Death of Traditional Bluegrass?

Change is inevitable. Innovations are unavoidable. Perhaps no greater example of this can be found than within musical art forms. Music is a living, breathing thing, involving many different people with many different ideas. It is foolish to think that one can prevent change from occurring, or stifle the creative urges of those who attempt to leave their indelible stamp with the art they love and leave behind.

In the past few months there has been much written and said (mostly in heated debate) about the direction of our beloved genre of bluegrass music. Traditional vs. Progressive. Inclusion, exclusion, intrusion and, in some cases delusion.

There are some worried about the direction of the only viable, functioning organization within our music, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). There is an argument that the IBMA is attempting to re-brand the music and label it in a new direction, and to define the boundaries of  “bluegrass” by erasing preconceived notions of what those boundaries are. Still others are worried about the pending doom of a horrid “big tent” which would allow almost anyone into the “bluegrass tent,” pushing aside “traditional” or “real” bluegrass artists and eventually leading to an acoustic music completely unrecognizable as the bluegrass music we currently know and love.

While there have been several folks from the more progressive side of the tent who have offered their thoughts in writing, I can think of no one who has really spoken from the more traditional side of the fence in a thoughtful manner. I am hoping to offer some thoughts as someone who makes their living attempting to preserve these legacies by sticking to the more traditional sounds of bluegrass.


You don’t seem to have to look very far these days to find pieces of the constant argument about the IBMA. There are some who have stated that a separate organization should be started that attempts only to promote and preserve traditional bluegrass. Even more have called into question the process by which the organization hands out its yearly awards.

As an IBMA member, and a former very harsh critic of the group, let me just say that it is indeed an imperfect organization. There is no possible way you can get 2,500 people to agree on the same things about something that each one of them individual feels so passionate about in their own way. Compound that with 10,000 outsiders with no vested interest in the organization screaming bloody murder and offering suggestions at every turn, then obviously you have an issue for debate.

The fact is that the IBMA has been built on the hard work and dedication of its members over the last few decades. It is truly the only chance we, as bluegrass musicians and lovers of the music, have at a real functioning organization. If as a passionate supporter of traditional bluegrass you feel as though the organization is leaving you behind then join! Speak up!! Nominate people you feel would better serve your interests. You can only get out of it what you put in, and the simple fact is that you will not save traditional bluegrass by screaming insults from the corner. Change is inevitable, but that does not mean one can’t take advantage of change while still preserving legacies.

The Big Tent, Chris Pandolfi, and Why Change is Good if You Love G-Runs

Bluegrass is not dead by any means, but it is on life support. If you don’t believe that, then attempt to feed a family by playing Flatt and Scruggs songs. Certain folks have pointed out with great pride the traditional bluegrass festivals such as Red White and Bluegrass in Morganton, NC, and The Jerusalem Ridge Festival in Rosine, KY as proof that traditional bluegrass is alive and well, and that people will buy a lineup of all traditional bands. Yes, these are successful festivals and yes, they offer lucrative opportunities to those of us who continue to play the old style. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy paying our bills, a couple festivals per year is not enough to sustain our bottom lines. We can’t continue to isolate ourselves to the point of being the North Korea of musical genres.

If you want more folks to buy a Red Allen record, why would you not want a larger platform to tell folks about Red Allen and his music? Though I have always contended that there is no real proof that folks who buy Yonder Mountain String Band records will buy a Red Allen album, I believe that they will buy my records if they hear me.

Instead we continue to insist on playing for the same old tired crowds that know and appreciate what we’re doing, which dwindle every year, and for the same wages we got paid 20 years ago. Meanwhile Del McCoury remains vibrant, healthy, and plays and sings Rain and Snow to the same folks he did 30 years ago…along with about 10,000 other screaming fans. Instead of crying about how The Infamous Stringdusters are not bluegrass, why not take the traditional sounds to the same audiences they are playing for, show them what traditional bluegrass is?

We, as long time bluegrass fans, are doing ourselves a great injustice by not welcoming people into the tent. Are we to believe that just because IBMA attempts to educate its members on how Yonder Mountain String Band is so successful (and how we as traditional musicians can take advantage of these opportunities as well) that people will stop buying Stanley Brothers records? No one will sing White Dove in the parking lot anymore?

