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By: Cindy Faulkner
Bluegrass music can engage anyone. I learned this several summers ago while visiting Boone, and accidentally spending a sunny afternoon and a cool July evening at Doc Watson’s “MusicFest ‘N Sugar Grove” (not to be confused with Merlefest). The setting was on the grounds of the historic Cove Creek School in the tranquil mountains of North Carolina. Children played, vendors vended, people put their blankets and chairs out in the field, or sat under the big white tent, and listened ... to some very entertaining music, played by bluegrass musicians. I was intrigued!
Doc Watson was a musical legend I was not very familiar with, but on this night, he played the guitar and sang music that would not let you think of anything else. He told the story of how he met his wife and how she walked him down a dirt road. I love a good storyteller. I later learned Doc, in his 80’s at the time, was a guitar genius who was a seven time Grammy award winner. Doc was also blind. He was famous for his flat-picking style and had performed bluegrass, country, gospel and folk for many years. Doc was well known and well respected by rock-n-roll and blues guitarists as well, I am told.
That night in Sugar Grove, the Kruger Brothers and the Carolina Chocolate Drops also played, along with other bluegrass acts. I discovered that bluegrass is musically diverse… and it pulled me in. I became a bluegrass fan.
During IBMA’s 2015 week-long “Wide Open Bluegrass” events, I had the opportunity to ask a lot of people why they think bluegrass is particularly special and what they think other people should know about bluegrass. Here are a few of the responses I was given.
I had the pleasure to sit with Eddy Raven for a few minutes at Tir Na Nog during IBMA’s Bluegrass Ramble. Eddy is a country music singer-songwriter, and his songs have been recorded by Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, to name a few. Eddy told me he believes bluegrass stands apart because “the bluegrass musicians are so good”, noting their close harmonies, dedication and passion for the music they play. Eddy said he thinks bluegrass is real family music.
One local fan and banjo enthusiast named Allison, said bluegrass is “how music speaks to her soul”.
Another bluegrass fan, Paul, described himself as a “patron of the bluegrass arts” and said he loves the local roots of bluegrass and thinks the instrumentation makes bluegrass better than a lot of other music.
Garrett Newton, a 15 year old banjo player from Garner, has been playing for five years and learned how to play because he thought the banjo sounded weird and different from other instruments.
Sarah Harris, of Trinity River Band, said she loves the family atmosphere of bluegrass music and wants people to know it is unique because it ranges from traditional to progressive styles.
Linda is a fan who traveled from Boston to Raleigh for IBMA 2015. She said the IBMA week is the best collection of bluegrass artists in the world, and she has traveled to Raleigh each year for the event.
Hank Smith is a professional banjo musician who wants people unfamiliar with bluegrass to know it’s more than the traditional sound most people associate it with. He says people need to hear bluegrass live because that changes their understanding of it. Hank currently plays with "Hank, Pattie and the Current", and was previously part of "Blu Bop", a tribute act to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Hank is also the weekly host of Beer & Banjos(a Younger Brothers Production), which is a weekly event that will relocate from Tir Na Nog after the pub sadly closes its doors on Nov. 22nd. You can catch the last Tir Na Nog "Beer & Banjos" on Tuesday, Nov. 17th !!