Mr. Bluegrass Manners is back! I requested that he take some questions this week, while I’m still on a European tour, possibly writing from a Spanish jail (a nice one, though).
As always, these questions came via my Facebook page and are real questions from mostly real people (we accept questions from bots, too, if they’re about bluegrass jamming etiquette, because even bots want to know how to select the right key for You’ll find Her Name Written There).
We got some very good ones this time around:
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
Is it alright to use a synonym for bird poo in a band name?
— Excrementally Concerned in Oregon
Dear Ex. Concerned,
This wasn’t a question I was ever expecting to hear but it’s a valid one. The fact is, just like instrumentals, you can name a band anything, but there are definitely factors that determine whether a name carries inherent disadvantages with it. In bluegrass music, our band names range from the almost comically generic (The Bluegrass Band), to the abstract (Damn Tall Buildings). Some names, though, are more problematic than others, and then you have to decide whether that’s worth the risk. A synonym for bird poo—or any kind of poo, really—in a band name is a good example. It might sound cool when the band is sitting around pulling random words out of a hat (perhaps literally), but then you have to be willing to sacrifice some work if the name is offensive to a significant percentage of your potential audience. Is it worth it for the additional notoriety an edgy name might generate? The band has to make that choice and live with it.
If you’d like to play it safe, and keep that potential traditional bluegrass festival or high-paying wedding gig, I would avoid some, but not necessarily all poo synonyms. These are probably okay, if a little unpoetic:
- Horse apples
- Buffalo Chips
These are more obscure bird poo euphemisms that might be acceptable:
- Crow Crepes
- Chickadee Cherries
- Junco Jazz
- Robin Roux
These are asking for trouble, but as I say, it’s all about whether you’re willing to accept the consequences:
- Avian crap
These are also inadvisable, not because anyone would consider them profane, but just because they’re a little clinical-sounding for a band name:
- Fecal Matter
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
Baseball hats on stage? Yea or Nay?
— Lid-curious in Vermont
Some, especially those from the “old school” (where enrollment is down, they’re telling me) believe that you should attempt to look better than your audience, partially out of respect for that audience. In other words, you want to give them the impression that you cared enough to dress for the show they paid to see, and that you aren’t just a handful of people in the crowd who happened to just get up on stage. Fortunately, as dressing to attend an event has become increasingly casual to downright sloppy, it’s pretty easy to look more formal than your audience. Sometimes just wearing something more dressy than pajamas will get the job done.
My own viewpoint is that however you dress on stage, it should be deliberate, and different from how you dress to gas up the car. Whether that means suits or knee-length burlap overalls, you should look like you chose to dress that way and didn’t just walk up on stage wearing whatever was closest to your bed that morning.
As for baseball hats, bear in mind that a lot of your audience members will be wearing them, too, so that doesn’t help in trying to differentiate yourself. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but just ask yourself if there’s a reason for doing it besides the fact that you’re wearing one anyway. Is it a cool and distinctive hat? Does it match your pajamas? Does it fit with the overall dressing style of the band? There’s no way around the fact that, unlike a high homburg hat, the ball cap is going to de-formalize your look. You’ll have to decide whether that’s what you and your band want.
Can 3,000 new country male vocalists be wrong? Yeah, perhaps they can.
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
If I attend a jam at the house of a QAnon devotee, are there any keys I should avoid singing Charlie Moore songs in? I don’t want to offend anyone.
Conspiratorially Respectful in the Pacific Northwest
I’ll admit this isn’t within my field of expertise, and I promise I’m not simply trying to avoid a potentially controversial subject. For that reason, I’ve thrown this back to Chris Jones, the guy who lets me pop in here from time to time to answer a few questions. Chris fancies himself a bluegrass conspiracy theory expert now, ever since he exposed then-Prince Charles’ involvement in a secret committee which meets at a Cracker Barrel to manipulate the IBMA Awards. Thanks for your understanding.
I’m happy to jump in here. For those who aren’t aware of this particular conspiracy theory, let me summarize: it is believed by some that Charlie Moore will come back to life and headline the Pickin’ Under a Large Awning festival on July 21st, 2023. He will abolish the use of triple fiddles and also assume the role of mayor of Spartanburg, SC, maintaining that post forever. What will make this miraculous reappearance confusing to some is that Charlie will come back in the form of Bill Napier, but the devotees to this theory are fully prepared for that.
To answer your question more specifically, you absolutely should not perform the song Wheeling in the key of G when attending this jam session. That’s considered a code among the secret opponents of Charlie’s return, who are believed to be rampant in the bluegrass community. They are headquartered in an underground bunker in Raleigh, NC and are conspiring to stop Charlie’s comeback. Also the Rebel Soldier must be performed with the standard key changes, G to A, to C. Failure to do that will also be considered a sign that you’re with “them.”
Have fun, but be careful.