I will never relent in my pursuit to make music my way, which just happens to be more traditional in form, or to preserve the music of the legacies that I have grown up playing and loving. In order for me to do this though, I must seize the opportunities before me. Would I rather sing the praises of Red Allen to a crowd of 150 people at a typical bluegrass festival – 90% of whom already own Red Allen records – or would I rather do it before a crowd of 10,000 people who will also buy my records and rabidly follow us if they are presented the opportunity to actually hear the traditional bluegrass that we play and love? The answer is both.

Chris Pandolfi, banjo player for The Infamous Stringdusters, has blogged about all of this extensively. While I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, he has done so thoughtfully and without throwing daggers. I would recommend anyone read his thoughts on the subject.

Am I to believe that because I disagree with him that he’s my enemy, that I should shun him and thwart his creativity? Are Chris, his band, and other acoustic musicians who seek to change the perceptions of music a threat to my success as an unadulterated bluegrass singer? No. They have found a way to be successful and creative. We as traditional bluegrassers can do the same, without sacrificing our musical integrity the least bit. But that involves opening the doors to new fans, and the only way to do that is to appeal to larger audiences, who unlike fickle country fans of the ‘60s, love it all.

People who grew up in cabins, churned butter, and made moonshine – or know something about all of that – are slowly fading away and giving way to folks who have never lived in the country. That doesn’t mean they won’t like traditional bluegrass if it is presented to them. In our band we sing a lot of songs about anger, drinking, salvation… all real life issues that almost anyone can relate to. We also pepper our sets with a few old standards and always dedicate our shows to those who came before us. It has found favor with a lot of folks out west who have never heard the real thing before, and our most successful trips and shows have been before folks whose last record purchases probably involved Mumford and Sons and Hot Buttered Rum.

I find it plainly ironic that these conversations are taking place in the year of the 100th Birthday of Mr. Bill Monroe. Mr. Monroe never cared who bought his records or what kind of crowd he played for – particularly in his later years when he was secure in his legacy.

Again one simple fact remains-change is inevitable. How will you take advantage of it? I have been called a traitor by some for my viewpoints recently, even though I have dedicated my entire life to traditional bluegrass music. I am a big enough boy to withstand that. I am also a smart enough boy to know that without new fans, and new people to by my records, that I am doomed to failure.

So I plan on being in Nashville next week. I plan on playing old school bluegrass in 9 showcases, and I also plan on finding out the marketing genius behind YMSB and how they sell 40 times the albums I do.

I also intend to ask Larry Sparks how it felt at RockyGrass this year to have 10,000 YMSB fans screaming for him when he lit into Tennessee 1949.

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About the Author

Travers Chandler

A Virginian by both birth and choice, Travers is an adamant proponent and performer of traditional bluegrass music.

Based now in Galax, he manages his own group, Travers Chandler & Avery County, with whom he plays mandolin and sings. They record and tour with an eye towards keeping the sounds of Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Red Allen and Charlie Moore alive into a new century. Travers is also at work on a detailed biography of Charlie Moore, who he finds an especially under appreciated bluegrass artist.

  • Les Sears

    Enjoyed the article Travers. I happen to agree with you. Things change, and for some of us…it’s very hard to accept…for others…they “go with the flow”
    As a traditionalist myself, I used to feel that the music had to have that certain sound to be Bluegrass, but have discovered that as in most genres…there is a wide range of what is acceptable and what is not.
    Keep up the great work that you and Avery County are doing as I can see your music in my book as….”down to earth”…

  • harvey riekoff

    This is a great article! What many folks who are playing bluegrass today seem to forget, is that Bill Monroe was an innovator. I hate to see his musical style that evolved into bluegrass, become stuck in the mud.
    I love the old traditional stuff but you can only play White Dove and little Maggie so many times before it becomes boring.
    Many bands never attempt to play anything that was recorded before 1980. The end result is that those bands become similar to 1950’s and 60’s oldie rock and roll bands. They just keep regurgitating the same old stuff over and over again.
    The music needs to move ahead within certain boudaries. Ie. The Boxcars and Blue Highway. It’s still Bluegrass but the songs and rhythmic approaches are new.

