From The Side of the Road… year end newsletter, bluegrass style

Happy New Year! My wish for 2022 is simple, and I believe I share this wish with many: that it be noticeably different from 2021 and 2020. It can even be just as bad, but if it’s bad in a different way, that would feel like progress.

One thing that has remained the same through the pandemic is the holiday or year-end family newsletter. Do you send these out? You know, it’s the summary of what the family has been up to in the past year, often accompanied by a picture, at least of the family dog wearing a Santa hat.

There used to be differences of opinion about these: some thought that it was a good and efficient way to update friends and family on what’s going on in your life; others, including some prominent etiquette advisers, believed these to be impolite, because they were in essence saying that you didn’t have time to bother to write you individually and personally. There was also some thought that these newsletters were nothing more than glorified bragging vehicles: “We’re glad to have Jimmy back home from his first year at Harvard Medical School. We’re sad that Susie couldn’t make it this year due to being appointed ambassador to Belgium.”

When you write to someone one-on-one, or family-on-family, you tend to include some of the personal dirt you wouldn’t in a mass-mailed newsletter, like the denial of your youngest son’s parole or your daughter’s contentious divorce. Some of this directness might go a long way to adding a more human touch to a family’s holiday mailing.

Most of the objections to the family newsletter are no longer valid, however, since we now operate in a world in which nobody writes or calls anybody, and we’re mostly reduced to following each other on social media, where our family image is even more “curated” than in the most promotional kind of annual family update. The newsletter now shows you care enough to go beyond a hastily written Facebook post.

I wish more bluegrass bands would do year-end family newsletter-style updates, too, instead of relying solely on the social media post. I’ll share one I received just last week from the band Lonesome Cavern:

Well it’s been another fantastic year for LC. We can’t thank our friends, family, and fans enough. We released our long-awaited fourth album, It’s About Time, in October. The album has made the top 10 of several charts. In some sad news, we reluctantly said goodbye to our fiddle player, Randy, after three years with the band. He has opted to spend more time with his family in 2022 (I guess we kept him too busy on the road this past year, LOL). Our mandolin player, Marty, released his first solo album, It’s My Turn, and it’s been a popular item at our merch table. Our bass player, Justine, moved across town to a smaller house. Now that her oldest child, Jeremiah, has moved out, she and Cliff felt they were ready to downsize. Our dobro player, Paul, recently started a side business selling instrument case covers made of wool from his very own sheep. He and Carla continue to maintain their small family farm. 

We wish all of you a healthy and happy 2022. Please check our web site and social media for regular updates!

This gets the job done, I think, but it’s certainly very much in the “curated” (i.e. whitewashed) category, and therefore something you’re more likely to skim through rather than read carefully. Could it benefit from a more straightforward and honest approach? I think it would, so here is a proposed rewrite that, while painful in spots, tells more of the real story of Lonesome Cavern in 2021:

Happy New Year and welcome to our annual Lonesome Cavern year-end newsletter! It’s been another disappointing year for work with the continuing COVID situation we all thought would be over in May 2020. Still there were bright spots: Our new album, It’s About Time, while it isn’t selling much (are anybody’s albums selling?), it’s gotten some radio airplay and was on the year-end top 20 chart for WYND’s Bluegrass in the Very Very Early Morning show. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we have had to let our fiddle player Randy go. While never easy to work with, he became more and more difficult to be around during the pandemic, having become obsessed with the political side of the COVID situation. We probably could have dealt with that if he were more tolerant of other people’s viewpoints, or if he was actually doing his musical job as our fiddle player. We wish him well. Our mandolin player Marty came out with his first solo album, It’s My Turn (we advised against that title). Our bass player Justine and her family have been forced to move to a smaller house. Her husband Cliff remains unemployed, and with our reduced schedule, times have been tough for them. By the way, if you know of any potential job openings for Cliff, feel free to let us know. He does something-or-other with computers we don’t understand enough to explain. Our dobro player Paul has started a business selling instrument case covers made of wool from the sheep on his farm. He has sold three of them. He remains active with the farm work and has reportedly branched out into goats and poultry. We haven’t heard from him for a long time.

We wish you all a healthy and happy 2022. Things have got to get better, right?