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How to further bluegrass music, especially with the young

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Mar 10, 2021 - 7:31:06 AM
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6603 posts since 10/13/2007

I make this topic with the hopes of fostering conversation about the particulars of being successful in planting fertile seeds in youth to know and love bluegrass as we do. It is a great & healthy music. I also hope that some of us can find something here that allows us to go out and do things to propagate our music.

As part of this I will tell a funny story about the McCourys doing this. I live in a college town (Bloomington IN,/Indiana University). We have a small club here called the Bluebird which sometimes brings in great names. Del McCoury was playing there every year for a while. I went into see him one year and it was standing room only. People were packed shoulder to shoulder. Now the Bluebird is kind of a...well it is not sweet. It has low ceilings and the smell of spilled beer and smoke permeate every square inch of the place. Kind of stinks with a sour odor if you are not a barfly IMO. I went in at show time and they had a warm up band which I did not care for. I could not get close enough to the stage to even see and my back would not take 3 plus hours of standing, so I left. In walking out I walked by the record table. It was maned by Mrs McCoury who in my opinion is the quintessential southern lady with all the dignity and mannerisms that implies. She sat at the table in this dingy stinky bar with her hair perfectly made up and with impeccable makeup and dress. I had to stop and ask her: Mrs McCoury, what are you doing in a dive like this? She looked at me and just shook her head and said: "Del, he said we have to get the music to the kids." What ambassadors and troopers..all the McCourys!

So if you have any thoughts or ideas, please share, and remember, we are all on the same side trying to grow our music.

Ken

Mar 10, 2021 - 7:52:31 AM
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2776 posts since 5/2/2012

Noam Pikelny was in Des Moines a few years ago, on a solo tour. The basement of a small venue (Des Moines Social Club). There were maybe 50-60 people there, the price of admission was reasonable and the music (of course) was top notch. Most of the people there were, I'd guess, in their 20's and 30's, probably all young professionals, and his music was well received.

Mar 10, 2021 - 7:55:05 AM
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3125 posts since 2/10/2013

I think simple bluegrass flavored music that featured topics kids could relate to would attract new fans. As they listen and are exposed to more bluegrass music, their musical taste(s) will expand.

In Lansing Mi., Elderly instrument had individuals perform for elementary school students.
Interested students would start with a simpler instrument like the mountain dulcimer and they would graduate to other stringed instruments. Activities like this would increase interest and participation.

The most important thing is the kids must have fun and participate as much as possible. It would help to start a program which enables more kids to obtain an instrument.

As far as adults go, they tend to take advantage of things they like - especially when they are.
Make the music regularly available to music fans.

Mar 10, 2021 - 8:02:34 AM

2227 posts since 2/12/2009
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I sincerely believe that trying to get young people to listen to what is essentially 70 year old music is a lost cause ! Young folk have always been averse to listening to the same stuff as mum and dad let alone their grandparents, the banjo was pushed aside in the first instance by the guitar, I belong to a generation that regarded the banjo as a joke, many still do ! And as for the fiddle ? Isn't that a thing that was played by stuffy old tuxedoed guys 100 years ago ? Songs about cabins in the hills and doomed lovers meeting in hills and valleys that for the most part young people have never heard of simply have no relevance for the "rap" generation any more than the jitterbug or the Charleston have for todays Gangsta teens. the push button generation dont even begin to empathise with the notion of spending many years practising a musical instrument just to make music nobody likes anymore. I honestly believe that old geezers like us will all be much happier when we accept the fact that old acoustic music is dead !

Mar 10, 2021 - 8:09 AM
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KCJones

USA

1718 posts since 8/30/2012

Bluegrass music will never continue with young people as long as the guardians of that music are hostile to youth and change. The problem is, hostility to youth and change is ingrained in the very ethos of bluegrass music going all the way back to when Bill Monroe dis-invited Sam Bush from Bean Blossom. It is a very authoritarian top-down hierarchy in terms of what is considered "successful", it's very cliquey, and if you're not born into the club you will never be welcome in the club. It's also a cultural issue, where if you are from the wrong place or think the wrong things or sometimes even wear your hair in the wrong style, you aren't welcome. 

This is a very old conversation, I think. And it doesn't seem to have changed at all, which makes me doubt that it ever will.

I love bluegrass. But if it isn't already dead, it's in hospice. Banjo music will continue. "Bluegrass" will not.

Edited by - KCJones on 03/10/2021 08:10:38

Mar 10, 2021 - 8:26:55 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27364 posts since 8/3/2003

We had a young lady who played fiddle and was definitely better than just good. One of the band leaders took her under his wing, helped her every we he and his wife could, took her to festivals, introduced her, got her going to jams, being a guest on different bands during festivals and so on. Everyone loved this young lady. She was sweet, talented and personable.

