Powerful: Bill Monroe Remembered in Boston

Gabrielle Gray, Executive Director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) in Owensboro KY, made a fund raising visit to the Northeast, showing a clip of IBMM’s documentary film Powerful: Bill Monroe Remembered, in the Boston suburb of Brookline Monday evening Jan. 9 2012.

Gabby’s visit was hosted by Denise Jarvinen, Pierre Cremieux, Margaret Gerteis and Dr. Richie Brown.  Drinks and a buffet dinner were enjoyed with invited guests. Denise volunteers at IBMM to assist with grant writing.  Richie Brown is on the IBMM Board.

This documentary film, directed by Joseph T. Gray, is the primary outcome so far of IBMM’s mammoth Video Oral History Project that has been underway for years. Many pioneers of bluegrass have been interviewed on videotape to capture their memories for posterity.

This film highlights the reminiscences of 68 Blue Grass Boys regarding their boss – their mentor – their inspiration – their challenge – Bill Monroe.  IBMM has hundreds upon hundreds of hours of digitized videotape, including nearly all of the 90 living Blue Grass Boys (of the total of 160 since 1939). The Museum is making progress cataloging all of this video. IBMM staff has grown from 4 to 10, and they need 20 more, according to Gabby, because of projects like this.

Gabby’s current fund raising effort is the final push to enable release of the film to the public. $55,000 is needed for the music clearances, after IBMM has sunk $200,000 into the project. The two hour film is finished, but due to music clearance rules, only 22 minutes of it can be shown without paying for the rights to the background songs. Naturally the music is nearly all Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, carefully selected to complement the interviews. Many of the usual major granting institutions have already contributed to the $200,000 production budget, so IBMM is turning to the bluegrass community for the finishing funds.

The Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU), producers of the annual Joe Val Memorial Festival in Framingham MA, sent several representatives to the fund raiser. After the 22 minute viewing, BBU (and IBMA) President Stan Zdonik presented Gabby with a check for $2500 from the BBU.

During discussion after the viewing, Gabby reported that public television networks in Kentucky and several surrounding states have already committed to broadcast the film. The main objective is of course PBS for national TV exposure. IBMM enjoys the support of the Country Music Hall of Fame, IBMA and the Smithsonian Institution in certifying the unique nature of this effort to archive the history of an authentic American musical form.

The clip screened from Powerful: Bill Monroe Remembered was very satisfying for this longtime Monroe devotee. It doesn’t follow the typical chronological pattern of “this happened in 1939, then this in 1940, then a big change in 1946, etc.” The focus is on the Blue Grass Boys at ease in their homes thinking back over the years. The oldest of old timers are intercut with relative youngsters and historical photos, as they explore various aspects of Bill Monroe – the man, through their personal experiences as Blue Grass Boys.

Their thoughts are wide ranging. Of course there is discussion of musical genius, creative force, legendary feats of strength, demanding attitude and disappointments. But there are also discussions of compassion, loneliness, philosophy, inspiration and encouragement.

A surprising aspect of the interviews is that many of the Blue Grass Boys are clearly struggling with their emotions as they talk about Bill. There are numerous scenes of quivering lips and chins, halting speech, and moist or reddened eyes, as they think back over their relationships with Monroe the man. Gabby and Richie Brown, having seen the entire film, testified that they have witnessed viewers in tears at the conclusion of the two hours.

And yet, the clip did not seem in the least mawkish or melodramatic – for a bluegrass fan it is simply riveting. The viewer clearly recognizes and empathizes with the deep, deep emotions that the Blue Grass Boys experience when they remember Bill Monroe. This film is going to do wonders for Monroe’s legacy — rounding out and humanizing the legend.

IBMM is looking into Kickstarter and other e-fund raising techniques that might be placed on their website. Interested donors don’t need to wait, however, they can simply send checks made out to IBMM with a note dedicating the funds to the film. They can also click on the DONATE button at the top of the home page at www.bluegrass-museum.org for an e-donation. IBMM is a 501c3 federally recognized charity.

Gabby encourages visitors to IBMM’s expanded website. They are working particularly hard to emphasize the truly International nature of bluegrass.  The website is 150 screens deep with translation into many languages.

After thanking the attendees, Gabby invited everyone to visit the Museum in Owensboro, where 5 exhibits on Bill Monroe will run until Sept. 13 of this year. She wants the bluegrass community to recognize and support the unique work IBMM is doing to gather and protect the history of our music — she said their Vision has a 100 year timeline.

Other bluegrass clubs and associations, and those interested in contributing, should contact Gabby at the IBMM to discuss viewings and fund raisers.  Your correspondent wrote a personal check on the spot.

Naturally, during the two quick photos after the event, when your correspondent asked the participants to “back up” to get in frame, they responded “No, YOU back up!” in true Monroe fashion!

Billy Joe Foster’s mule story notwithstanding, no animals or Hollywood actors were harmed in the production of this film.

So there you have it friends and neighbors. Gotta go, the wide end of a chain saw is calling me to put up firewood for next winter!

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About the Author

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden is a VERY traditional bluegrass picker and fan from New England, who makes occasional contributions to Bluegrass Today representing the old timers’ viewpoints.