The Future of Bluegrass Sounds Bright

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I attended a concert last weekend by Front Country. Great band – imaginative arrangements, superior song choices, and very impressive execution. And they’re all so young! I’m fairly to seeing musicians play really well, but it does tend to shock me when they’re getting younger and younger.

I’ve been playing guitar for about 45 years, and when I tell people that, they have two standard responses: One: “Wow, that’s amazing!”. Two: “Wow, shouldn’t you be better at it?” So, playing for a long time doesn’t guarantee virtuosity, does it?

I’ve worked pretty hard at improving my musical skills, but I know a lot of folks who work a whole lot harder at it, and I suspect everybody in Front Country works very hard at their craft. Combine that with a high talent level, and you get a huckuva show.

When I was at IBMA, in Nashville, I met lots of youngsters whose musical skills were astonishing. Watching 9 to 12 years tear it up on instruments that dwarf them is amazing – in their hands, fiddles looked violas, mandolin looked like mandocellos and guitars looked like Mariachi guitarrones. They could barely wrap their little arms and fingers around them, but they played the heck out of everything.

So, the bad news is, it won’t be me who ushers bluegrass into the next generation (or even mine). But the good news is, there is a ton of talent and skills out there among pre-teens, teens, twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. (There’s probably an alphabetical designation like Generation-X for each of these groups, but I’m too tired and old to look it up!)

Some of these players will be traditionalists and will be will amazing you with their command of the classic bluegrass sound and song selection. Others will be pushing the boundaries of bluegrass – either directly or obliquely – applying their own sensibilities to this folk art form. Both efforts should be encouraged!

For those of you who have been bluegrass fans for decades before these players were born, please do not assume you have a privileged viewpoint of bluegrass history, or are stern guardians of the genre’s purity. Please be tolerant if the CBA makes an effort to present acts whose vision of bluegrass is not consonant with your own. Don’t pretend to like something you don’t – that would be dishonest. But listen with an open mind, and try to focus on aspects you appreciate, and encourage all young players to respect the music and their own muse at the same time.

Many of these younger players are not of an age that favors joining organizations, or at a time in their lives where the membership fees will be tough to afford. This creates a dichotomy where non-members are playing music that members may not favor, in some cases. Drive these kids away with scorn, and when they do reach an age where they would want to join, they will choose NOT to join the CBA. Repeat this often enough, and the music you want to protect, and the organization you belong to, will both be imperiled.

Instead, embrace the music made by this impressive crop of younger players and you’ll be cultivating the future of the music you love, and the organization that helps preserve it.

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