Unfortunately, she met a boy and that ended her career. She's now divorced with 2 kids and works at a big box store. If we could just keep these kids from finding mates, they might stay with their music. But, of course, that won't happen.

Maybe someday she'll come back to her fiddle and rejoin the bluegrass world. I sincerely hope so.

Mar 10, 2021 - 10:48:43 AM

2227 posts since 2/12/2009
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quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

We had a young lady who played fiddle and was definitely better than just good. One of the band leaders took her under his wing, helped her every we he and his wife could, took her to festivals, introduced her, got her going to jams, being a guest on different bands during festivals and so on. Everyone loved this young lady. She was sweet, talented and personable.

Unfortunately, she met a boy and that ended her career. She's now divorced with 2 kids and works at a big box store. If we could just keep these kids from finding mates, they might stay with their music. But, of course, that won't happen.

Maybe someday she'll come back to her fiddle and rejoin the bluegrass world. I sincerely hope so.


why wouldn't she be divorced and work at a big box store even if she had stayed with music ? not many bluegrass players earning a living just by playing ! Plenty of bluegrass musicians who are divorced too. most of the "successful" players earn their livings teaching their chosen instrument, its honest work , so is working in a big box store !

Mar 10, 2021 - 11:30:09 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27364 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by spoonfed
quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

We had a young lady who played fiddle and was definitely better than just good. One of the band leaders took her under his wing, helped her every we he and his wife could, took her to festivals, introduced her, got her going to jams, being a guest on different bands during festivals and so on. Everyone loved this young lady. She was sweet, talented and personable.

Unfortunately, she met a boy and that ended her career. She's now divorced with 2 kids and works at a big box store. If we could just keep these kids from finding mates, they might stay with their music. But, of course, that won't happen.

Maybe someday she'll come back to her fiddle and rejoin the bluegrass world. I sincerely hope so.


why wouldn't she be divorced and work at a big box store even if she had stayed with music ? not many bluegrass players earning a living just by playing ! Plenty of bluegrass musicians who are divorced too. most of the "successful" players earn their livings teaching their chosen instrument, its honest work , so is working in a big box store !


I think you missed the point entirely.  Growing up, being a teen, raging hormones, falling in love, getting married, having kids, working, making a living, getting divorced (in other words living life however it happens), doesn't leave much time for practicing, going to gigs and festivals now, does it?   Had she stayed single, maybe she would have had more time for her fiddle.

Would you have said the same thing if I said she was divorced and working as a lawyer, doctor or nurse?  Or is it just you have a problem with my using big box store?  That's where she works, nothing wrong with it, it is an honest living.

Mar 10, 2021 - 11:40:04 AM

2227 posts since 2/12/2009
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo
quote:
Originally posted by spoonfed
quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

We had a young lady who played fiddle and was definitely better than just good. One of the band leaders took her under his wing, helped her every we he and his wife could, took her to festivals, introduced her, got her going to jams, being a guest on different bands during festivals and so on. Everyone loved this young lady. She was sweet, talented and personable.

Unfortunately, she met a boy and that ended her career. She's now divorced with 2 kids and works at a big box store. If we could just keep these kids from finding mates, they might stay with their music. But, of course, that won't happen.

Maybe someday she'll come back to her fiddle and rejoin the bluegrass world. I sincerely hope so.


why wouldn't she be divorced and work at a big box store even if she had stayed with music ? not many bluegrass players earning a living just by playing ! Plenty of bluegrass musicians who are divorced too. most of the "successful" players earn their livings teaching their chosen instrument, its honest work , so is working in a big box store !


I think you missed the point entirely.  Growing up, being a teen, raging hormones, falling in love, getting married, having kids, working, making a living, getting divorced (in other words living life however it happens), doesn't leave much time for practicing, going to gigs and festivals now, does it?   Had she stayed single, maybe she would have had more time for her fiddle.

Would you have said the same thing if I said she was divorced and working as a lawyer, doctor or nurse?  Or is it just you have a problem with my using big box store?  That's where she works, nothing wrong with it, it is an honest living.


Sherry, I dont know what a big box store is, not a term we use in this country, so no problem regarding that term ! practicing, going to gigs and festivals, is so overwhelmingly trivial when compared to being married and having kids, FWIW I think she made exactly the right choices, lead a normal life and have a family or, devote her time to playing a moribund form of music that only ever appealed to a minority many years ago anyway, playing old fashioned music is only ever going to be a hobby for most, raising a family is the noblest thing anybody can do, my opinion !

