One of the highlights of walking around IBMA is seeing the number of young people hanging around picking and jamming in groups, sometimes in just pairs or trios, sometimes by the dozen. These youngsters, sometimes as young as nine or ten and all the way up to 18, are enthusiastic, devoted, focused and good. And inclusive, which is one of the best things about bluegrass; it’s music for all the people. Famous or not, highly skilled or just learning, groups of people get together for the love of the music and play into the very wee hours. A couple of nights ago, I stumbled onto a jam of 11 young people that included Jacob and Isaac Moore of the Moore Brothers, and they were having a good old time picking with fans. It’s a common occurrence, and one of the most appealing aspects of the music.
It’s this devotion and love for bluegrass that director/producer Corey Smith and assistant director Zeb Snyder are hoping that viewers will see and understand when they watch Generation Bluegrass, the new movie that documents some of the hottest young pickers of today. Just 17, both young men are excited and anxious to present bluegrass from their point of view, the horizon of possibility and promise.
The Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, North Carolina and Bluegrass Today were pleased to present the premiere of Generation Bluegrass on Friday afternoon at IBMA Fan Fest. Several of the young people appearing in the film were on hand, including the directors and members of their families.
The film showcases the music of the Smith Family Band, the Moore Brothers with Daniel Perry, the Snyder Family Band, the Church Sisters, Jacob Burleson and Shane and Alex Edwards. The talents of the performers are clear, and we learn that the philosophies of bluegrass as pure, wholesome music are as important to these young people as they are to players decades older.
The idea to showcase the current new generation of pickers came to Corey Smith in part because he loves video production almost as much as he loves playing bluegrass with his family. With the support of his folks, he set out to make his dream come true. It wasn’t handed to him; Smith financed the entire production from his own pocket by working on his family’s grass-fed cattle farm (Deep River Cattle), plus with money he made from his band and by working on smaller video projects. He bought and rented the equipment he needed, set up a studio at his home and he and Zeb did all of the shooting between last November and this past June. Licensing hassles, financing issues and scheduling problems at times were a little discouraging to the process, but that’s one of the beautiful things about youth – the boys had enough dogged determination and sheer willpower to make sure the project’s completion was never in question.
And dreams – the film and its directors are full of dreams. Smith is hopeful that the film can make its way to as many schools and young people as possible, so that students can see that bluegrass isn’t the “hick-ish, redneck” music that it is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be. Snyder sees even bigger things.
“I would love to see this even get outside the bluegrass community, so that people could see, ‘Hey, these kids are really interested in this, there must be something to this bluegrass. This film can demonstrate that, because it was filmed by kids, funded by kids, had all youth positions on it except for some family members playing bass. So that aspect of how much fun we’re having, if that could get outside the bluegrass community and bring people in, then I think that would be a great thing that we could accomplish.”
“I want to get this out and show how cool bluegrass is, to show how much fun it is to play. And not just to play, but to listen to.”
One concern the young men have is that sometimes when the public sees a family band, it suspects the parents are taking advantage of their children’s’ talents and are putting the young people through a life and process they do not enjoy. Smith and Snyder want to make very clear that the belief is utterly unfounded and is wildly untrue.
“One thing I want to say about this, all of these kids were not pushed by their parents at all,” asserts Smith. “Their parents started them, but they took it from there. They love bluegrass, all of the kids on the DVD.”
“It’s usually the parents that are begging to go to bed, not the kids! The kids want to be there, they want to play.”
One of the reasons bluegrass is so appealing to the young people is the high-octane energy that the music inherently possesses. It’s perfect for a young, energetic person to let off a little steam. “It’s not hard to put energy into it, it’s hard to back off,” laughs Snyder. “People tell us, ‘Okay, time to play a slow song now!’ It’s so much fun to play.”
Some of the songs the young people perform in the movie are A Soldier’s Song from the Smith Family Band; Nine Pound Hammer from the Snyder Family Band; The Angels Rejoiced Last Night from the Church Sisters; the jazzy/blues instrumental take on Wayfaring Stranger from the Moore Brothers and EMD from a collective jam. These folks even show off a little of their songwriting skills, as Zeb Snyder leads his family through Sarah Joy, a song he wrote based on a young neighbor friend back home in North Carolina.
The subjects also share their dreams and hopes for their place in bluegrass. Savannah Church says that someday she hopes that she and twin sister Sarah might sing on the Grand Ole Opry, but “for us that’s just a dream right now.” With their undeniably angelic harmonies and instrumental prowess, a person has to think that it’s only a matter of time.
We’re not sure what Sam Bush and Bela Fleck might think of being called the “oldies” of bluegrass, but these kids do know the pioneers of bluegrass and want to honor them with the film. Their musical goals are to continue what Messrs. Monroe and Scruggs began, build on Tony Rice, Bush and Fleck and then draw on the influences of their own time to continue to evolve the music while holding steadfast to what came before. Snyder sums it up:
“I think it’s good for the health of the music that it’s a naturally creative kind of music. I think as long as it stays like that, it will go on for as long as people want to play.”
Be looking for Generation Bluegrass near you, and take the opportunity to see it. It is also available for sale on DVD.
You’ll be impressed by what lies ahead for the music, and relieved that such clear-headed thinking will lead bluegrass into the future.