Sorry… not sorry, or The Penitential Man of Bluegrass

Chris JonesOne of the most entertaining things about the world of mass market popular music is the amount of apologizing that takes place. Generally these apologies are for something offensive that someone said about some other celebrity (these people should pass some sort of personality test before being allowed to open Twitter accounts), or for something foolish done on a stage somewhere, or just for general bad boy/bad girl behavior.

Justin Bieber recently apologized to his Norwegian fans (and perhaps to all of Norway) for performing just one song on his concert there before storming off stage. Incidentally, if you Google “Justin Bieber apologizes,” you can find him apologizing for a range of things in numerous countries. Just pick the story you like best.

Just as in politics, when you get to the point where you need to apologize for something in the pop music world, it’s a sign that you’ve arrived, and if you deliver the apology well, it’s great for adding oil to the publicity machine. Unlike in politics, though, I think pop stars engage in bad behavior just so it will be discovered, and they can then call a press conference and express their deep remorse.

We don’t seem to do much of this in the bluegrass world. Could this be the reason our music has never reached its full potential for mass popularity?

Though some would like to think of us as a squeaky-clean bunch, people on the inside will tell you that there’s plenty of bluegrass bad behavior out there; we just tend to keep it pretty well-hidden. Perhaps we need to be a little more forthcoming about some of those activities we don’t like advertising to a festival audience, just so we could apologize for them later. Maybe it would at least make the local news.

We don’t usually say things on stage that would get us into trouble, either. The guy who was most likely to cause a raised eyebrow with some of his stage banter, the great Jimmy Martin, is sadly no longer with us, leaving the bluegrass world a lot blander when he left. Red Allen could hold his own, too, when it came to unpredictable (and often hilarious) M.C. work. We don’t seem to have anyone capable of filling their shoes, and certainly no one likely to say something on a microphone that would require an apology. Most of our bluegrass stage patter focuses on relatively tame band introductions and plugs of the merchandise table. Occasionally license plate numbers are read, if someone has parked in a bad place or left their lights on. This kind of thing is never going to make the tabloids.

Would someone at least consider storming the stage during the IBMA awards and snatching an award away from someone in the middle of their acceptance speech?

Or, perhaps we should approach this another way: instead of deliberately trying to offend people, or lowering our standards of conduct to the level of your typical pop celebrity, maybe we should just issue more public apologies for the kinds of things we’re already doing in public.

Let’s recite these together, so we can all get used to being contrite in public:

I hereby apologize for . . .

  • Not bringing enough $5.00 bills for my merch. table change
  • Issuing cryptic and confusing press releases about my (non)retirement
  • Issuing press releases about internal band conflicts
  • Issuing press releases about internal board of directors conflicts
  • Whining excessively about backstage snacks
  • Tweeting about how good I was at our last show
  • Excessive Facebook name-dropping (Steve Martin and I agree that this is really becoming a problem)
  • Using the death of a bluegrass legend as an opportunity to promote my career
  • Using my apology for using the death of a bluegrass legend to promote my career to further promote my career
  • Spending record label money to sit around in a recording studio, drinking coffee and telling road stories
  • Showing up two minutes before my Sunday morning Gospel set because I was up past midnight on Saturday, and may have drunk an excessive amount of Sun Drop
  • Sleeping more than 4 hours a night (average) during the IBMA World of Bluegrass
  • Being dressed like a slob on the afternoon set of a festival
  • Wearing a black suit on the afternoon set of a festival (in July)
  • Telling the “Tu Ning” joke while I was tuning on stage
  • Allowing our fiddle player to speak into a microphone while I was tuning on stage
  • Writing columns in Bluegrass Today that people sometimes confuse with serious advice or factual information when it’s really nothing more than weekly journalistic goofing off.

I believe this strategy is the key to having bluegrass music become a major player in People magazine and the E! Show (whenever Kanye, Justin, or the Kardashians are having a slow week). If it isn’t, or If any of the above offends you, even slightly, I’m truly sorry.

Please feel free to add your own apologies in the comments section below.