Mar 10, 2021 - 11:44:10 AM

KCJones

USA

1718 posts since 8/30/2012

quote:
Originally posted by KCJones

Bluegrass music will never continue with young people as long as the guardians of that music are hostile to youth and change. The problem is, hostility to youth and change is ingrained in the very ethos of bluegrass music going all the way back to when Bill Monroe dis-invited Sam Bush from Bean Blossom. It is a very authoritarian top-down hierarchy in terms of what is considered "successful", it's very cliquey, and if you're not born into the club you will never be welcome in the club. It's also a cultural issue, where if you are from the wrong place or think the wrong things or sometimes even wear your hair in the wrong style, you aren't welcome. 

This is a very old conversation, I think. And it doesn't seem to have changed at all, which makes me doubt that it ever will.

I love bluegrass. But if it isn't already dead, it's in hospice. Banjo music will continue. "Bluegrass" will not.


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Mar 10, 2021 - 12:05:03 PM

2227 posts since 2/12/2009
Online Now

I think one of the biggest problems BG faces is that its exponents refuse to accept that it is no longer relevant, if it ever was ! It is a form of old fashioned niche music that has a following among a smallish number of people, similar to delta blues, trad jazz, prog rock etc etc.... I don't profess to now how things are in the US, the home of bluegrass music however for sure in Europe at least, even Duelling Banjos is an almost forgotten curiosity from a 50 year old film ! We banjo players are just like model rail enthusiasts or remote control boat collectors , we enjoy our banjos and we must accept that others view us as slightly harmless oddities which we are ! BG and OT are by and large dead forms of music kept limping along by a small bunch of interested people like us, it is no different from people dressing up in 50s clothing and getting together to jive to Elvis and Bill Haley, many BG fans get together and wear vaguely western style clothing to play and, listen to old music, hardly the stuff to captivate todays kids .

Mar 10, 2021 - 12:34:37 PM

1852 posts since 7/4/2009

The “rap generation” (the first one, anyway) is now somewhere between their late 30s and almost 50, so their tastes aren’t particularly relevant to a discussion about how to interest young people in bluegrass music. “Today’s gangsta teens”? Really?

I became interested in music seriously when I was about 11 or 12 and have been interested in it since then. The fact that bluegrass, like folk music in general, was and is a minority taste never bothered me; it was actually one of the many things that drew me to it. The good news is that those with minority tastes can access music and like-minded people more easily now than ever before.

Part of it does come from the seemingly innate musical (if not also social and political) conservatism of the bluegrass community. It also comes at least partially from the fact that most of the great bluegrass acts are not good businesspeople, and have failed to market themselves. How many bluegrass bands have any online presence at all that isn’t on the level of a geocities site from the 90s? There was a relatively large boom of interest in roots music in the middle of the 2010s that, as far as I know, wasn’t exploited by the bluegrass world in any major way.

The audience is there; Tyler Childers is a big star right now and is about as traditional an artist as one can be while still remaining a commercial country act (even his album of very mediocre old-time fiddling received wide acclaim). The music and lyrics have been updated to be relevant to today's world, but without distorting the music into something unrecognizable, IMO. If the bluegrass world could do something similar, it'd be in good shape. Closest thing I can think of is Billy Strings, who I personally can't stand, but certainly has plenty of fans.

I would also add accessibility and cost of festivals as an issue. 

Edited by - UncleClawhammer on 03/10/2021 12:49:04

Mar 10, 2021 - 1:26:16 PM

6603 posts since 10/13/2007

Matthew,
Thank you for the ideas. I am copying your ideas here and tagging Arnie Fleischer who works with IBMA. Maybe they could help the artists learn how to do this.
ken

" How many bluegrass bands have any online presence at all that isn’t on the level of a geocities site from the 90s? There was a relatively large boom of interest in roots music in the middle of the 2010s that, as far as I know, wasn’t exploited by the bluegrass world in any major way.

The audience is there; Tyler Childers is a big star right now and is about as traditional an artist as one can be while still remaining a commercial country act (even his album of very mediocre old-time fiddling received wide acclaim). The music and lyrics have been updated to be relevant to today's world, but without distorting the music into something unrecognizable, IMO. If the bluegrass world could do something similar, it'd be in good shape. Closest thing I can think of is Billy Strings, who I personally can't stand, but certainly has plenty of fans."

