Let’s Make Bluegrass Great Again!

In light of the recent success of a similar campaign slogan, I decided to shamelessly adopt it for bluegrass. Hey, if it can do for bluegrass what it did for the President elect, then the music world is about to be stunned!!

But, as someone mentioned to me recently, in order to say “again” a person really should define when the greatness first occurred. Now I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there that have their own ideas about when the golden era of bluegrass happened…some may even argue that it hasn’t happened yet.

For me, the good ole days will always be the 1960s. I loved listening to the cracklin’ radio deliver the sweet lonesome sounds of Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, the Osborne Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Louvin Brothers and couldn’t wait to catch the Grand Ole Opry show each week. In my estimation, bluegrass music outshone the rising star of Country music.

The performers generally wore matching outfits, cowboy boots, and ten gallon hats as opposed to today’s laid back stage gear consisting of blue jeans, sneakers and whatever shirt happened to be clean that day. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against being comfortable while on stage and have been known to wear blue jeans a time or two, but never sneakers…I draw the line at sneakers! It just seems that when I “dress” for a performance, I connect to my musical heroes of times gone by and those magical days when bluegrass was king (at least in my heart!).

The songs that played on that old radio typically evoked a longing, a loneliness that sometimes seems missing in our modern day grass. Oh, the high lonesome sound is still there, it just doesn’t seem to convey the same lonesome feeling to me. Folks sang about what they knew…and they still do (thank goodness!). Back then songs frequently featured a mother worrying about her young ‘un and his wanderin’ ways or about the working class (especially coal miners). They were songs about surviving, about overcoming obstacles, and about family. And they still ring true today as evidenced by Lost Soldier Son by Chris Brashear, the Gibson Brothers new album In the Ground, and Georgia Maple by Edgar Loudermilk. But new songs with that old bluegrass flavor seem few and far between.

So what would it take to “Make Bluegrass Great Again”? Honestly, I think bluegrass — and our country — have always been pretty danged great! I’m just hoping and praying that they will continue to be great for many generations to come!

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About the Author

James Reams

James Reams is an international bluegrass touring and recording artist. Coming from a family of traditional singers in southeastern Kentucky, James has played both old-time and bluegrass music since he was just a little sprout. James is known as an “Ambassador of Bluegrass” for his dedication to and deep involvement in the thriving bluegrass and Americana music community. His newest album, Rhyme & Season, is expected to be released in late 2015. To date, he has released 8 CDs including a special DVD documentary of his band: James Reams & The Barnstormers. In 2002, his self-titled album featuring Walter Hensley received an IBMA nomination for Recording Event of the Year and earned James an IBMA nomination as Emerging Artist of the Year. Celebrating 20 years as a bandleader in 2013, he released the DVD documentary Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass, the culmination of over 10 years of filming and interviews. James is also the organizer of the Park Slope Bluegrass Oldtime Music Jamboree, an annual music festival he started in 1998 that attracts musicians and fans of traditional music to its workshops, jamming and concerts — the only event of its kind in or around New York City. Recently James has launched R&R Productions with an associate in Arizona. This company is dedicated to providing an oasis in the Phoenix metro area for bluegrass, old-time and Americana musicians as they travel coast-to-coast for performances. R&R Productions works with agents and/or directly with artists to coordinate, promote and manage the event.

  • Kenneth D Schroeder

    It would be a terrible shame if bluegrass went the way of traditional country music. Unfortunately we the fans don’t have much say in this subject. It is up to the artists and the powers to be that ruined country. They just sold out to what they think will bring in a new fan base.

    • Mitchell Reynolds

      Fans have all the power. Unfortunately, as listeners listen to what’s on the radio or satellite, they default to what commercial curators are playing. Even this site and the emphasis on charts creates a situation that makes songs and music like potato chips, consumable and disposable. Streaming services reinforce this “free” music environment so that only advertising is valued and performers go unpaid and unappreciated. Go to a show. Buy a CD in person from your favorite artists. It’s the only way the performers we love can continue to bring us the music we love.

  • Ol’ Blue

    Bluegrass has been great, is great, and always will be great. There was a period in the 70’s that drew a lot of hippies and pot heads, but hell, even some of those were great pickers. Many (not mentioning any names here) went on to become professionals. We all have a tendency to look over our shoulders and think; “They were the good old days.” Those are usually emotional moments. I wouldn’t trade the reliability and comfort of today’s vehicles for anything from the good old days. Well, maybe a 1967 427 Vette or something like that but collectibles aside, today isn’t a bad time to live. So if you listen to the young artists today that are blowing our minds with their musical abilities and vocal harmonies, well…..the good days are today my friends!