  • Rick Mifflin

    Great article.Bluegrass music today seems to reflect the divisions we are having in America today.I came to this music not through Bill Monroe,Flatt & Scruggs, or the Stanleys but through The Eagles, the Dirt Band, Ozark Mtn Daredevils,Mason Proffit etc.They opened my ears and my mind and set me on a journey to trace the music back to it’s roots and instilled a love of the traditional sound that I carry with me today.But I love Contemporary bluegrass,New Grass,New acoustic, and Jam Grass just as much,they all spring from the same well.I’ve been playing all these forms for the past 25 years,and I’ve found that the best way for me is to mix up the styles and tailor a show to the crowd. If the music does’nt grow, it dies.That hippie dancing beside the stage to Yonder Mtn. will also be dancing to Mountain Heart when they hit the stage, and loving both bands.The only permanent thing is change,and you will not stop it.If the newbies who came to the show to see the Stringdusters hear the Warrior River Boys there is a good chance they will like them as well.Lock these folks out and pretty soon the traditional sound will fade away with it’s rapidly aging fan base.Respect each other, give each other a chance, you may be surprised at the result.Long live Grass,all of it.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    Good article Travers, but as you might have guessed, I’ve got issues with some of your comments.

    For one, you say that no band can make a living playing F & S songs. I agree! No matter how good you cover those songs, you will NEVER beat the originals! So why do them? Are we not creative enough to find new or obscure songs……ones that stay within the boundaries of the genre……but can only be associated with YOUR(not specifically you Travers) band?

    Second, you state that you’re on stage trying to promote artists like Red Allen. Why? He’s dead. Why aren’t you trying to sing the praises of Travers Chandler?

    You state that you can’t make a living playing traditional “Bluegrass”. Jimmy Martin used to say this to people that asked him how he could make a living playing “Bluegrass”. He would say; “Son, can you REALLY play bluegrass? Cause, if you can REALLY play it, you can make a living!” Everybody should think about that for a bit. An example of an artist who can REALLY play “Bluegrass”…….and has managed to make a pretty good living at it…….is Doyle Lawson. How does he do it? For one, he WORKS at it! Of the groups that you can name who are having marginal success in playing “Bluegrass” (yours included Travers), how many spend up to 8 hrs/day practicing as a band? Doyle does. There is something else to think about.

    You also talk about inclusiveness. IMO, you cannot strengthen anything by diluting it. You don’t have to continually add to a mix, to make it good. Some people want to cry that “Bluegrass” will die if you don’t let it grow. I agree…….but you don’t grow by diluting. I know that it is a tough challenge, but growth can come from within. It is a challenge to be creative within a genre. It is a challenge to write songs that sound “old”, but touch on modern-day subjects. It is a challenge to create music that is new, but sounds old. But it can be done. The easy way out, is to dilute the mix and call it creativity.

    And my last comment; the IBMA. I was a 20yr voting member of this organization. I joined just 3 yrs after it was formed and was one of it’s most ardent supporters during those 20 yrs. But the organization lost sight of it’s purpose and direction. Instead of an organization devoted to the growth of the music, it became an organization devoted to the money brought in by the music. The “big tent” direction has been a result of more and more people (me included) becoming disillusioned with it’s direction and no longer supporting it. And since it’s “all about the money” any more, the organization is forced to reach out to those artists clearly on the fringe (or even farther) from “Bluegrass”. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that direction, if that is what the organization wants to do. My beef is that they are continuing to call the organization a “Bluegrass” organization, when the music they now wish to promote, is clearly NOT.

    My best,

    • janice brooks

      Lynwood thats why a few of us were disappointed at ROMP this year. We loved seeing the likes of Steve Martin and Emmy Lou Harris, but the folks standing near stage spoiled it.

  • fdwil111

    For years Bluegrass Unlimited published letters from readers about “is it really bluegrass”. Now we are presented with another controversy about the future of traditional bluegrass music. I believe we are really discussing the commercial aspects of our music. If you are trying to make a living playing music, you play what will pay the bills and let others, like myself, play whatever they want. Traditional bluegrass music will be played in jam sessions or elsewhere by those who enjoy playing it. Promoters will book some traditional bands to expand an event’s offerings if they feel it will attract more people. These are business decisions, rarely artistic ones. Regretfully, major recording companies have chosen to sacrifice the quality of music for the marketing of music and are killing quality country music. We can be thankful that ‘bluegrass music’ is still a minor musical form and has escaped from those who want to make big money. I buy and support the music I enjoy and try to avoid labels. We have hugely talented people making the varieties of music we enjoy. None of our music will die.

