“Genres” piss me off:


Quite frankly, I am so totally over the whole “genre”-thing, I can’t even be bothered.

I tried to give a shit, I really did:  I genuinely tried to take the (misbegotten and idiotic) notion of a unified aesthetic “scene” involving a narrowly-circumscribed sonic “palette”, ready-made “tropes”, and clothing/hair-styles seriously — but I just don’t seem to have whatever serious cognitive defect is involved in that level of herd-conformity/pretentiousness seriously..

Quite frankly, any of the above-mentioned bullshit indicates that you don’t actually “like” any of it – and are merely using it as a system of “subcultural shibboleths”.

I find such things ridiculous.  I simply cannot help it.

I don’t find herd-conformity (even to a “niche” subculture) to be at all ‘edgy” – let alone “rebellious”.  Likewise, I simply can’t make myself stupid enough to be able to do/enjoy things “ironically”.

What the hell does that even mean, exactly?  “Oops!  I just did something/expressed an opinion which conflicts with the particular STEREOTYPE I’m slavishly aping!  Gotta figure out some way to “distance” myself from that lapse!  I know…..maybe if I SMIRK AT IT, I can “bluff” my way out of having failed to be sufficiently conformist!”

Doing things “ironically” is tantamount to the attempt to spit in your own face.

TL;DR: shove your “microgenre” bullshit. 

Just barely managed to sit through twenty minutes of a “documentary” on Bluegrass music. some observations:

The “Documentary” in question is called something like “Bluegrass country soul”, and involves (poorly-edited) footage taken at Carlton Haney’s 7th Bluegrass festival, sometime in the 1970s.

The things that stuck out most about the documentary (and the “scene” which it purports to be documenting), are as follows:

  1. OVERWHELMINGLY “WHITE” crowd.  There is some off-hand mention of occasional attendees from Japan, but the whole “scene” appeared to consist near-exclusively of WHITE Appalachian-types, and wannabe-Appalachian types.  Some vaguely hippie-ish “longhairs” in the crowd and as performers, but….the whole thing was weirdly (and rather tragically) segregated.

2. NO discernible “evolution” since whenever this documentary was filmed.  Bluegrass festivals (and “jam sessions”) tend to be exactly the same – at least they did as late as 2013, when I had my most recent opportunity to brush up against that particular genre-based “scene”.

You see exactly the same demographic/subcultural mix: hell, probably mostly the same people.  The “scene” is utterly stagnant and repetitive to the point where once you’ve gone to one such festival, you’ve essentially vicariously attended all of them.

This isn’t about some ersatz “tradition” dating from the 1940s.  This is about an increasingly-marginal (and never particularly “relevant”) music genre which has spent over fifty years dedicated to NOT evolving.

See, here’s the thing:  this isn’t about (for example) the “Great American Songbook”, or “Jazz Standards”, or whatever;  many music genres/subcultures develop a more or less coherent set of subcultural “shibboleths” – aesthetic/structural attributes which permit the most ignorant/least discerning elements of the “fan-base” to make snap-judgments about the (supposed) “authenticity’ of any given example.

That’s pathological in a different way, but that at least allows for a significant amount of exploration/syncretism/creativity (even if you do have to waste time and effort on fruitless debates over whether or not such “fusions”/derivative genres are “authentic”, or not.)

The situation with Bluegrass is weirdly different, in that even the most “exploratory” or “progressive” elements of the genre never substantively deviated from the defined aesthetic “palette”  set down by the “canonical” groups in the 1940s and ’50s:

“Fiddle”, guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, “Dobro”.

Even the most “progressive” individuals/groups seldom (if ever) deviated from the above formula, OR from the (increasingly stagnant and self-parodyling) palette of imagery related to Appalachian stereotypes.

Weirdly enough, the ersatz “HIllbillies” involved in the “Bluegrass” scene never seemed to do anything to actually help appalachia develop.

Why is this, do you think?  Could it have something to do with the fact that they had either managed to escape from the grinding stagnation/poverty/degradation of “the holler”?

