Mr. Bluegrass Manners – Quarantine edition

Mr. Bluegrass Manners has been in self-quarantine mode long before he was asked to do so by the powers that be, because, you know, manners. He is more than adept at hand-washing and social distancing, though he prefers the term “aloofing.” As a result, he has more time on his hands than usual, so he’s been alphabetizing his cassette collection, writing thank you cards to everyone who attended his Good Manners Winter Jam party in February, and baking bread until the yeast ran out at his local grocery store (very bad manners on some new bakers’ parts). Still, even with all that quarantine-y activity, he still has time to take some of your questions. These questions were submitted through my Facebook page and are all authentic reader questions, or they at least have question marks at the end of them. The questions all have a quarantine theme:

Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

When streaming concerts from one’s living room, what’s the etiquette regarding dress code? Do we wear gig clothes? What about pants? Does one need to wear pants?

Dressing Down in Ontario

Dear Dressing Down,

Well the question about pants depends heavily on camera angle. As long as the camera is only capturing you from the waist up, whether you wear pants or not is entirely up to you and perhaps the other members of your household. If the camera is placed further back, you may have to consider pants. Also if the camera is positioned above you and pointing downward, selfie-style, pants are also advised, unless you happen to play the dobro (unlikely as that may be), which affords you some coverage.

Regarding the broader streaming concert dress code question, the fact that you mentioned the living room indicates a more formal streaming concert than one held in the bedroom, bathroom, or broom closet. Therefore, it’s expected that you would up your appearance game a little. The standard bluegrass manners rule of thumb for stage clothes etiquette is to make sure you look better than your audience, so they feel that something special is happening (whether or not it actually is), and not that some random person off the street just decided to walk up on stage, take out an instrument and start playing, and charge you for it. There’s a different standard applied in a quarantine environment, however. The majority of people watching your streamed concert haven’t bathed in a week, are wearing some form of pajamas, or in some cases, just an old sheet with a large bleach stain on it. That means that by just wearing pants (if necessary, as mentioned above), and a clean T-shirt from the 2008 “Music in a Big Field” festival, you’re already looking significantly better than your audience.


Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

How long can I practice Red Haired Boy before it’s considered child (or spousal) abuse? 7 minutes? 7 hours? 7 days? Depending on your answer, I might need to know ASAP.

— Abusive in California

Dear Abusive,

Psychologists are starting to raise some concerns about practice times of specific tunes and their potential long term affects on family relationships after a period of a month. I’ve actually been called on to work with one doctor to try to get some guidelines in writing. Different tunes have different tolerance levels for those who aren’t the ones practicing them over and over, and the musician doing the practicing may not be aware of individual tunes’ potential power to annoy, or if carried too far, to abuse. We’re just beginning this work, but some of our initial research has yielded these results:

It’s possible for a guitar player to play Salt Creek for up to 6 hours within a confined space before it’s considered abusive, whereas playing Blackberry Blossom has a much lower abuse threshold of 90 minutes (45 minutes is considered merely annoying, one hour is extremely annoying). Red Haired Boy, based on very early clinical trials falls somewhere between these two.

For banjo, Fireball Mail can be played up to 4 hours before it’s classified as abuse (and potential grounds for divorce in some states and provinces), but Crazy Creek crosses the line from annoyance to abuse within 50 minutes, particularly when families are in a prolonged sheltering-in-place situation.

For fiddle players, we found that Grey Eagle can be played for close to 5 hours before it reaches an abusive point (though annoying after one hour), but that both Fisher’s Hornpipe and Lime Rock reach that level after a mere 12 minutes of practice time. It reached a level we’re calling “palpable irritation” in just 6 minutes.


Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,

We’ve been doing band rehearsals with the Zoom app. How do I politely convey to the banjo player that it’s very dangerous for him to participate while driving? I’m worried that Uber will fire him for doing this.

— Concerned About Traffic and Banjo Safety in Oregon

Dear Concerned,

In Nashville, this is considered pretty standard driving practice. People there have a tendency to drive as if they’re playing an instrument or texting (or both) even if they’re not, so adding real distracting factors—and your zoom rehearsal certainly qualifies—doesn’t make much difference. Never mind the distracted driving, though, how is he maintaining aloofing (social distancing) practices while still carting people around for Uber? He might as well just show up at your rehearsal. Then again, you may not want that.


There will be a second Mr. Bluegrass Manners installment next week to deal with the backlog of questions.