  • Chris Skaryd

    I’m a relative newcomer to the world of Bluegrass, but I’ve found these recent discussions of the traditional vs progressive bluegrass fascinating, but also a little off-putting. (To the point where I’m almost afraid to offer my thoughts…) While I can understand the need to respect where the music came from and keep it alive, I love hearing new spins on the style. Why isn’t there room for both? I respect Travers opinions here in this article and his music, but by identifying Chris and the The Infamous Stringdusters as acoustic musicians rather than bluegrass musicians or a progressive bluegrass musicians, isn’t that furthering the division in the genre? The rest of Travers’ piece seems to be a “can’t we all just get along” and learn from each other plea, and this didn’t fit for me. Personally, I’d love to see a show featuring Larry Sparks, Del, YMSB, the Stringdusters, Avery County and even Shupe and the Rubberband. (Drums, yikes!) I don’t see why the IBMA shouldn’t accept some of the more progressive styles vs the traditional style. Perhaps everyone is taking the the “that ain’t no part of nothin'” a little too far.

    • Dean Barnett

      The Monroe Brothers didn’t really sound like the Bluegrass Boys, and the Bluegrass Boys didn’t sound like themselves after Flatt & Scruggs showed up.

      Music changes. Efforts by purists to fight the tide will always be futile. The IBMA may have its own agenda, but it’s irrelevant to the typical fan, who hasn’t heard of the IBMA anyhow.

      What is relevant is that people hear music that reaches them in some personal way. The paying customer doesn’t care about the labels. Look at the successful festival lineups, in particular Planet Bluegrass events in Colorado. This is one way this music is showing growth and change.

      Chris asks, “Why isn’t there room for both?” I would answer that there is, and it’s not in anyone’s power to change that.

  • Randy Graham

    We don’t seem to be getting anywhere with this mind-numbing debate. Personally, I crossed the “who cares what you/we call it” rubicon years ago. Since we seem to have fought, excuse me, “debated,” ourselves to a draw with no apparent winner in sight, let’s rename it Hillbilly Klezmer Music, choose up sides, weapons of choice, and start over.

  • tony mabe

    Good job on the article Travers! I am also what you could call a traditional musician, but as my wife and I are pursuing our own style,what Randy just said puts me in mind of a discussion I had the other day with Bobby Atkins. Just to bring up a point, when our music (bluegrass genra)was in its heyday it wasn’t “bluegrass”. It was called COUNTRY or hillbilly music, actually giving it a broader spectrum. Bluegrass originally referred to Monroe’s style of music only. Anyway, I think if everyone will just be themselves, have there own style, learn from the music of the past, and keep moving forward with respect for our musical elders, we’ll be ok in the long run. Of course we can’t live in the past, but we can’t push it away altogether either.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    To me, the debate is not about Traditional vs Progressive…….it’s about “Bluegrass” vs “Every other kind of acoustic music that doesn’t fit anywhere else, is bluegrass”. There has been an absolute defiance in defining what is “Bluegrass” (especially from IBMA supporters), apparently because of the threat of exclusion. It seems that everybody knows what “Bluegrass” is, but few want to define it. Nobody (at least, that I know) calls the music of the Rolling Stones, Country, although it seems much more like some of the “country” music you hear on today’s radio, than does some of the music being called “Bluegrass” today! I don’t understand that logic.

    I’ve said this before: “Bluegrass” music is the only music that started out perfect, and has gotten worse ever since! IMHO of course!

    • Chris Skaryd

      “the only music that started out perfect, and has gotten worse ever since”

      That’s a REALLY depressing thought! I’m glad that I respectively disagree.