I submit that the “Bluegrass” music scene was to Appalachia what “hip-hop culture”/basketball is to the urban “Minority” subcultures: a way for *some* to escape the specific “ghetto” into which they were unlucky enough to have been born:

Because make no mistake:  Applachia is definitely a ghetto, in many respects:


Quite frankly Appalachia is irremediably fucked:

There is here a strain of fervid and sometimes apocalyptic Christianity, and visions of the Rapture must have a certain appeal for people who already have been left behind. Like its black urban counterparts, the Big White Ghetto suffers from a whole trainload of social problems, but the most significant among them may be adverse selection: Those who have the required work skills, the academic ability, or the simple desperate native enterprising grit to do so get the hell out as fast as they can, and they have been doing that for decades. As they go, businesses disappear, institutions fall into decline, social networks erode, and there is little or nothing left over for those who remain.

There’s the tragedy, right there: the “vibrant folk-culture” of the region has been relentlessly exploited and milked by everyone from Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax and other “musicologists”, and used as a means to GTFO by such folks as Bill Monroe and Jean Ritchie – while the region itself has either been ignored or ridiculed.

To the extent  that there was ever anything resembling an “economy” in that region, it consisted primarily of resource extraction (most notably, coal-mining).    Now, the region is both “played out” in terms of mining (hence the mountaintop-removal thing) and no longer nearly as economically “necessary”  (due to coal mining in other regions of the world, and other fuel sources – fracking, “renewables”, etc.)

At any rate: the “vibrant folk culture” milked by Lomax and others has now become essentially an affectation for the (comparatively) well-off in other regions.  Appalachia itself?  Not so much:

THERE ARE LOTS of diversions in the Big White Ghetto, the vast moribund matrix of Wonder Bread–hued Appalachian towns and villages stretching from northern Mississippi to southern New York, a slowly dissipating nebula of poverty and misery with its heart in eastern Kentucky, the last redoubt of the Scots-Irish working class that picked up where African slave labor left off, mining and cropping and sawing the raw materials for a modern American economy that would soon run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants. Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.

No amount of “bluegrass festivals” or “quilting bees” is ever going to solve those problems – Bean Blossom notwithstanding.


As with so many other things, I probably don’t “respect” your “taste” in music, either:

Quite frankly, the vast majority of those who claim to “love music” really don’t.


To the vast majority, music is merely another “shibboleth” – a means by which they advertise their Demographic/subcultural”identity”, and – equally important – find others of the same “identity” category – a “herd’ with which to run.


I submit that this is an illegitimate view of “music” – because it requires that one (implicitly or explicitly) reduce music to a mere means – NOT even to artistic expression, or self-discovery or anything of that nature – but to the equivalent of a gang-sign, or “fashion” statement.

A textbook example of this is the fact that teenagers (in particular) are supposed to “love” music.   Telingly, the way that they going about “loving” music is radically different from the approach of a someone who genuinely values music:

Just as an example, (White) “folks” around my age were required to (at least pretend to) love the so-called “Seattle Sound”.  There was a very specific palette of groups which were relentlessly shoved down our collective throats (primarily by corporate marketartds and spin-pigs who were not teenagers themsevles).  Moreover, these “preferences’ in music  went hand-in-glove (pun very much intended) with “preferences” in fashion.

Predictably (as anyone with even a reasonably curious mind, and a willingness to venture beyond the incredibly narrow sociocultural “boxes” which we euphemistically label “generation”, “ethnicity”, etc.) – all of this (purportedly) “new” music was incredibly derivative.

The amazing thing about this is: none of the “authorized” subcultures (“alternative”, metal, grunge, punk) would openly admit this fact.   At most, one was “permitted” to engage in musicological transgressions (say, listening to material originating from a genre OTHER than the one(s) permitted to your specific ‘identity’) – provided that you did so “ironically”.

That’s where the whole “Gen-X Irony” thing comes in: it serves the dual purpose of “allowing” (White (Gen-Xers to engage with content which is “foreign” to their own subcultural clique – while scoring “points” from their in-group, by means of winking inauthenticity.

Now, this has always been blatantly obvious to me – especially after I made the mistake of actually asking for clarification with regard to a music genre/group someone claimed to “hate”.

Specifically, the genre in question was (predictably) rap, and the individual(s) upon whom I tried this little experiment ranged from significantly older than myself (60+) to teens.  (this would probably have been around 2012, the last time I tried something like this).

Basically, it consisted of nothing more than the following: Whenever somebody specifically made a point of openly stating that they “hated” (or even merely disliked) rap, I merely inquired as to WHY.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the individual(s) were incapable of formulating a coherent reply.

