Mr. Bluegrass Manners #1

Welcome to what I hope will be a semi-regular (better make that “irregular”) feature here. Based on some of the well-known etiquette-oriented advice columns of the past, like “Dear Abby” and “Miss Manners,” I will periodically wear the hat (High Homburg, size 7.5) of “Mr. Bluegrass Manners” and attempt to answer a variety of questions on protocol and etiquette as it relates to conducting oneself in a variety of bluegrass real-life situations, from jam sessions to record table conversations. As with most of the faux advice I’ve dispensed in this column in years and months past, I have exactly zero formal qualifications for doing this, and where would I acquire those qualifications anyway?

Here, then is installment #1 of Mr. Bluegrass Manners

Congratulations to Charles Hinkley of New Boston, OH for submitting our very first Mr. Bluegrass Manners question (Charles will be receiving a valuable yet invisible gift for this honor):

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners:

I recently approached some bluegrass artists at their CD table and announced that while I wouldn’t be purchasing any of their product, I did videotape their show and planned to upload it to YouTube. Their response was snippy, at best. Was that response justified? I’m a paying customer of theirs, and I thought every artist should be grateful for the video exposure.

– Disappointed in New Boston, OH

Dear Disappointed (even though I’ve already told the world that your name is Charles),

This is a classic misunderstanding of what artists want from their fans. In this situation you are very specifically not a paying customer, though you may have paid to attend the event. You approached their merchandise table which was set up to sell you stuff. This is a big part of how they make a living. Not showing up to the table at all would have been fine; they don’t expect every member of the audience to buy their merchandise. Or, showing up and just saying something pleasant to them—that you liked their show, their shoes, or their Carl Story impersonation, for example—would also have been fine, but what you did was tell them that you weren’t going to buy anything because instead you had made your own recording of them, then expected them to be pleased about that. Artists have adjusted to the reality of having their stuff recorded and put up on YouTube without their permission, and artists have differing views about that, but in any case, there’s no shortage of this going on, so the fact that you did it is unlikely to be cause for celebration. Was it right for them to be snippy to you (and, by the way, I appreciate your use of the word “snippy”)? Perhaps not, and maybe that will be a subject for a future Mr. Bluegrass Manners, but I’d say their attitude was justified.

What you should have done instead is tell them that you had taped their show and ask if they minded if you put it up on YouTube. 90% of artists are going to say it’s okay, even if they really wish you wouldn’t before they could check out the quality of it. They know that in 2017 they can’t really do anything about it, and they appreciate the gesture of your asking. If you had bought a CD during the course of this conversation, you would have gotten an even more upbeat response. A “Woo-hoo!” with a high-five and a fist bump wouldn’t have been out of the question.

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners:

I’m a professional bluegrass artist, and when I enter the grounds of a bluegrass festival and try to get to artist parking near the stage, I’m always met by a volunteer who acts like I’m a criminal when I don’t follow his or her dramatic parking gestures. My band members tell me I’m being rude and arrogant when I say “Buzz off, twerp! We’re going to artist parking.” I sometimes follow this with, “you obviously don’t know who I am.” They say that’s unnecessary and adding insult to injury. I say it’s the volunteer who’s being rude and arrogant. Who’s right?

— Just Trying to Unload a Bass in Omaha, NE

Dear Just Trying to Unload a Bass,

Your band members are right, though you may also be half-right about the volunteer. It’s important to know that many parking volunteers at festivals are new to the music and may not yet own all, or even one of your CDs. It’s just a little presumptuous to expect them to immediately recognize you, heap praise on your latest single, “Bluegrass Till I Die,” and quickly summon a police escort to take you backstage before you even ask. Some of these volunteers don’t know anything about any bluegrass artists because they were drafted into the job by a family member who is on the festival committee. They don’t recognize you and probably don’t want to. Being cordial is always the best course of action, trying to avoid terms like “twerp,” “bucko,” “sheepdip,” or even “pal.” Simply explain who you are and why you won’t be parking 19 miles from the stage today.

Now it is true that some people who park cars at public events seize on this role, their first time wielding any power over other people in their lives, as an opportunity to act like the top henchman of a banana republic dictator. Try to take pity on them and do your best to be nice anyway. They really don’t know who you are.

On the other hand, if they say things like, “How do I know you’re who you say you are?” or “I don’t care who the #%&#&#* you are, you’re parking where I say you are,” it’s okay to reply with, “Look, sheepdip . . .” You have my permission.

You’ll be welcome to submit your own questions, as opposed to the clearly made-up ones I’ve started out with. Submit those in the comments section, or if you prefer, you may do that through social media, like Twitter: @chrisjonesgrass or Facebook: facebook.com/chrisjonesgrass Any attempt to take me seriously or argue with me (the second action requires the first) will be ignored or laughed at, which may not be good bluegrass manners, but I refer you to the saying, “do as I say, not as I do,” which is also impolite, not to mention unoriginal.

  • Hannah Johnson

    Hey, Chris! -how do I know you are who you say you are?
    Here’s my etiquette question.
    Is it polite to, based on some of the recent posts of IBMA, call them the “International Bogus Music Association?
    If not, unfortunately, it’s too late. I already have. 😀
    Just kidding. But I think it would make for a great article!! 🙂