to trumpet your accomplishments it will just be irritating, like an overly long awards acceptance speech. Plus, trumpets are frowned on in bluegrass. Don’t rattle off a tedious thank you list or discuss your influences, which nobody really cares about. Maybe just do a quick retrospective or something.”

Point well taken. However, I do want to thank Bluegrass Today, and especially John Lawless and Terry Herd, who have been so supportive in this venture. There wasn’t much of a model or track record for bluegrass satire to go on, so they were taking kind of a chance. John has also given me a very free hand, even when poking a little fun at Bluegrass Today itself. 

I was looking back over some of these weekly entries, and there have definitely been some recurring themes. Here are a few samples from some of those:

The bluegrass haiku:

From the first bluegrass haiku column, which ran in 2015:

Writing a haiku, if nothing else, is a great exercise for a songwriter in the art of brevity. Expressing thoughts in a poetic yet compact way is very important in songwriting, and critical to the haiku. This, for example, makes a lousy haiku:

oh how many times
or so it seems to me . . . shoot!
now I’m out of space

And you thought Twitter was challenging!

Speaking of Knoxville Girl, could you tell the entire grisly story in haiku form? Well, it’s worth a try anyway:

jealous in Knoxville
I brutally killed my love
I’m so insecure

Another song in first person that might be told in haiku form is the Legend of the Rebel Soldier:

not feeling so good
is this preacher listening?
Yankee prisons suck

Bluegrass apocalypse:

I don’t know why I seemed to have a fascination with the bluegrass end times, but there were three or four different columns on the subject. One was written in a year in which one of the regular predictions of the end of the world happened to coincide with the IBMA World of Bluegrass:

What if we’re wrong, though? History does tell us that, with the notable exception of Nostradamus’ eerily accurate prediction that Kenny Ingram would join The Larry Stephenson Band, most predictions by religious leaders, self-proclaimed psychics, and television financial advisers are known for being wrong. What if we go into this IBMA World of Bluegrass with the kind of fervor we reserve only for the last one in history, only to find out that the world is still turning, the sun has risen, and a lot of people haven’t gone to bed yet? How will we deal with that kind of letdown?

Perhaps if we had a theme song for this very occasion, we could learn to face the fact that we now have to pay that credit card bill, and we’ll have to apologize to that person we were so blunt to in the Marriott lobby. I’ve composed just such a song, or rather, come up with alternate lyrics to a classic. Perhaps it’s wrong to have a World of Bluegrass song that’s based on a Skeeter Davis hit, and I know it’s definitely wrong to have one in 6/8 time, but the IBMA Awards have had a theme song for years featuring clawhammer banjo, of all things, so I figured some license could be taken.

The End of the World . . Of Bluegrass (with apologies to songwriters Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee)

Why does the band go on playing?
Why does this showcase drag on?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
By now I thought we’d all be gone

Why are they still out there schmoozing?
Why do they give out awards?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
A gig fair won’t help us anymore


I woke up at 11:00 with a headache
And the World of Bluegrass still is here it seems
I can’t understand, but mostly I’m tired
I’ll hit the snooze, perhaps it’s all a dream

Why does that fiddle keep screeching?
Isn’t this a non-jamming floor?
It may be the end of the world
But I’ve still got a seminar at 4:00

Then there were the 19 appearances so far of Mr. Bluegrass Manners. This is from the very first set of questions he ever fielded:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners:

I’m a professional bluegrass artist, and when I enter the grounds of a bluegrass festival and try to get to artist parking near the stage, I’m always met by a volunteer who acts like I’m a criminal when I don’t follow his or her dramatic parking gestures. My band members tell me I’m being rude and arrogant when I say, “Buzz off, twerp! We’re going to artist parking.” I sometimes follow this with, “you obviously don’t know who I am.” They say that’s unnecessary and adding insult to injury. I say it’s the volunteer who’s being rude and arrogant. Who’s right?

— Just Trying to Unload a Bass in Omaha, NE

Dear Just Trying to Unload a Bass,

Your band members are right, though you may also be half-right about the volunteer. It’s important to know that many parking volunteers at festivals are new to the music and may not yet own all, or even one of your CDs. It’s just a little presumptuous to expect them to immediately recognize you, heap praise on your latest single, Bluegrass Till I Die, and quickly  summon a police escort to take you backstage before you even ask. Some of these volunteers don’t know anything about any bluegrass artists because they were drafted into the job by a family member who is on the festival committee. They don’t recognize you and probably don’t want to. Being cordial is always the best course of action, trying to avoid terms like “twerp,” “bucko,” “sheepdip,” or even “pal.” Simply explain who you are and why you won’t be parking 19 miles from the stage today.

Now it is true that some people who park cars at public events seize on this role—their first time wielding any power over other people in their lives—as an opportunity to act like the top henchman of a banana republic dictator. Try to take pity on them and do your best to be nice anyway. They really don’t know who you are.

On the other hand, if they say things like, “How do I know you’re who you say you are?” or “I don’t care who the #%&#&#* you are, you’re parking where I say you are,” it’s okay to reply with, “Look, sheepdip . . .”  You have my permission.

And finally, quizzes have been a regular feature since the first one that ran in September of  2011. Here were a few of those first questions:

Jimmy Martin’s real name was:

A. Clyde Moody
B. John Deutschendorfer
C. Jimmy Martin
D. Theodore Roosevelt

When Larry Sparks left Ralph Stanley’s band to form his own group, he was replaced by:

A. Tony Rice
B. John Deutschendorfer
C. Gerald Ford
D. Roy Lee Centers
E. Ralph Stanley

Molly and Tenbrooks are/were:

A. A sister duo who toured with Uncle Dave Macon after their hit record Possum-eatin’ Dandy in 1933
B. The accounting firm in charge of counting the IBMA ballots
C. Two racehorses, one of whom died and was buried in a “coffin ready-made” (you just can’t get good coffins ready-made for a horse anymore)
D. The wives of The Delmore Brothers

Correct answers: C, D, C

Thank you for reading. It truly means a lot.