From The Side of the Road… bluegrass retirement options

A number of weeks ago, we discussed bluegrass death, and if things followed along the expected timeline, we should be approaching the subject of the bluegrass afterlife. Instead, though, I’d like to back up to the part just before death: bluegrass retirement.

I know what you’re going to say: no one retires in bluegrass music. And you would have a fair point. People mainly announce their retirement and then just play a lighter schedule (but for more money). Death generally occurs just after the last album, but always before the next one. 

I have a theory, though, that bluegrass artists would actually like to retire; they either can’t for financial reasons, or they just have no idea what to do during this hypothetical retirement.

I’m useless with financial advice. It all sounds the same to me. The basic message about money always seems to be, in so many words, “make more of it, and stop blowing it all on the ponies.” It’s easy to say when you’re not actually trying to make a living playing this music. 

I may have some ideas about post-career activities, though. In what should really be the subject of an entire IBMA World of Bluegrass seminar, here are a few possible retirement occupations, something to keep older bluegrass musicians busy before the next reunion tour:

Bus Driver: This is a rewarding and useful way to spend your golden years, and it has just enough familiarity to it that you can slip into this role naturally. It brings with it all the joys of the road without all that dreary music and performing: driving all night, eating truck stop food, drinking enough caffeine to cause heart arrhythmia, and you can earn a little cash along the way.

Bluegrass Blowhard: Remember those old guys who used to come up to you and talk your ear off about the time they had breakfast with Red Allen and accidentally spilled ketchup on him, and about how they’re close personal friends of James Monroe’s? Well now you can become one of those guys and treat it like a part time job. You probably already have good first hand stories; you’ll just need to spend some time learning to expand them to include more detail than anyone would care about. You’ll also need to master the technique of never ending a sentence, so no one has a chance to cut you off and claim they need to be somewhere else (urgently).

Bluegrass Knitter: Knitting isn’t just for grandmothers and college students anymore. You’ll find this a stress-relieving, almost hypnotic way to while away your post-touring existence. Once you get going with it, you’ll find yourself knitting ever more large and complicated creations: you’ll start with small items like capo cases or pick holders, but quickly work up to banjo case covers and van cozies.

Merchandise Salesperson: Was the “record table,” as it used to be called, with all its fan interaction and all its cash, your favorite part of being a professional musician? There’s no need to stop just because you’re no longer out playing shows. There’s nothing to prevent you from setting up your own table and standing there, selling everything from old CDs and cassettes of yours, CDs of other people’s that you just happen to have extra copies of, clogging DVDs, pilates DVDs, T-shirts, beef jerky, bottled water, and possibly moonshine, if someone knows the code. If anyone objects to you setting up your wares (and outselling the headline act), just master that “Don’t you know who I am?” look. 

Bluegrass Curmudgeon: This is one of the easiest retirement roles to fall into, especially for men, many of whom just naturally make that transition once they hit their 50s. Let’s face it, there’s just so much to complain about: No one’s playing the music right, not like they did when you got into the business; all these young people are constantly on their phones with their tick clocks and their instant grams or whatever the hell they call it; and the festivals are dying because nobody plays real bluegrass anymore, and the sound is terrible; the last festival you were at the sound guy didn’t even know the difference between a banjo and a mandolin; and have you seen the price of gas? And yet the price of oil is as low as ever! No wonder no one wants to drive to a so-called “bluegrass festival.” And what they call a tomato at the grocery store, well they might as well call it something else! Hard as a rock and no flavor. And the price of truck tires! Why the other day . . . etc. etc.

This is going to be easy. Or just book a few shows and go back into the studio. That works, too.