      • Chris Skaryd

        er, respectfully…

  • Dennis Jones

    There’s no fear of death for Bluegrass. It’s alive and well, growing (slowly) and strong. There are in fact growing numbers of Real Bluegrass fans and bands all over the world, not just “Ground Zero” here in North Carolina. As Lynwood Lunsford states, you can’t make a living playing those same handful of songs from the “classic” Artists. I don’t need another version of “Little Cabin Home On The Hill” to play on the radio. I have the original. It’s amazing to me how well some bands are in fact writing so much new material within the template of the genre. The trick is writing AND playing Bluegrass. It’s not easy, nowhere near as easy as many have found out. So they “innovate”, “change”, “grow” or make “Big Tent” music. Well, you can’t play Rock Music on acoustic instruments and call it Bluegrass, and try to fool real Bluegrass fans. So we are good there. The problem is telling young music fans that come to see “Big Tent” acts that they are Bluegrass. Travers you yourself say there’s no guarantee a fan at a YMSB show will buy a Red Allen CD, well you are right. There’s no evidence that someone at a “Trampled By Turtles” show will buy a Junior Sisk CD. Are these acts going to stop in the middle of a show and teach a lesson in what Bluegrass is or where they have some small thread of connection to where their music came from? Will they have a history of Bluegrass sampler on their merch table? I work at a radio station that embraces all kinds of music. We use names and tags to identify genre. The audience would laugh us off the air if tried to call BB King Bluegrass, or even calling The Avett Brothers Bluegrass. We support and love many of the “Big Tent” acts. People keep pointing out that Mr. Monroe was an innovator and pushed boundaries…made his own music…all very right. He also didn’t try to take another genres name. If “Big Tent” acts are so good and have such huge audiences, why do they want to ride the coat tails of Bluegrass and use its name? Why, if you are confident in your direction, not let the music speak for its self and garner a name or make up one yourself? I heartily welcome new music. If indeed it is new, get a name for it. Don’t try to take another. What’s your fear?
    “Playing to the same old tired crowds…” ,that’s a little condescending and mean spirited Brother Chandler. That solid, family based, loyal audience is what gave you a platform to launch a career. I welcome new fans and indeed do all I can to make them. It’s my business too, you know. Ask The ‘Dusters(BTW, I’ve supported since day 1 and still do…they are super talented and can cut ‘Grass as hard as The ‘Gents ever did) how many people they played to the next night after 10,000 at Red Rocks. How many times do YMSB play to 10,000 or even 3,000 and then the next night in a smelly beer hall to 300? It’s all about perspective. The cries of larger audiences so we can make more money is valid in some ways, the bigger solution is consistently have a loyal audience. One that is educated and willing to spend their money on a product they will know is Bluegrass. One that comes to a promoted Bluegrass Event and suddenly is presented with a “Big Tent” Bluegrass-ish act will soon become gun shy and stop supporting that venue or event. I’ve seen it. You mention the success of Morganton’s RW&B Fest. There are other very successful BG events all across the US. Some not so successful…why? Promotion? Quality? Lots of factors go into producing an event. There are people who have figured it out. Why would they be held up as a model to aspire too?

    IBMA…The International Bluegrass Music Association.
    I’ve been a member for 15 years now. I’ve been to W.O.B. events many times. The organization has problems, says so it’s own self. Dwindling membership, dwindling attendance at W.O.B. and operating in the red, they have finally started reaching out to us the members and former members to I guess try and get a read on where some of the issues are. Only a small number responded to a recent survey and the results show a lot. 20+ years and there are less than 2000 voting members? I have ten times that many people listening in an hour on Saturdays. The California Bluegrass Association has more, one state. Why? I hear from folks like Lynwood and many, many others who express the same sentiments. I feel them too and more. We as The IBMA, the members…are greater than any one board or committee, or should be in a transparent, open, willing organization. There are thousands upon thousands of Bluegrass fans willing to support Bluegrass music. I’m deeply humbled by the financial support given to “Goin’ Across The Mountain” and “The Gospel Truth”. To see the telephones never stop ringing for 8 hours is staggering. I know real Bluegrass fans are there, all ages, across a huge demographic. Those fans are all around the world, not just where WNCW broadcasts. Why is that audience not involved in The IBMA? Now, in what seems an attempt to gain members from a source outside of Bluegrass, opening a “Big Tent” we are going to court everyone with a banjo and mandolin and call them Bluegrass? As Lynwood so aptly puts it…”You can’t make something stronger by diluting it.”

