From The Side of the Road… quiz for bluegrass college students

It’s been such an exciting development to see the growth of bluegrass music in higher education. Programs like those at ETSU, Berklee, and Morehead State are not just providing degrees to students who are pursuing their musical passion, they are turning out serious professionals in the business, from Becky Buller to Chris Pandolfi.

There’s one area where these programs may fall short, however. Perhaps they’re already addressing it and I don’t know it yet. If so, forgive my ignorance (“Forgive My Ignorance” was originally going to be the title of this weekly column). Academic counseling has always been important, and sometimes I wonder if, when potential professional bluegrass musicians sit down with an adviser for some guidance, they’re asking the students all the questions they should be to determine if they’re temperamentally suited for this kind of career, no matter what their musical ability and interest might be.

After all, aside from the performance of music in front of an appreciative audience and the thrill of recording brand new music in the studio, there is an awful lot more to the bluegrass music business (often with the emphasis on “awful”) that some are better suited to than others.

I suggest the following as a possible survey that could be given to each potential student of a college bluegrass music program:

Which answers to the following questions come closest to your own:

1. Traveling thousands of miles with a handful of other musicians in a cramped and enclosed moving metal box sounds like it’s . . .

A. My idea of a good time. When do we leave?

B. A means to an end. Not fun, but necessary at times.

C. Smelly.

D. One of the controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” that may violate the Geneva Convention.

2. When on the road, I prefer to eat . . .

A. Anything that’s free.

B. Pretty much anything in a pinch, and I understand that road food may not always be ideal.

C. Full, healthy meals at regulated times, spaced exactly six hours apart.

D. Fresh, organic food, locally sourced. I also have allergies to wheat, rice, corn, nuts, beans, root vegetables, lactose, pork, and marshmallows.

3. When standing around the merchandise table, interacting with fans, I’m thinking to myself . . .

A. This is what it’s all about: personally connecting with the people who like our music. I could do this for hours!

B. There’s value in talking to fans, and after all, they’re the ones who pay for the tickets and buy our music. 

C. Fans are great and everything, but they exhaust me, and why do they ask such rude questions?

D. I hate all you people. Can I just go home now?

4. A gross salary of $18,000 sounds like . . .

A. A good goal.

B. I could probably make that work if I keep my pizza delivery job.

C. You mean per month, I assume.

D. A joke.

5. A reasonable amount of time per year to spend at home with my family is . . .

A. Family? I remember them. Nice people.

B. Half the days of the year is probably realistic. I just try to make the most of the time that I’m there.

C. Traveling away from home is fine, but if they need me, I need to return home, even if shows have to be cancelled on short notice. I think most promoters and band members understand that, don’t they?

D. I refuse to miss major holidays at home, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Passover, St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, Royal St. John’s Regatta Day, and Flag Day. Also, sometimes I just need to rest up and focus on self-care. People will just have to understand that.

6. How many hours of sleep do you require per day?

A. I can get by with none. I feel weirdly energized and creative when I play a show on no sleep at all. As long as I can get a good 14 hours the next day or maybe the day after, I’m good.

B. I prefer at least 7 hours but can get by on 5 or 6 as long as I don’t do that too many nights in a row.

C. Generally a minimum of 7 and up to 9. Anything more or less and I just don’t feel right.

D. 8.75 and not a minute less. A regular bed time is important. If I change time zones, it’s crucial for me to maintain the schedule of my home time zone. For that reason, I prefer that any Pacific time zone performances wrap up no later than 8:00 p.m.

If you answered mostly A: Congratulations! You’re just crazy enough to stay in this business for the rest of your life.

If you answered mostly B: You’re realistic, and you have the right temperament to handle the rigors of professional bluegrass music.

If you answered mostly C: you may not be ideally suited to the business unless you lower some lifestyle expectations. I would think long and hard about your future plans.

If you answered mostly D: I’m sorry but this just isn’t going to work out. I recommend a career in forestry, hotel management, sports franchise ownership, or you could just open a soap store. Choose a major accordingly.