Tolerance in bluegrass

This piece is a contribution from Gene Reasoner, who co-hosts a syndicated Gospel bluegrass radio show called Believers Bluegrass, currently carried on about 20 stations. Gene also publishes his own blog, where this column first appeared.

Tolerance is a word that has been greatly used the last few years. I’m very much a redneck and typically have not liked that word. However, I have not liked it as it relates to moral and social issues. I think you know what I’m getting at. But that isn’t the discussion here.

I’m talking about personal tastes and how we handle strong feelings and opinions concerning style. Particularly how we relate to those whose tastes and opinions are different from ours. The area I want to deal with is musical tastes. I know this opens Pandora’s Box but stay with me here, I’m going somewhere!

Let me give you a couple definitions for tolerance, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” Here’s another, “interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.” Interesting, huh?

I recently attended a great bluegrass festival. For the most part the bands booked on the show were traditional bluegrass bands, all of whom were nationally known touring acts. There were however a band or two that steps out of the traditional bluegrass box to one degree or another.

I heard mostly positive comments about the festival. The crowd loved every band and every performance. There were many encores and encores weren’t given, they were earned! I’m sure every fan in attendance had favorites, but as a whole , comments I heard were very favorable.

As usual there have been some negative comments and as always those seem to be the loudest. I’m not going to articulate here what those negative comments were because it really doesn’t matter  ’what’ was said, but that they were said at all. The attitude behind those kinds of remarks are really the issue.

I learned to love bluegrass music as a young boy. I listened to Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, The Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse. Their music touched my soul and moved me greatly. Though it was years before I was involved with bluegrass I’ve always loved it.

I understand strong feelings and opinions when it comes to music. I too have favorites and there have been times when I’ve heard something that didn’t fit my definition of the music. It challenged me to adjust and make changes in my thinking.

Let me get to my point……..

If we have the attitude that bluegrass fits a particular box and cannot be outside the box, then it gets stale, stagnates and eventually dies. It’s like a body of water. There must be water coming in and a way for the water to flow out. This keeps it fresh, clean and alive.

The same is true for bluegrass music. Yes, there is a foundation and the music must be built on the foundation, but we must not shut off the flow of new creativity. In order for the music to grow and prosper we must welcome fresh ideas while keeping the music on the foundation built by the pioneers.

Remember, at one time the pioneers were young and brought new, sometimes controversial ideas into the music. Why do we call them pioneers? Because they were creating something new and exciting that hadn’t been done before!

Bill Monroe, considered the Father of Bluegrass, was indeed very innovative and I’m sure as he was developing the style we all love today was criticized for some of the new things he was doing. Later in his career there were examples of him extending his respect to younger artists who were doing it a little different than he did it. I believe he knew that in order for the music to survive and thrive there had to be tolerance for change.

Music always changes with the culture. Bluegrass music has changed and is ever changing. It can’t be stopped! It changes because it’s alive! A new generation of musicians,  writers and singers are keeping it alive. We should be tolerant and respectful of those who bring new ideas and sounds to the stage. We have no reason to be afraid because the music is built on a strong foundation. Let’s work to keep that foundation alive and vibrant while exploring new frontiers of this great music we call bluegrass!

Study the definitions of tolerance. Be open to a new understanding and respect for tastes and styles different from yours. That’s a good thing.

By the way, this is part of the vision of the Greater Ozarks Bluegrass Society that has been formed recently here in Southwest Missouri. For more information go to:

Cogitate on this for a while!