From The Side of the Road… Bluegrass superstitions

We live in a world full of superstition. Perhaps this is the time to cue the drums to kick off that Stevie Wonder song, unless you object to drums, in which case cue the drum mounted on the bass and played by the bass player, who is definitely not a drummer and who is not playing a drum, as much as it may appear and sound that way. Come to think of it, believing that a drum mounted on a bass isn’t a drum at all is itself a kind of superstition.

Superstition is everywhere, especially in gambling and professional sports, and sometimes in gambling on professional sports (“Don’t bet on the Cubs” isn’t superstition, by the way, just sound statistics-based advice). Baseball players are famous for it: Willie Mays would always touch third base when coming in from center field at the end of an inning. Turk Wendell was known for brushing his teeth and chewing licorice (probably best to do that in reverse order) in between every inning.

Then of course you have the “playoff beard” in hockey. You’re also supposed to avoid touching the conference cup for fear that it might somehow prevent you from winning the Stanley Cup. 

Gamblers don’t like to walk in the front door of a casino (that can get awkward if there’s no side or back door). They also don’t like counting money at the table (Kenny Rogers has warned about this time and time again), but that may just be a wise security measure.

Do we have superstitions in bluegrass music? Oh we have plenty of them, but like a lot of things related to our music, they don’t get a lot of mass media attention. Here are a few that I’m aware of; I’m sure you know of others:

  • Never play three Flatt & Scruggs songs in a row (unless you’re The Earls of Leicester).
  • It’s okay to play three Bill Monroe songs in a row, but after doing it, the mandolin player in your band must turn around three times and say, “I miss you King Wilkie.” Failure to do this may result in a band vehicle breakdown later that night.
  • If a bridge pin pops out of your guitar it means that somewhere a guitar player is blowing a g-run.
  • If an MC messes up your band name, you’re going to have poor CD sales that day.
  • If you perform Down in the Willow Garden at a bluegrass festival after dark, it needs to be followed by a song with the word “supernal” in it, or a serious accident involving a golf cart will take place on the festival grounds within 24 hours.
  • You should always change strings where no one can see you.
  • When singing Matterhorn, it’s good luck to use a different “A” name for “Albert the Australian” every time, like “Alvin the Australian,” “Alan the Australian,” “Aaron,” “Andy,” “Ambrose,” “Akbar,” “Alfonse,” “Arvid,” etc.
  • Taking a band photo will lead directly to personnel changes within three months.
  • Don’t wear socks on the day of an album or single release.
  • Never let a bass cart or dolly cross your path.
  • Never play a song in Bb on the night of a full moon.

These are thought of as superstitions, but like the counting money at the table mentioned above, these may just be bits of practical advice:

  • Never carry twin fiddles in a band if you travel in a van.
  • Never sing a quartet with only three singers.
  • After eating garlic, don’t sing harmony on one mic.
  • Underpaying band members leads directly to personnel changes within three months.
  • When being paid in cash, don’t count your money after you’ve already left the building  (i.e. do count your money when you’re sitting at the table).