Mr. Bluegrass Manners makes his triumphant return

Mr. Bluegrass Manners is back! He needed some recovery time after IBMA World of Bluegrass. He’s now been through his patented 7-day “Well-mannered Bluegrass Cleanse” which mainly involves sleeping 9.5 hours a night, listening to a steady diet of Bill Evans (the piano player), Russian Orthodox Chant music, and ABBA, and eating nothing but plums.

One week later he’s rested, recovered, and ready for your questions. The first one is IBMA WOB-related, appropriately enough:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

Assuming displaying my heavy crystal IBMA Award is appropriate on stage during my show…do I build a display rack onto my guitar or simply hire a new band member to stand and hold it forth? (Asking for a friend!) – Cluttered Up With Pride in Nashville

Dear Cluttered,

Most people display their IBMA awards in their den, even if they don’t have a den. Once any room has awards displayed in it, it should be referred to as a “den.” That’s not to say that it’s wrong or ill-mannered to take them on the road. Generally, though, this adds significantly to tour overhead even if you build the display rack you’re talking about. If you have to fly to any shows, the award trophy will put almost any piece of luggage over the weight limit of most airlines. If you become a multiple award winner, these costs will add up significantly.

If you do have room in your budget, however, I think hiring someone to just stand on stage and hold it, while looking reverent, is the way to go. You could always have them sing one song a show (“Let’s bring our trophy boy up here to sing a little bit of Poor Ellen Smith”). 

If that seems like a frivolous position to create, you could always get your sound engineer to do that after the mix is all set. If there’s a sudden burst of feedback, though, the reverent look will disappear quickly. If you’ve really got extra money in your tour budget, you could always recreate your entire den, complete with all your IBMA awards, big screen TV and aquarium, as a stage set. This will probably require a semi-trailer but will be well worth it.


Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

What do you think of opening acts?

 – Who’s On First? in Virginia

Dear First,

Why, are you available? Because I’m needing one on November 17th. Seriously, though, opening acts play an important role: they bring in local fans who might not otherwise come out to see the headliner, and they add variety to the show, usually at minimal cost (recent opening acts, this is where you’re free to groan). Most people who play professionally will at some point be in the role of opener or closer. Even the top acts will sometimes open for even more top acts, and sometimes a regional band will headline a local event, and a lesser-known regional band will open. It’s good to experience both so one can learn to respect the other. 

While opening acts are known for being unfairly looked down on, treated badly by sound people, the closing band, parking lot attendants, etc., one of the biggest bluegrass manners errors is often committed by the opening acts themselves: they tend to run over their allotted set time, sometimes by as much as 30 minutes (in a 30 minute set). I don’t really understand the psychology, but it may have to do with a subconscious belief that this is the last time they’ll ever play in front of an audience that big. That’s pretty defeatist; these kinds of gigs come up more often than you might think. Or maybe it’s just an unrealistic view of how long it takes to go through their set list, and they just go ahead and run that list down no matter what, at least if there’s not an intimidating stage manager to stop it. It isn’t a good practice, it annoys the headliner, the concert organizer, the fans of the closing act, etc. and just isn’t necessary. “Leave them wanting more,” is what Woodrow Wilson (or somebody) always said. The short answer (since this answer has run five sentences overtime): opening acts are good.

 — MBM

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

What is the polite way to discourage concert attendees from clapping, especially on 1 & 3? Running behind them and pinning their elbows together isn’t working for me anymore.

Not Rocking to the Rhythm in Colorado

Dear Not Rocking,

If you’re hosting the concert yourself, or you’re functioning as MC, you can always make it part of your opening announcements, or ask someone else to. It can be worked in between the discussion of emergency exits, sponsors, and general safety announcements (“Though oxygen is flowing, the bag may not inflate”). The problem with instituting a blanket ban on clapping along to the music is that some band may play your event and, not having heard your announcement, will go ahead and invite the audience to clap on one of their more rousing numbers (like the Long Journey Home/Superstition medley). This is generally accompanied by instructions like, “Put your hands together, Colorado!!” At that point the band deserves what it gets, I suppose. I think if you phrase it like this: “Please refrain from clapping to the music unless you’re invited to by musicians who should know better,” people will understand. By the way, you won’t get better results with 2 and 4.

The other approach to take is to screen audience members for sense of rhythm by making them take a simple pre-concert test. This is probably less practical than the announcement.


Note: all of the above were real questions submitted this week to Mr. Bluegrass Manners through my Facebook page: Thank you for your submissions. Mr. Bluegrass Manners thanks you, too, because it’s the polite thing to do.