While we count our many blessings, I want to take a couple of minutes to note some of the things I’m thankful for in the bluegrass world.
For starters, I’m grateful that folks like Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had the foresight to try something different. Their willingness to take chances, to think and play outside the box, created the music we love to play and hear.
But I’m also thankful for current bands that continue to test the boundaries of bluegrass. Some of it goes too far, even for me, but I give these bands credit for trying. And some newer bands are terrific stewards of the bluegrass legacy, even if they color outside the lines. The Punch Brothers aren’t a bluegrass band, but they know and play bluegrass standards regularly. Each time they do that, they open the door for new fans to discover “our” music.
There are many other genre-benders that deserve a listen: Dehlia Low plays what the band calls “Appalachiagrassicana.” I just call it outstanding music. The HillBenders are on this list, too, along with the Infamous Stringdusters. The music from these three bands is aggressive, energetic and fun, with terrific resonator guitar work across the board from Aaron Ballance, Chad Graves and Andy Hall.
I’m thankful that my mid-life conversion to bluegrass allowed me to hear and get to know J.D. Crowe. I’d love to hear him continue to play the five, but the road is hard and long, and after decades of entertaining us, he deserves a break to attend car shows and do other things on weekends instead of work for us. Thanks, J.D., and happy retirement.
But this one is really for all the road warriors who keep at it year of after year, including Ralph Stanley, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, Paul Williams and many, many more. And a special shout out for the Seldom Scene. This band, together 42 years and in the current configuration for more than 15 years, is a national treasure. Banjo man Ben Eldridge has been with them from the start. See the Scene while you can, because who knows how long this amazing run will last.
This year, I’m especially thankful that the bluegrass community gives back so much. Whether it’s Detour donating proceeds from the song Homeless of the Brave to a shelter for veterans with no place to stay, or bands getting together to throw a benefit for one of their own, the spirit of generosity is alive and thriving in bluegrass. This point was driven home last February, when hundreds of fans and about a dozen bands showed up in Roanoke in the middle of a blizzard to raise money for Herschel Sizemore and his wife, Joyce, who were recovering from cancer.
Herschel, himself, underscored the spirit in a backstage discussion with Lou Reid and Fred Travers of the Seldom Scene. “Well,” he said, “if I live and something happens to you guys, I’ll be right there to help you.” He would be, of course. And he wouldn’t be alone.
In the helping hand department, I’m especially grateful this year for the distinguished, behind the scenes work of IBMA’s Trust Fund. Half of each year’s proceeds from Fan Fest go into this account to help bluegrassers who are down on their luck. Because the fund operates in confidence, we don’t hear about their good deeds, except in the abstract. That changed for me this year, when a bluegrass picker I know was on the verge of losing the roof over his head through no fault of his own. Some of his friends helped out where we could, but a check from the trust fund really made the difference in getting this musician out of deep hole in his darkest hour. I, for one, will never again take the trust fund for granted, and I know my friend feels the same way.
Finally, a special thanks to the bands who keep songwriters in the game by recording our songs, and to the DJ’s who play the songs and expand the reach of the music we love. And, of course, a big thanks to you, for buying the music, attending the festivals and helping to keep so many music dreams alive. None of the other things I’m thankful for would be possible without you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!