Bluegrass Music as a Political Force

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Do you remember the scene in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” where there were bluegrass bands at the political rally for a gubernatorial race? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in real life.

Politicians are always trying to identify themselves with songs they think will crystallize their message and viewpoint, sometime to the consternation of the musicians who wrote or performed the songs. But I think that practice only dates back as far as the music business’ hit-making machinery, and politics is much, much older than that.
I think traditionally, in politics, music was used at public gatherings to attract attention so the organizers’ message could be delivered to the group. Depending on the region, there might be the town’s brass band, or, as in “O Brother”, a local bluegrass outfit.
I played a political function a few years back, but I wasn’t personally invested in the candidate – it was a local election, and I lived in a different town. It was interesting – it was sort of a barbecue thing, with an agenda. By design, it was a little less fun than a picnic should be.
Maybe that was the reason for the music. It would be a little weird to get invited to a barbecue or a party and be told a local politician was going to make a few remarks. It’s one thing for someone to announce an engagement, or toast a new marriage. All that’s required is for everyone to pause their merrymaking for a few moments at some point, just long enough to hear some news that is cause for more merrymaking.
At a political rally, there’s an underlying tension. You’ll be expected to consider weighty issues – which can be tough if you’re not in the candidate’s constituency. Then, you’re being asked to yuck it up, just not too much.
All of this means, if you’re going to a political function, I have some advice for you: Don’t go unless you’re in the band. Look at the advantages. If you’re in the band:
  • You’re getting paid to be there
  • You get to play music
  • You get to watch the proceedings from a guaranteed good vantage point
  • The candidate may try and impress you, which is flattering.
Actually the last item may be misleading – the candidate may very well treat you like the hired help (which you are).
The national elections are less than a year away – it’s going to be an intense 9 months, and you’ll be bombarded with a blizzard of conflicting information. You may be tempted to believe some of the candidates are real, honest, and “not like the rest”. This is an illusion. They’re all like the rest.
So pull up a chair and treat the whole process as a spectator sport. Or better yet, pull up an instrument and a bluegrass band and dive right into the whole smarmy process and have some fun! And here’s another bonus – by watching a little dispassionately, you may form informed opinions and end up making some very wise choices and Making a Difference. Win-win!
The opinions expressed here are the author’s only, and should not be construed otherwise.  Nobody should take this author too seriously.

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