The Big Ol’ World of Bluegrass: From FreshGrass to IBMA

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I haven’t started to pack my bags or change my banjo strings as I write this on Thursday night but by this time tomorrow, I should be in North Adams, Massachusetts for FreshGrass, an exciting new progressive bluegrass festival held on the grounds and in the converted factory buildings that now comprise the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art ( and

As I check the weather forecast for Massachusetts for this weekend (warm days and cool nights!), my eye catches another email from Chris Pandolfi telling me about the Infamous Stringdusters’ eclectic festival event that they call simply The Festy (info at And here’s another email detailing this year’s lineup for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival ( And another from Missy Raines, whose Kickstarter campaign to help fund her new CD is in full gear (and is soon coming to a close, so support her now at

It’s a new world out there, isn’t it folks? We’re seeing all around us new models for festival events, new models for recording and distributing music, new bands, and new musical fusions. In my forty year professional career, I have never seen so much excitement and positive energy being generated around acoustic music as what I see taking place right now.

The signals are clear: there is a very large young audience that is already attending festivals and concerts, following their favorite bands and taking up guitars, banjos and mandolins (for instance, this weekend’s FreshGrass festival was marketed only to Northeast college students – and is sold out with 12,000 total attendance over three days).

For those of us who want to communicate our love of bluegrass (which also means for some of us, love of OUR bluegrass), how do we connect to this burgeoning audience? I’ve spent hundreds of hours in conversations on this crucial topic and I’m not sure that any of that talking has done much good. As I attend these new events – and as I have a great time there myself – I’m now convinced that it’s the audience and the artists that should define the music. That definition can’t be imposed from above, below, behind or in front. However, all of the various constituencies of our audience – old-time, traditional bluegrass, progressive bluegrass and beyond – need each other much more than ever. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas.

Well, I have to run. I just got a text from Chris Pandolfi and he’s invited me to play on the Stringdusters’ set tomorrow night at FreshGrass, which is terrific news! These guys can really drive it when it comes to traditional bluegrass (which is no doubt all that I’ll be able to play with them!). But, oops…he’s asking me if I have a banjo pickup and in ear monitors to match their stage and sound setup. Um…no. This old dog has still got some new tricks to learn….I think I’ve got an old Gerald Jones banjo pickup around here somewhere… it will take some time to find that darned thing. I haven’t used that since the 1980’s!

As a closing note, I look forward to seeing some of you at IBMA next week, where I’ll be performing in the CBA suite with The Hard Road Trio from Las Cruces, NM on Wednesday night at 11 p.m. It should be a fun week!

All the best,

Bill Evans
[email protected]

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