The big 4-0-0: A major bluegrass milestone

It’s hard for me to believe, but this is my 400th column for Bluegrass Today. I had assumed I’d be out of ideas by about number 12 or so, and perhaps I was, but I guess this is a testament to the breadth and scope of our bluegrass music world and the bits of humor to be found in it, even when, or maybe especially when, we’re taking ourselves very seriously.

Regular attempts at humor can sometimes rub people the wrong way, and I knew there was a risk of that going into this, but I’ve been fortunate to have received very little blowback over these several years. Sure there were some people heavily invested in the IBMA board “troubles” of  2014 (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, consider yourself lucky), who were unhappy with my making light of the situation a couple of times in passing. There was also the incident in which the International Bluegrass Music Museum threatened to pull advertising from Bluegrass Today because I had invented a fictitious museum employee, song researcher “Peter Van Kip,” in a story about lost original lines of some famous bluegrass standards. Note: this was under previous museum management; the current management thought it was funny. Other than that, though, I’ve had pretty calm waters.

But if there’s one problem I’ve had more often than others—and it does relate to the museum story above—it’s that I have too many people taking me seriously or at times literally. This was particularly worrisome when I often wrote columns that could be classified as “faux advice,” like a 12-part series I did on band management in the early years of the column. In one January 2012 installment, I dispensed “advice” on band photos, in which I recommended avoiding new band photos entirely, theorizing that they’re actually the cause of many personnel changes. One solution I offered:

“Convince the public that your new member is actually the same as the person in the old photo. It’s not necessary to insist that the new person take on the name of the old one (although it wouldn’t hurt, if he or she is willing); you’ll have to insist, though, that the new musician dress as much like the previous one as possible and have the same hairstyle and facial hair, if applicable. The wearing of dark sunglasses at all times would be helpful. Weight differences can be handled by encouraging the new band member to gain or lose as much weight as needed to approximate the girth of the person he or she is replacing. Height differences are more difficult to manage, therefore I discourage the hiring of any new person who is more than 3 inches taller or shorter than the previous person. Otherwise the new member will just have to sit down as much as possible, including on stage.”

Anyone taking this seriously and following this advice would very quickly have some serious band management problems.

Then I occasionally have publicists or the artists themselves asking me to write about their current release or just to give them some exposure, and I’ve wanted to say, “Have you read what I’m writing here? You don’t want this kind of exposure.”

I’ve also had people say sincere and earnest things about what I’ve written, urging me to write about other topics: “Your discussion of band photos was very interesting and informative. Would you consider writing something about song publishing? That’s a topic of great interest to me, as I am an aspiring songwriter.” I thought, “Sure, I could write one, but it could lead to the quick yet painful death of your budding songwriting career.”

Is this the reader’s fault, though? It has been pointed out to me that the column has no name, so nowhere is it even implied that this is a humor column at all. Leaving it unnamed wasn’t really deliberate but was possibly influenced by the fact that I only expected to be writing the series for about three months. 

All this brings me to the present 400th column turning point: I think it’s time this column had a name, and I would like your help. 

We’re going to hold a naming contest, and I would like you to submit your ideas in the comments section below. The winner will be selected by me and the Bluegrass Today management. We’re not offering any prize vacation packages or anything. This being the COVID-19 era, no one’s traveling anywhere more exotic than the backyard anyway, and heaven knows, a trip to Raleigh for the IBMA World of Bluegrass ain’t happening. With all the cancelled shows, I’m not exactly flush with legal tender, either, so the prize is just the knowledge that your title was the chosen one. I’ll also throw in a Truegrass request and dedication, if you’re a listener, as well as a mention in this column, of course, and on my new web site’s blog.

There are no formal rules except that I’d like to allow two entries per contestant, in case you have more than one idea, but please don’t submit a list.

If you’re competing in this, you’re someone who reads all the way to the ends of these things, and I thank you. I’d even like to thank those who just read the first paragraph and move on, but unfortunately they won’t see my thanks. I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks to the publishers of Bluegrass Today, John Lawless and Terry Herd. They have always been supportive and encouraging, and they have given me an almost entirely free hand in what I do every week. I appreciate them so much.

Finally, I’d like to apologize to anyone who took any of my words too seriously and whose careers and lives suffered irreparable damage as a result.

I’m kidding about that last part.

The new title will put the pressure on me to write at least 100 more of these, and I hope I’m up to the task. Thank you for reading, and I do mean that.