The good Sista recounts the drama at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awrds ceremony. As soon as I saw the item in the paper, I wondered what her take would be on the matter. Also, I was concerned that something like this would overshadow the Grascals winning entertainer of the year. (You had heard that already, hadn’t you? Oh yeah, and the Nashville Knucklehead opened a bbq joint.) I never claimed to be a journalist with the latest breaking news…
So the gist of the trauma is that apparently somebody invited a band called Country Current, who is a bluegrass group made up of members of the U.S. Navy. And then they asked them, get this, not to play any patriotic material. Supposedly this pissed off the “I” part of the IBMA. And in a spasm of hypersensitivity, the president of the IBMA, David Crow, immediately resigned because he didn’t appreciate the switcheroo. Everything I’ve ever heard about Mr. Crow indicates that he’s a pretty decent guy, but this move comes across as petulant and pouty. I’ve always believed that you can affect more change from within rather than without. I hope he will reconsider his rash decision.
But most of all, why does bluegrass have this sort of a schism in the first place? They’re not unique in the world of music just because they have musicians from both the lefty and the right wing side of the socio-political spectrum. One would hope that cantankerous old coots like Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe could have found room in their hearts for the Nickel Creeks and David Grismans of the world. But I remember many Full Moon Bluegrass Jams out on Ted Walker’s farm when cranky traditionalists would threaten to shut down the party and refuse to play because they smelled somebody “burnin’ a rope.”
It’s music. It’s art. It should be inclusive. Rock and roll makes room for both U2 and Ted Nugent. Charlie Daniels has “evolved” from a “Long Haired Country Boy” to a wacky reactionary, but he still gets radio play. He also has gotten so big that he has acquired his own gravitational field and several small satellites, but that’s another matter altogether.
Country music finds room for both the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith, even if country radio won’t let the fans make up their own minds. Luckily the fans vote with their wallets and seem to be at least marginally supporting the first amendment. And as long as there are U.S. troops interfering overseas somewhere, Lee Greenwood will have a job.
But Bluegrass remains divided and suspicious between the generations. It reminds me of a story I heard Bela Fleck tell of a gig he played in Chicago at a huge festival when he was part of the New Grass Revival. They were supposed to alternate sets with Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. In deference to his esteemed status, there was no official headliner, even though NGR had several big country/pop crossover hits and was probably better known at the time in Chicago than Bill Monroe.
So Bela and the band went over to Mr. Monroe’s dressing room to say howdy. They walked in as Bill was having his skin buffed to give him a more life-like appearance and sheepishly stood in the corner. John Cowan, with his big mane of Bon Jovi hair, stepped forward, extended a hand and said, “Mr. Monroe, we’re the other band on the bill and we just wanted to let you know that this is a lifetime honor to share the stage with you.”
Bill slowly turned the makeup chair around with small steps from his bedazzled cowboy boots and replied, “Well, that’s right kindly of you boys.” He saw the looks of this scraggly bunch of moppets and asked, “So what’s the name of your little combo?”
Cowan replied proudly,”Why sir, we’re the New Grass Revival.”
Monroe shuffled his feet to turn himself back to the makeup mirror. “New Grass?” he spat. “I hate that shit!”
Why can’t we all just get along?