Impressions of SPBGMA 2020 from Kaitlyn Gene

These impressions of SPBGMA 2020 are a contribution from Kaitlyn Gene, a 15 year old grasser from Glenville, WV. She travelled to Nashville on the bus from Glenville State College to attend the convention. At the urging of Glenville Bluegrass program director, Megan Darby, Kaitlyn is sharing how her second SPBGMA experience appears to her.

Growing up, I was exposed early on to the unique sound of bluegrass music. My grandpa played several instruments and was always encouraging me to pick one up. Before I even decided I wanted to play music, my grandpa and I spent hours attempting to write songs. I started taking an interest in song writing before I could even write. I would sit with family members and they would write down all the silly little songs I had dreamed up. Writing was always a way I expressed myself. I learned to play guitar when I was about nine and started attending jam sessions with my grandpa. The old folks loved seeing my interest in traditional bluegrass! I turned to fiddle next, and fell even more in love with bluegrass music.

Glenville State College, located in my hometown, Glenville, WV, was the first college to have a four year degree in bluegrass music under the careful guidance of founder, Dr. Buddy Griffin. Buddy eventually passed the reins to current director, Dr. Megan Darby. “Miss Megan,” as she’s affectionally know in Glenville, created the Pioneer Stage on main street in downtown Glenville. The Pioneer Stage began hosting many jam sessions and open mic nights which I eagerly attended. Walking through the doors of the Stage was like taking a step back through bluegrass history. Everyone there quickly became family and the Stage became a second home. 

Last year, Miss Megan got the brilliant idea of loading up on the college bus and taking a trip to Nashville for the annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, also known as the SPBGMA convention. I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. My mother and I decided to make the trip with the college. I had planned on bringing my grandpa, but he landed himself in the hospital the week before. SPBGMA showcased many bluegrass bands through-out the weekend, and hosted workshops. The best part was the many jam sessions that went on through-out every nook and cranny in the hotel. Once I heard the college would be taking the bus again this year, I immediately got my grandpa on board. Attending SPBGMA last year was literally life changing but wasn’t the same without the person who started me on bluegrass. I was baffled by the number of people that shared the same passion as my grandpa and I. Having my grandpa here with me this year just makes the experience even more memorable. 

As I sit here writing this, I look around and see all the people that breath bluegrass music just like me. I see the lifelong friends I have made, the new songs I have learned, and the memories I will never forget. SPBGMA is a way for people from all over the country to come to Nashville and still feel at home. My grandpa and I sat in our hotel room last night and worked for hours on writing a song, because that’s what we love to do. The people that attend SPBGMA are some of the best folks around, and as Merle Haggard once said, “I’ve got two families.”

Kaitlyn Gene, 15, Future Glenville State College Pioneer