@Arnie Fleischer

Mar 10, 2021 - 2:18:06 PM

3125 posts since 2/10/2013

I don't think a form of music becomes extinct. Interest levels can rise and fall. If real "old time" music has died, what are those music conventions at places like Galax happening every year. There will always be traditionalists listening to older bands. The fans will be there, but the names of the bands and tunes will slowly change with time. Todays youngsters will consider "The Seldom Scene" old time music.

The public is very fickle and easy to impress. One entertainment source could change public opinion. Remember the movie "Deliverance". How about "Bonny and Clyde".

Unfortunately lots of talented young musicians discover other interests and lose interest in music. It happens less often in families that have an active musical environment. I have known musicians who lived in that environment and music was always a part of their lives.
My daughters followed my advice and enjoyed the advantages of single life for a while before they thought about changing their marital status.

Mar 11, 2021 - 6:22:57 AM

7960 posts since 9/5/2006

life has got in the way of music more then once in our history,,,, i think thats why the blues is so popular.... it happens to many of us...LIFE. music seems to get a back seat when things happen other then music. plus what level of dedication you have also... if are you willing to give up everything but your music.. thats a big IF......

Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 03/11/2021 06:23:21

Mar 11, 2021 - 3:51:02 PM
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1911 posts since 4/10/2005

I don't think it's been adequately appreciated or discussed how destructive it's been to young people and U.S. culture, to strip public schools of music education, music education resources including instruments, and music activities. Several posters have mentioned rap. The connection between the invention and rise of rap, and the stripping of music resources from public schools, has not been well-discerned.

If you want to foster acoustic music playing in young kids, you have to put the instruments, the master players, and the musical activities within their reach for free or next to nothing.   Otherwise the practitioners dwindle to an elite, nowadays usually classically trained, professionalized cohort such as the (dismaying and depressing IMHO) "Berklee Conservatory" phenomenon we're seeing now.

To foster acoustic music playing for a wider community of kids, you have to make it available for free or nearly free.  That's not to say that the result you'd get would necessarily shake out specifically as "bluegrass" in its classic sense. (For that, you'd need a surrounding community of specifically "bluegrass" activities and outlets) But you'd have many more kids playing instruments and making music, which in the long run benefits them and the society if there's scope for them to do that for fun if not for a job, when they grow up.

Edited by - ceemonster on 03/11/2021 15:57:19

Mar 11, 2021 - 4:16:02 PM

1852 posts since 7/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by ceemonster

Several posters have mentioned rap. The connection between the invention and rise of rap, and the stripping of music resources from public schools, has not been well-discerned.


Please explain what this means.

Mar 11, 2021 - 4:35:46 PM

1911 posts since 4/10/2005

What I mean is, inventive people are gonna invent. So . . . with the instruments and the music-enrichment stripped out of the public schools . . . what came on the scene next was a spoken-word popular art form that did not involve proficiency at musical instruments.

The music-history book of 15/20 years back, "Central Avenue Sounds," has some fascinating implications on this point. It chronicles a jazz-age period in Los Angeles when the public schools featured music instruction that today we would consider the equal of a college-level jazz program. Public school music teachers who were master musicians themselves. Available instruments. Etc. This kind of thing has disappeared but for those who can afford to finance it privately.

Now, if you want a certain subgenre of music to be played, in addition to the affordable instruments, instruction, and activities, there has be a community of listeners for that subgenre. This is why I'm saying that re-enriching music instruction on a widespread basis might not get you specifically "bluegrass." But to get anything at all you have to put the music, the instruments, and the enrichment in the hands of the kids for free or next to nothing. The public schools should be doing it, but if they won't . . . where is the community commitment to making that happen?

Mar 11, 2021 - 7:11:01 PM

6603 posts since 10/13/2007

Ceemonster,
Great comments and thoughts.
Thank you,
ken

Mar 16, 2021 - 7:52:07 AM

76231 posts since 5/9/2007

One of the best things for furthering the music is to always include yoing/beginning players in jams.
Inclusion.

Mar 17, 2021 - 5:59:10 AM

7960 posts since 9/5/2006

we have a good crop of young very talented banjo and guitar players in this area,,, many playing well beyond their years. its amazing the skill level some of them have.

Mar 17, 2021 - 7:26:18 AM
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2024 posts since 8/10/2005

Every semester for the past about 20 years I have done live music demonstrations for classes here at Radford University when asked. I would assemble a band of university employees and we would play and talk about the songs, the artists, the instruments usually for two classes per semester every year, sometimes more classes. That was pretty fun. What I noticed, from being the one "in charge" during these, was that the kids' eyes glazed over if we just played music, but when we told stories about our interactions with the professional players, and about our own experiences personally playing the songs live, the kids got interested and paid attention. If we were going to play a Bill Monroe tune (Jerusalem Ridge), I'd talk about Butch Robins and how I learned it by watching him and listening to him play the tune over and over- then talk about Butch as a friend. I noticed they paid a lot more attention to the song if I did that than if we just played it. So I think if you are going to reach kids (college kids at least), you have to figure out how to personalize the music.

