Usually, the start of the week at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass means it’s time to pick through the finger food – don’t miss the to-die-for banana pudding – belly up to the bar, then settle in for a keynote address that celebrates bluegrass music’s big tent.
This year, of course, with many of us virtually held prisoner in our own houses by a nasty but invisible virus, the biggest week in bluegrass is a virtual production. So the finger food was whatever I could scrape together from my fridge. And the speech was at an earlier-than-usual hour, so having a glass of wine seemed inappropriate.
But virtual or live, some things remain the same. And so, as always, World of Bluegrass started with a celebration of bluegrass music’s big tent.
This year, the remarks came from Sarah Jarosz, a three-time Grammy winner who attended her first IBMA conference in Louisville in 2003, when she was part of Kids on Bluegrass when she was 12 years old.
Best known as part of the I’m With Her trio, Jarosz would be considered “not bluegrass” by many traditionalists, and she admits that she doesn’t think the songs she writes are bluegrass. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of me,” Jarosz said. At another point, she noted, “You can still be true to bluegrass while widening your musical scope,” establishing her credentials for spelling out why bluegrass has – and needs – a big tent.
While many see bluegrass as a small club, she sees a community, “living, breathing, constantly evolving.” And where others see a genre, she sees a tradition in which high-quality musicianship is vital to both traditionalists and new grassers. “Bluegrass will continue to survive for generations,” she said, so long as the focus remains on inclusivity and that musical virtuosity.
“I would encourage everybody to keep their eyes and ears open…honoring the tradition as it was, as it is, and as it might be in the future.”
Wise words from a wise woman, even without the banana pudding.