Mr. Bluegrass Manners is back a lot sooner than usual. Generally he emerges from his hermit-like, yet very polite life at his southern Indiana ranch-style home to answer a few questions, then disappears for months on end, presumably working on the fine points of bluegrass music etiquette. This time, though, he’s back after just a few weeks. He says it’s because there was a backlog of questions on my Facebook page, but I think it could be that Bluegrass Today has finally started paying him. In any case, he has returned to answer more questions from readers thirsting for knowledge and good bluegrass manners.
The following are more questions from my Facebook page, facebook.com/chrisjonesgrass :
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners, do you ever pine for the days before social media in regards to being in a band? It seems like you can’t flub a lick or forget a lyric without it being broadcast live to the world anymore. I’m not sure people are even really listening to the music. Is it wrong to plot (often less than savory) ways to prevent people from pulling out their phones at shows? Should we just suck it up and deal with it? – – – Signed – Kind of Joking but Not Really
MBM: Dear Kind of Joking,
It’s true that recording and then uploading a band’s performance without asking them first is not good bluegrass (or any other kind of music) manners. However, neither is texting through someone’s performance, texting at the movies, or texting while delivering a baby, but it’s life in 2019, and short of making every member of the audience read and sign a form before attending a show or festival, there isn’t much that can be done about the situation now. The only consolation about the flubbed licks and forgotten lyrics, is that at least you can be sure that most of your peers in the business have had their worst sides exposed on YouTube, too. As to your wondering if people are even listening to the music, those recording your show probably aren’t, but then they probably aren’t experiencing much of anything else in their lives either, that is until they play it back on their phones.
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners, Is it inappropriate to ask for Free Bird? – Hesitant in North Carolina
MBM: Dear Hesitant,
Good question, but you weren’t very specific about the situation in which this hypothetical asking for Free Bird might be taking place, so here are some examples of when this request is appropriate and when it isn’t:
- At a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert
- At a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band concert
- At a concert by a southern rock cover band that does songs by various artists, including Lynyrd Skynyrd
- At an elected official’s town hall meeting
- When being served communion at church
- At a bluegrass concert
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners, How truegrass is my harmonica when participating in a bluegrass jam? Just can’t gravitate to the banjo. – Contrary in Vermont
MBM: Dear Contrary,
Well, you may have opened up a can of worms, and as it turns out, some bluegrass traditionalists prefer worms to harmonicas. Others, though, welcome the instrument: it’s acoustic, and it graced lots of 1960s Flatt & Scruggs records. Who’s to say that if Flatt & Scruggs had added a harmonica to the band back in the ’50s instead of the dobro, we might be voting on Bluegrass Harmonica Player of the Year right now (“Why is it always the same five people year after year?!”). I played with an artist at one time who objected to harmonica because she thought it made every song sound “like Sesame Street.” On the other hand, though, there’s Dave Evans, Doc Watson, and many others who used it on their recordings. I say go for it, and learn to expect the occasional dirty look. Just don’t play a G-run on the harmonica. Nobody likes that.
Dr Mr Bluegrass Manners, what is the proper response when a fan tells you that you should ‘smile’ when you play? – Straight-faced in Colorado
MBM: Dear Straight-faced,
Part of the down side of bluegrass musicians’ historic accessibility is that people feel it’s okay—maybe even their right or duty—to give musical criticism and advice to musicians they have just seen perform. I don’t need to tell you this isn’t very good manners. I’m not normally an advocate of fighting fire with fire (except in controlled forest fires, this is usually a terrible idea), but in this case, you might try these snappy comebacks:
“Smile? You mean like Bill Monroe?”
Or: “Normally I do, but both my parents were killed this week in a tragic egg slicer accident and I’m just not feeling that smiley. Thanks for your advice, though.”
Finally, this question from a DJ:
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners: How do you respond to this (real life) caller: “Real bluegrass doesn’t have vocals.” – Taken Aback in Kansas
MBM: Dear Taken Aback,
In spite of the rumor that circulated for a while that Bill Monroe had wanted the Blue Grass Boys to be a strictly instrumental band, but that the Grand Ole Opry forced him to add singing to the show, this is still a pretty goofy thing to say. I’m not sure there really is a polite response to it, other than “Sure, if you say so.” You can take comfort in the fact that this same caller probably also believes that real hamburgers don’t contain meat, and that real baseball is played without bats; the players are supposed to just flail at the ball with their hands.