    I’ll hold up my example again of County Music. Look at what is now called “Country”. What does it have in the remotest context to Kitty Wells? Roy Acuff? Webb Pierce? Hank Williams? George Jones? Nothing…it’s 70’ and 80’s Southern/Pop Rock Music. How many Taylor Swift fans could tell you who Maybell Carter is? How many of them are going out and buying Connie Smith CD’s? How many Lady Antebellum fans know Hank Snow? How many are buying Ernest Tubb CD’s? That’s what Bluegrass will become to the masses, a “Big Tent” sound…Blur-Grass. And real Bluegrass will be in that small place, still loved and made by folks who know the difference… instead of center stage with an organization promoting it hard as it can.

    Make the music you want. There are a few radio stations that will seek it out, send it to us. But get you a new name for your “new” music.

    Bluegrass Rules. God Bless William S. Monroe.

    • Travers Chandler

      Hi Dennis…
      Let me thank you for your thoughtful reply. I know there are few folks who care as much about the music as you do and I value you as a friend and supporter (and youhave always heped us by playing and talking about our music asa band) But I do want to address some things.

      Yes there are more new bands and more new fans playing and listening to real traditional bluegrass than ever before..There is a real hunger for it…So bluegrass may not die, but people like myself may not be able to afford to make it anymore. Lynwood would tell me that if i cant make a living playing bluegrass then maybe i am not very good at it. Well that could be so,but i like to think our product is good, our show is good and that I am doing everything in my power to keep my sound the way i want it: Old School and real.
      The fact is that a handful of successful events don’t give a picture of the overall issue at hand. I am sorry to sound mean spirited but i at anytime invite you to take a trip with me to 8 out of 10 straight bluegrass festivals we play and watch a dying fanbase from the stage…Yes some of that has to do with promotion…Some of it other factors…But the fact remains that overall bluegrass as a succesful business needs some adjustment.
      The non traditional crowds are where i have seen our greatest success, our greatest sales and have grown our largest fanbase. I would love to stay loyal to the traditional bluegrass festival, but when i cant even get them to book us for a wage enough to even cover our traveling expenses, it becomes a tough proposition. I can book tours out west in front of more opne minded fans, who accept our music as real bluegrass, and never have to haggle about anyhthing.
      Our fans are the greatest. They are always there when we need them, and we are always accessible to them. But how am i to continue to bring them what they want to hear when i can barely survive to make it to the next show??
      Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with real traditional bluegrass music itself..Its the greatest music ever to me and to lots of others…The problem is with the business itself and we do need more fans…Anything that has to grow enough to survive is susceptible to changes, but as long as we havebands like us, like Dan Paisley…it cant change but so much…i am not asking for a complete dilution of the music..and i dont think anyone wants to completely cast tradiitional bluegrass to the sidelines…Stan Zdonik is the President of IBMA and the Boston Bluegrass Union and no one is a bigger friend of trad bluegrass..His exact words to me were if it ever gets to the point where the real sutff is cast out,then he will no longer be a part of it…I dont htink the intention at all is to dilute the music…simply to make it more accessible to everyone..Am i to say that young bands with great folks in them like my friends Bearfoot should not be allowed to have a stake in the future of music because they do something differently?? I know they support our music they are always there cheering us on…why should their creativity be stifled?
      As far as riding coattails…I was amazed to see anyone from YMSB at IBMA…those two guys who were there wednesday are class acts..all the years of ridicule from the straight bluegrass folks and yet they still respect bluegrass enough to come and lend their ideas to the membership..they dont need IBMA or the bluegrass world…they just care about it and love it enough to want to help…Do i enjoy their music myself?? no not particularly, but i do respect them tremendously.
      Bill Monroe also didnt take any name for his music…It was only until later on when he bcame more assured of his stature that he took on the “father” mantra..He was just making music he wanted to make..
      Now to speak on a more personal preference front..A lot of this is just plain subjective and personal preference….For instance you play a lot of stuff on your show that i don’t find to be bluegrass at all in my personal taste and opinion..Some say that the Boxcars are traditional bluegrass…I would counter they are contemporary bluegrass…they would probably say they are just a band trying to make the music they want because they love bluegrass..and I would say yes and you are damn good at it!!! Junior Sisk is my friend and one of the best singers and guitar players i have ever seen or played with, but his band is not what i would consider straight down the pike traditional bluegrass…Compared to everything else today, he sure is though…You see what I mean??
      About the country music argument…That started happening to me years ago when bands started adding electric basses, and all the ebands began to sound the same and so many banjo players wanted emulate certain other banjo players, and rhythm guitar lost its spark and timing, and was replace by a harsh “hiccup” rhythm guitar playing which is brash and has timing issues in my opinion..records began to sound thin and terms like “mash it” and “that melted my face” came into being…
      I personally cannot not find a bad thing about opening the doors a bit and having more diverse musical events..they already happen, and they are tremendously successful..ROMP in Owensboro was a great experience for us..Tons of people!! And lots of sales to folks who were there to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Emmylou and Steve Martin and loved us as well…
      The fact is that personally there is tons of music out here that i respect but just dont much care to listen to myself…But to isolate ourselves because we are scared that the music will become diluted only hurts us in the end…I love bluegrass more than life….beyond that I love traditional bluegrass more than life..Ihave dedicate myself and my playing and singing to that..At IBMA i fond myself in a unique position where folks from both sides of the aisle were coming to me appreciative of me and in full support of what we are me that can only equal good times ahead for us all…
      Dennis I love and appreciate you…But sometimes it is hard to get a full view not looking out to an aging audience…Perhaps it is hard for me to get a full appreciative view because despite my best efforts, i cannot get us booked at RW&B or even Jerusalem Ridge and I feel we are as bluegrass as it gets…Despite the fact you spin our records heavily,people request our music, and we pack out venues in Western NC, we are never selected to take part in any festivals in the region..We play very little in NC and SC and i do take it kind of personal sometimes…For as nice as it is to be accepted all overthe place, it is hardto swallow that we wouldnt be welcome in our own back yard..the “ground zero” I guess we are still playing bluegrass?? Take a look at this video and tell me from our 2nd set at the only festival we have ever played in NC just this past Labor Day

