I lived in Los Angeles throughout most of the 1970s. My circle of friends during those years consisted of an eclectic bunch of young people, somewhat like the cast of characters in the Seinfeld sitcom only less urbane, and more into music. Sometimes we played recorded music, and sometimes we made our own. We didn’t make much of a distinction among different genres: It was all music, and it was all good. (I recall a jam session in which I sang “Blue Kentucky Girl” followed by some boogie-woogie pounding on an electric keyboard. Others in attendance played everything from jazz to blues to Latin percussion. Like I said, we were an eclectic bunch.) There was, however, a distinction between those of us who simply enjoyed music and were along for the ride (and the Michelob beer and Red Mountain wine), and those of us who were passionate about having music in our lives. This distinction was clearly demonstrated one time when I played a newly-purchased record album (“Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive”) for some of my friends. Everyone agreed that it was a “good” album. But then there was my buddy Ernie, who jumped off the couch exclaiming, “Damn! Listening to that makes me want to quit my job and just lock myself in a room and play music all day long!” Now THAT was passion. (In later years, Ernie did quit his day job as a welder, learned how to write grants, and now makes his living bringing programs about indigenous American music to children in inner-city schools. He’s also scored the soundtracks for some National Geographic specials. What a blessing to be able to live one’s passion!) But what does any of this have to do with bluegrass music, specifically?
The distinction between merely liking and loving music came to mind when I got to thinking about the low voter turnout in the recent CBA Board of Directors elections, and about the CBA members who show up, or don’t show up, for bluegrass campouts and festivals. There are always those who arrive several days early, stay until the very end, and still feel that they can never get enough bluegrass. These passionate lovers of bluegrass music plan their calendars around bluegrass events, and everything else gets put on the back burner. Then there are the folks who enjoy hearing some bluegrass music every now and then. They may attend one festival a year, or maybe they’ll show up to the campout for an afternoon to get in a little picking. But bluegrass events get squeezed in around their other activities, rather than the other way around. It simply isn’t a high priority on their “to-do” lists. At the recent Colusa campout, many people whom I used to see at similar events were conspicuously absent. Threatening weather played a role, but it got me to thinking that some of the folks whom I used to see quite often no longer show up to bluegrass events the way they used to, regardless of the weather forecast.
Over the years, I’ve watched people come and go from the bluegrass scene. Sadly, some have passed on. Others would be there if they could. It goes without saying that we all have lives and responsibilities outside of our involvement with bluegrass music, and at any given time, health issues or other crises or commitments can limit or prevent one’s attendance at a festival or campout although the individual would certainly be there if he or she were able to attend. But there are also those who used to attend regularly and simply burned out, and other members for whom attendance has never been that big of a deal; They might place a higher priority on cleaning the house, attending a sporting event, or mowing the lawn rather than spending three or four days or more immersed in bluegrass music. These are the folks for whom listening to or playing bluegrass music is a pleasant pastime…but they aren’t passionate about it. Most likely, these folks are among the 85 percent or so of the eligible voters who didn’t feel invested enough in our organization to cast votes in the recent Board election.
The CBA is currently conducting a survey in order to gather information from CBA members such as frequency of attendance at festivals, campouts, and jam sessions, personal preferences regarding different styles of music presented at the festivals, etc. This survey may provide some useful information as to the degree of involvement in the bluegrass scene among individual members. Put another way, it may define the percentage of members who view bluegrass music as a pleasant albeit very occasional pastime, and those for whom it is a passion central to their lives. If the findings of this survey can be used to make the organization even more responsive to the wishes of the general membership, we might be able to tip the balance and inspire more members to become passionate about our wonderful music. Put another way, and to paraphrase my old buddy Ernie, you may not be able to quit your day job to play or listen to bluegrass music all day long, but you may just wish that you could.