Mr. Bluegrass Manners is back!

Mr. Bluegrass Manners is back. We’re not sure where he went, but I have it on good information that wherever he was, he tore pretty heavily into the Bluegrass Today expense account. Now I ask you, was that good manners? I’d ask him that myself, but he has a backlog of questions which came into my Facebook page and Twitter feed yesterday, so I’ll let him deal with those first. As stated previously, Mr. Bluegrass Manners is too polite to have social media accounts, but seems perfectly okay with taking questions from mine. 

Once again, questions from the public tend to focus heavily on jam etiquette:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners:

In a jam session, who should put an end to Sledd Ridin’? I once heard it should be the most mature banjo player. Is that even a thing?

Exhausted in Kansas

Dear Exhausted,

Well I was going to make a crack about the “most mature banjo player” but my bluegrass manners kicked in just in time. Sledd Ridin’ was writen by Sonny Osborne and Dale Sledd, and they presented the world with a problematic tune for jam sessions because it never resolves, that is to say, it never goes back to the 1 chord. There are some fiddle tunes like that, too. That usually doesn’t matter much, because when people are dancing to these tunes, they want to keep going until the sun comes up, or until the head couple collapses in a dehydrated stupor. If it’s in an old time jam, nobody’s in a hurry to end it either, but we in the bluegrass jam world usually like to wrap things up at least by the 8th time around the circle, and with a tune like this, nobody can figure out how to do it. The end of the B part just leads naturally back into the A part. 

What Sonny Osborne did was to end it on the A part. Good luck getting anyone to do that. Also, in the studio, Sonny or someone else in the band shouted, “Alright!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” when it was all over. Maybe you should just do that, no matter where anyone else is in the song. Another approach is to just let it go on forever, but quietly slip out after the 15th time through and start another jam somewhere else. Wait, shouldn’t this be a question for “Ask Sonny Anything”?

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

What are the appropriate phrases to use to kick out a jam-buster, in this case someone who plays and sings a Beatles song LOUDLY with incorrect melody, timing, tempo, and lyrics? PS, this is a real and regular occurrence!

  • Miffed in Michigan

Dear Miffed,

Well no matter how well it’s performed, almost all Beatles songs are bluegrass jam-busters. The Beatles were fond of using chords outside our 1-4-5 (with the occasional 2 on Saturdays) range of experience, including the use of minor chords (!). The only song of theirs that isn’t guaranteed to be an instant trainwreck is I’ve Just Seen a Face, though it does contain a 6-minor chord. The best way to handle this is when you hear the first verse going, “I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget the time or place where we just . . .”  at that moment yell in the direction of the bass player, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown chord!” Everything should work out fine. 

I’m just now realizing I didn’t really answer your question. The phrase I prefer is, “Jam-buster be gone, unless you plan to kick off Little Cabin Home on the Hill in the next 10 seconds!”

The following questions relate more to being in the audience at a bluegrass show:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

Is it okay to applaud during a bluegrass drum solo or should I remain silent until the solo is over?

Quizzical in Maryland

Dear Quizzical,

The problem with applauding during the drum solo is that unless enough of you are doing it, the drummer is unlikely to hear you, but if you wait till it’s over, you might be drowning out the subtle vibes solo that follows it. It might be best to just find the drummer afterwards and tell him or her in person (just look on stage for the person still packing up gear).

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners:

What is a polite way to ask the band to stop long enough for that guy behind us to finish his phone conversation?

Impatient in Missouri

Dear Impatient,

This is something that’s become an increasing problem ever since the invention of the mobile phone: musicians insensitively disregarding the communication needs of members of the audience. The cell phone has been a wonderful invention: it enables us to be constantly in touch, to work 24 hours a day, and now to take pictures and videos of the things we no longer have the time to actually experience. Performers haven’t clued in yet, though. They fail to understand that 45 minutes is much too long for anyone to go without communicating with someone. I heard recently of an incident in which Russell Moore sang Erase the Miles with absolutely no regard for someone who was engaged in a riveting conversation about the new swimwear selection at Costco. I would suggest a compromise arrangement in which all bands alternate every song with a quiet and monotonous instrumental (I think you know the ones I mean) played just off the microphones, which could be easily talked over. This helps keep the general flow of the show, but gives people in the audience a chance to have a three or four minute conversation in between having to sit through an entire song completely disconnected from the digital world.

Thank you for your questions. I’d like to offer my sincere apology to anyone whose question I didn’t have space for. And with that terribly polite sign-off, I’ll be on my well-mannered way.

Cordially, Mr. Bluegrass Manners