      Pardon my rambling guys…just some thoughts from a tired guy!! god bless you Dennis and take care

      • Lynwood Lunsford

        I know you were responding to Dennis and I certainly won’t try to answer for him. But you did mention my name, so I thought I would address a few things you said.

        To start with, I never said that you weren’t good enough to make a living playing bluegrass. I was just repeating to you, what Jimmy Martin used to say to people who would come to him and say they couldn’t make a living playing bluegrass. He would always say, “well son, can you REALLY play bluegrass?” And as I said to you, it is a hurtful thing to our egos, but we sometimes have to step back and ask ourselves that question…….if we aren’t being successful at how we’re doing something, are we REALLY doing it to the best of our ability?

        You keep talking about the aging, dying audiences of traditional bluegrass, but here is something that hasn’t been spoken about; true, the average audience for a traditional bluegrass show does not have alot of 20 somethings in it, but they may not be as big a problem as you might think. Over time, I have heard many people say that as young adults, they were not at all into bluegrass music. Many sight rock & roll or beach music as being what they listened to in their 20s. But as they aged, they found themselves drawn to bluegrass music……often, traditional bluegrass music! So eventhough the traditional bluegrass audience ages each year, there are newer (older?) people coming into the fold to take the place of those that may no longer be with us.

        Finally, you mentioned not being able to get booked at Jerusalem Ridge. Let me say that, had you come to JR and played for free (like you did at the IBMA), I bet you would be booked there for next year! Not to mention, actually MAKING money from cd sales! In fact, I will go as far as to make a bet with you……..I will bet a day of my wages from Big Country Bluegrass that you will not clear enough money from the bookings you get by showcasing at this year’s IBMA, to pay for the expenses of being at the IBMA! And yes, the audience is definitely older at JR, but they are the ones who don’t mind spending the money! I won’t go into details of how much product BCB sold in 2 days there, but I can tell you that we set a record for any bluegrass festival we’ve ever played at………in the past 25 yrs! And we didn’t even have a new CD out! It was unbelieveable!

        • Travers Chandler

          Lynwood again i appreciate your response…I am very happy for your success at JR..I hope it carries over for you guys everywhere you go

  • Fred Hogaboom

    I gravitated to bluegrass over thirty years ago. Disgusted with the direction country had elected to pursue, bluegrass was the choice. Rock and roll had become all about “noise” and “rip rap” was, ahem, something.

    At 72, I, hopefully, will not live to see bluegrass go the way of country where the stars of yesteryear will have die in order to get play time on radio or mention in the news.