Another thing I've done for 20 years at least at this college is to play music outside with my friends. We meet up at lunch and play outside weather permitting. The kids really like that because it is non-threatening. They don't have to interact with us, they can listen and walk away, or sit and listen as they choose. We don't try to include them, we play and interact and laugh together. I notice a lot of times there are kids listening and when we have a regular place and time to play, a lot of times the same kids will be there too. Once they warm up to it, we've had kids draw pictures of us, give us drinks, come and chat, and many years, we've had kids show up with an instrument to play with us too. We don't pressure anyone to participate, but sure enough, it frequently happens. So I would say play music where they are on a regular basis and don't beat them over the head with it and that will help grow any small interest they have in the music.

Mar 17, 2021 - 7:34:44 AM

6603 posts since 10/13/2007

Great post Bud. Thank you.
And thank you for the many things you have done for our music.
ken

Mar 18, 2021 - 6:20:40 AM
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1852 posts since 7/4/2009

Bluegrass is also more of a "musician's music" now than it was at its inception - the focus is on instrumental virtuosity and jazzlike improvisation - to the point where some bluegrass bands sound more like jam bands - more than on singing and good songs. I've even heard someone saying that the words of a bluegrass song are unimportant - "they're just something to hang a break on." I'd be very interested to know what Bill Monroe would've thought about that.

Most people are not musicians, so a musician's music naturally has a more limited audience. People might be impressed by the speed, but it takes another musician or someone who's already a dedicated listener to really appreciate it. Bluegrass music also isn't really dance music, even if most bands didn't play anything that wasn't a waltz too fast to dance to anyway. Doesn't help that a lot of bluegrass bands have a boring, repetitive repertoire. You can go to a festival and hear the same song by every band on the bill that day, sometimes playing the same breaks that they've copied from whatever the source record is.

I think more bands putting effort into their singing, songwriting, and repertoire would help bluegrass a lot. The original bluegrass band was the creation of a distinctive stylist and even if the others that followed either worked with or imitated Monroe, all had recognizable styles of their own.

Mar 18, 2021 - 7:11:21 AM
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147 posts since 2/7/2020

Yeah it's kind of like an arms race of technique in some respects. But most normal people just like to listen to catchy songs. We'd rather listen to Exile on Main Street than Dream Theater.

Mar 19, 2021 - 6:07:47 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15599 posts since 8/30/2006

Inclusion

Play in the schools, do seminars for $1/child, one class makes a paper plate banjo while the other class gets to hear and see a banjo in action. Bring another banjo to set down over each child from overhead.

A boy came and stood next to me with his paper plate banjo on, I asked, "what's up?" He said, "I know this song. I'm writing a song right now in my head."
So what we do influences them and facilitates their curiousity.

Bluegrass and "our" music was not conversive with the longnecketeers and the youthful struggles of the '60's.
Bluegrass was and is enjoyed by many, many people what have distanced themselves from the zealots or people using the music and flags for their own agenda.
I see ponytails, headsets and flashpots at the Grand Ole Opry, but that's country rock evo.  Pay no mind. 
the trouble is the audience, players and the music have evolved and gotten better without noticing it. I'm not enjoying 5 minutes of mandolin riffing, but I do like Crooked Still with a cello.

Bluegrass lost touch because they got pushed out by Disco, it was back to the grass roots festivals.
Thanks to everyone who plays and keeps this little flame alive.

What are all us old guys going to do with our knowledge and self-taught experience? Hide it and it dies. Nurture to the next generation and it grows.

Note the Turkish people have a lurid national music, loud, repetitive and sexy. Root Chakra dominated basically.  Look to the heart chakra. 

The Turkish kids are so tired of the adults' crap that they are listening to classical music, Mozart.

When you figure it out, you can't MAKE the youths do anything.

The Hawaiians have the most wisdom, in my view, they just let the kids sit there and observe until finally one opens up naturally like they should.
The Africans at one time would not let women drum, nope, no way, they get wild.

EGGDF or EGBDF

Bluegrass has been given a favor, include as many as we can.  Note that people in high tech jobs are reconnecting with nature, music and touch, hand-made.

We need their strength.

Edited by - Helix on 03/19/2021 06:21:30

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