If you want to understand the history of bluegrass music, you need to look at its entire spectrum — of sound, of intent — as one large tree. With the deep, sturdy roots that are Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and so on, the trunk is the culmination of those roots, with each growing branch another avenue of creative possibility and sonic exploration.
To say Doyle Lawson has had a full career would be an understatement.
Nowadays, Lawson is regarded as a pillar of the bluegrass world. But, at 73, he still feels as if he’s just getting started, where a never-ending reservoir of creativity and enthusiasm spills out onto the stage each night.
The key element of bluegrass music is the “unspoken” — in practice, in performance and in personality.
Whether you’re 8 years old or 80, the foundation of bluegrass lies in its traditions, where knowledge and technique is passed down through the generations. That transition of wisdom is found while strumming in a field at a festival with strangers, chugging along onstage in the heat of a jam with your friends, or pickin’ and grinnin’ on a back porch with family members.
It came as a shock that has had a ripple effect within music circles around Western North Carolina and beyond.
He’s the common denominator.
When you look back at the career of iconic bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman, you’re diving deep into the rich and vast history of that “high, lonesome sound.” And yet, the more you wander into that melodic hub of David “Dawg” Grisman, you also find yourself zooming like a rhythmic train across the spectrum of sound, making additional stops at folk, jazz, world fusion, and acoustic music.
Within almost two decades together, Greensky Bluegrass has grown from a scrappy string band to one of the premier live stage acts currently touring the country.
They wanted to shake things up.
In 1971, a young Sam Bush aimed to create a new kind of bluegrass music. The legendary mandolinist was a teenager when he formed New Grass Revival. In the “classic lineup,” the group brought together the likes of Curtis Burch, Courtney Johnson and John Cowan (and later Bela Fleck).
It’s about staying true to yourself.
When you converse with country/bluegrass legend Marty Stuart, you’re speaking to the source. From being a teenager, touring and performing side-by-side with Lester Flatt in the 1970s, to finding country radio success in the 1980s and 1990s, to his enduring work with Doc Watson and Johnny Cash, Stuart has risen into the upper echelon of Nashville icons.
The eternal struggle of bluegrass is being able to balance evolution with tradition.
How does one adhere to the pickin’ and grinnin’ ways of the old days, but also be able to stretch the boundaries into new and innovative realms? That dilemma currently lies at the feet on the bluegrass world. And yet, as that question remains, so does the internal drive by all of the genre’s musicians to ensure the preservation and perpetuation of this melodic force at the foundation of this country.
I underestimated it.
Stepping into the grand ballroom at the Raleigh Convention Center last Thursday morning, I really didn’t think the occasion would be as big as it actually was. It was the awards luncheon for the International Bluegrass Music Association and I was among those nominated for “Bluegrass Print/Media Person of the Year.”