    How quick we relegate those who created a period of musical enjoyment to the back shelf, occasionally bringing them forth when the conditions or money is involved.

    My hats off to the pioneers of bluegrass. May they be remembered always.

  • Josh

    I am a fan of many, many different types of music and occasionally grate at various attempts to categorize its myriad forms into genres. The debate we have in these pages over the definition of a specific musical form is repeated frequently among fans of rock, jazz, classical, country, etc. I listened for a long time as a friend of mine who is heavily into hard rock music went into a lengthy primer into the differences between heavy metal, death metal, pop metal, speed, thrash, punk, surf punk, neo-punk, fascist punk, faux punk, industrial, goth, emo, etc, etc, etc (all the while I was silently having difficulty differentiating between what, to me, was ostensibly nothing more than a wall of noise.)
    But these same divisions rise up in all genres. Even now, we can think at length about the various subgenres that make up the world of jazz. (I ask you, what is the jazz being preserved so desparately in the Jazz Preservation Band performing regularly in New Orleans’ French Quarter? Bee Bop? Avant Garde? Swing? Fusion? Soft? Crooners?
    But overarching all these various subcategories is the recognition on the part of all its enthusiasts that everything is encompassed beneath a broader and broader umbrella that we collectively call Jazz.
    It is the same way that I view Bluegrass – which, as some have correctly pointed out, was once considered an offshoot of country and is still heralded as such on the stage of The Grand Old Opry. I cannot drag a form of music that has evolved to such a state of magnificence that it spins off its own subcategories, to remain overly rigid. As fans of this music in general, we have to ask ourselves – is Bluegrass a subgenre of Country music or has it evolved into a major category of music on its own? I think it has and the offshoots that blossom from it – the seeds it has planted – are flowering in a number of new and exciting directions.
    It has been doing so for decades. And through it all, practitioners of its traditional forms continue to enjoy success. Monetary success in the music industry has never been predicated by adherence to a specific form. There are traditional bands that make money, others that do not. Just or unjust, crap or classic, nobody but nobody can lay claim to knowledge of why this band makes millions in the music industry, and that other really good band can barely afford health insurance – that’s the simple truth about the industry.
    Personally, I think Bluegrass is a major genre of music of which there are dozens of subcategories.

  • Steven Bramlett

    I am a huge Yonder Mountain String Band fan!!!! I purchase lots of traditional CD’s and downloads. I love both traditional, New Grass and far left bluegrass. The Bluegrass community should be building bridges rather than walls. Yonder does Flat and Scruggs and Greatful Dead…so does Jesse McReynolds. If someone only likes Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brother’s that is fine, but Jimmy Martin said it right and we should all be a “Freeborn Man”.

    • Lynwood Lunsford

      I absolutely agree! I love old R&R, good Beach Music and Classic Country, plus Bluegrass (traditional and contemporary). But I don’t call them all “Bluegrass”. YMSB is no more “Bluegrass” than the Everly Brothers. I don’t know of anyone that calls the Everly Brothers’ music “Bluegrass”, so while try to sell YMSB as “Bluegrass”? That is where I have a problem.

      • Josh

        I can’t respond directly to YMSB on account of I’ve never heard them. But I have heard Bearfoot, Cherryholmes, The Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, Trampled by Turtles, Mountain Heart with Tony Rice, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Stanley Brothers, The Osbornes, Coon Creek Girls, Packway Handle Band, Bluegrass Mountain Boys, Flatt and Scruggs, Old and In The Way, Peter Rowan and the Nashville Bluegrass Band, 23 String Band, and New Grass Revival. I have routinely called them all Bluegrass. If I am wrong, then what, specifically, makes me wrong?
        I am not without prejudices of my own. I am not favorably disposed to applying the Bluegrass label to songs that feature drum percussion. But aside from that one feature, I am disposed to think of Styx’s Tommy Shaw’s solo release as a form of Bluegrass.

        • Lynwood Lunsford

          My only answer to you is that I define “Bluegrass” by the one element that was the defining moment and to which all music which sounds like “Bluegrass”, has in common: the 5-string banjo played in the syncopated 3-finger style popularized by Earl Scruggs. That definition is pretty broad and includes music that many would not define as “Bluegrass”, but it’s the one definition that makes the most sense.