Last night’s Keynote Address, traditionally offered on the first night of the IBMA World Of Bluegrass convention, was delivered by Jerry Douglas.
His address seemed to focus on three basic themes: bluegrass music is in good shape, it is being noticed by the larger music industry, and we ought to be willing to share it with those outside our circle.
He spoke of his intense love of the music, especially expressing his admiration for Earl Scruggs and his ability to “float above the band” in a way that he had never heard before, or since. Given that Jerry’s career could often be seen as on the fringes of bluegrass by those with a preservationist bent, he may have been using some of this discussion to solidify his bluegrass bona fides. At one point, he glanced up from his prepared text, and looked us collectively in the eye to say that no matter what the session, show or style of music he was playing, he approached it as a bluegrass musician, and challenged the listener not to hear that in his playing.
He described how the country music world in particular sat up and took notice when Alison Krauss sold big on an indie label with no appreciable mainstream radio play, and when the O Brother and Down From The Mountain phenomena were in play. In another challenge to the bluegrass industry, after noting the huge success of bundling so many artists for the successful tours that supported those releases, he asked, “Do we have to wait for another movie to do that again?”
His final theme was perhaps the one that has the greatest import for the future of bluegrass. He directly rasied the oft-expressed notion that “It ain’t bluegrass if it don’t have a banjo” – which elicited more than one “Amen!” from the audience. After admitting that he tended to agree on a personal level, he reminded us that not everyone shares that view, and that getting more bluegrass acts onto concert hall stages in larger halls, in front of folks that might examine the music without prejudice or preconception, was something very much to be desired.
At that point, he told us that he wished that he could stay for the rest of the week, and pick with us into the wee hours, but that instead he would be heading back out with his band, opening for Paul Simon on the fall leg of the tour in support of his new Surprise CD. In case the point may have been lost on anyone in attendance, Jerry tied it up by indicating that while he didn’t do a 100% bluegrass show supporting Simon, he was certain that he was exposing it to people who would probably have never discovered it otherwise.
I fail to see how that is anything but a complete victory for our music.
It was a special evening for us, since the Keynote Address and dinner were sponsored by Bluegrass Today. Brance and I had the opportunity to briefly address the membership, thank them for their support of this site, and introduce our new venture, The Record Table (recordtable.com), and the online stores for Lonesome River Band and BlueRidge.
I also had the honor of introducing Jerry, an artist whose music and career have been a continuing source of inspiration over the past 30 years. In preparing to bring him to the stage, I came across a detail that I had not seen previously, to with that Jerry Douglas has now appeared on more than 1500 commercially-released recordings.
I can recall what a thrill it was when Ricky Skaggs’ Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ was first being played on country radio. Hearing a Flatt & Scruggs song with the Jerry Douglas dobro wasn’t as common as it may be now, and the notion that we were at the beginning of a long, slow turn in the music business occurred to many of us at the time.
From my far less prominent perspective, it seems that Jerry’s three main points are dead on, and I hope they will resonate with the artists and business people who are here in attendance.
Photos above were taken by Tami Roth, ¬© 2006.