IBMA Workshop: Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday plans

lil_mike_reedThis post is a contribution from Mike Reed, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. See his profile here.

One of the great things about attending the IBMA workshops is that you never know what direction the discussion may go.

Bill MonroeFred Bartenstein, Nick Barr and James Monroe formed the panel to discuss the different plans to celebrate Bill Monroe’s 100th Birthday in 2011. Nick Barr went over what he was able to find on the internet, which was primarily driven by the Bluegrass Hall of Fame activities, plans at the home site and limited plans (as far as was evident) for the rest of the State of Kentucky as well. Discussion with the audience participants from several regions reflected little development and coordination of activities at this early stage.

Audience member Mark Newton noted that he and Rural Rhythm Records are planning to record at the next Bean Blossom Festival (June 11-18, 2011) a tribute to the music of Bill Monroe, consisting of label acts and members of the Blue Grass Boys. This is still in the development stage.

Next James Monroe, the son of Bill Monroe shared a few words. He started by reminding everyone that Bill was a good father to him and his sister, not just a good musician. As a kid, even when his Dad had been out on the road for a long time he was always willing to throw ball with him and attend his Little League games. He recalled the beginning of his music career when Bill asked him to go on the road with him to play bass. James told him he didn’t know how, had never even picked one up. Bill told him to just slap time on it.

At the first show he did (at a supermarket opening) he hid behind Bill with his hat pulled low hoping no one would see him. Whenever Bill moved from his vocal microphone to his mandolin mic, James would follow right behind him. He also recalled the time that while he was a Blue Grass Boy, he bought the Uncle Pen cabin and property and gave it to his dad for his birthday. Bill then lost the title the next day and James had to work to get a new one….

In the audience was Roland White, who along with James Monroe were Blue Grass Boys in the late 1960s. He shared with the attendees how he first came to know the music of Bill Monroe. Roland told of his family’s move from Maine to California in the mid-1950s. While the family was very musical he had never heard of bluegrass music. He told of the time that someone heard him playing mandolin and asked if he had heard of Bill Monroe. He hadn’t, and when he asked who he was, he was told that he plays mandolin too and plays real fast.

Roland went to the local music store and asked about Bill Monroe, and after looking through the store record catalog, he saw the term “breakdown” and asked what that meant. When he was told that it was an instrumental played real fast, he ordered the 45 of Pike County Breakdown. He then told of finally getting the 45 and how he was amazed how they could get all that music on such a little record!

Once he had the record the next thing he needed was a record player since the family didn’t own one. After a deal with the music store owner his dad picked one up. Roland then told how the family got around the record player and heard Pike County Breakdown for the first time. He said, haltingly, in a choked voice, that it changed his life.

That is a truly great thing about this week at IBMA – the stories that you hear, some you’ve heard before but others that give you a new glimpse of what it was like when this music was still young and the history of Bluegrass Music was just beginning.