See, here’s my reasoning on this:

  1. The whole premise of classifying music ‘genres” implicitly – or explicitly – involves grouping musical “products” by means of specific characteristics –  choice of instrumentation (if any), vocal style, “permissible” palette of rhythm/key-signatures, chord progressions, subject matter, etc.
  2. People should be able to explain (at least in some terms) why they like/dislike such “genres” – with reference to the above criteria.

If you are unable to explain why you hate a particular musical ‘genre”, then I am unable to regard your response – no matter how passionate it may be – as anything other than an incoherent tantrum on your part.

Moreover, I really can’t bring myself to give two liquidy shits WHAT you (think you) “like” or “hate”, in most cases.

There are a few exceptions:  IF you can articulate what you like about your (supposed) aesthetic ‘tastes”, and I am in a position where I am ‘expected” to buy you a gift — then yeah, you  will likely get something I can be reasonably certain that you’ll enjoy.

However, if you are the other variety of person — who cannot articulate their own aesthetic tastes — then in an identical situation, I am more likely to gift you with something originating from the genre you claim to “hate“.

As the old saying goes: try it –you might like it.

There are people who genuinely value music as something other than a demographic Shibboleth.

For example: Paul Pena was one such person:

As chronicled in the the documentary “Genghis Blues”:

The documentary captures the story of blind blues musician Paul Pena. After a brush with fame and success in the 1970s, Pena’s fortunes faded as he dealt with career and health problems.

While listening to shortwave radio, Pena heard a broadcast of throatsinging, the Tuvan art of manipulating overtones while singing to make higher frequencies more distinguishable, essentially making it possible to sing two notes at once. Pena, over the course of several years, taught himself to throatsing to a very impressive degree. He eventually attended a concert of throatsinging and after the concert impressed one of the throatsingers, Kongar-ol Ondar, who invited him to visit Tuva, a republic of the Russian Federation and a formerly independent country from 1921 and 1944 under the name of People’s Republic of Tannu Tuva and the home of throatsinging, to sing in the triennial throatsinging festival held there.

The entire journey, as well as the extraordinary mix of cultures and music, is captured in the documentary.


Think about that: an impoverished blind man – willing to go half-way around the world, to attend a Tuvan throat-singing festival.  HE GENUINELY “LOVED” MUSIC.

He also genuinely loved such things as: personal growth, and getting outside of the “boxes” imposed on him by demographics/social isolation/health problems, etc.






Another great example of the level of “debate” among Bluegrass fans:

On one hand, that music’s flag wavers are constantly bemoaning its demise.  There are, at any given moment, one or two threads on the BHO about this topic.  On the other hand, however, the music is so hilariously “traditional” that it has no chance to grow its audience much.  Its followers say that anything outside the auspices of the stuff Scruggs, Monroe, and a few other guys did 6 or 7 decades ago isn’t bluegrass.  The instrumentation or the arrangements or the style of the tunes can never vary from those original lineups.  Heck, we had a thread here months ago where it was debated whether or not one could play bluegrass on a Gibson acoustic guitar.  Really? We’re talking about instrument brands while simultaneously wondering why everyone’s Itunes library is not filled with bluegrass tunes.

The definition of no music is as tight and constricting as is the definition of bluegrass, yet we bemoan its inevitable demise knowing that with such a constricting definition that music can not possibly flourish. The whole thing seems very odd to me.  I’m not the bluegrass expert many of you are, so I’m asking for your expertise here.  Please enlighten me.


Trust me: the shit-whining about the brand names of musical instruments is very real.  I’ve been to “picking contests” where people were automatically awarded an extra ten points merely because their guitarist happened to be using a Martin D-28, or their mandolin player had a Gibson, or equivalent bullshit.

That was so unbelievably stupid that I couldn’t even manage to wrap my mind around it.




More shit-whining from the interminable “Traditional” vs. “Newgrass” pissing contest:


The really telling bit:

In the past few months there has been much written and said (mostly in heated debate) about the direction of our beloved genre of bluegrass music. Traditional vs. Progressive. Inclusion, exclusion, intrusion and, in some cases delusion.

Sorry to break it to Mr. “Traditionalist”, but what he’s doing amounts to little more than being a Bill Monroe cover-band.

Why is this sort of “preservation”  lauded when people like this guy do it — but everybody (justifiably) laughs their asses off at somebody who would willingly be in (say) a KISS cover-band?

Quite frankly, the above strikes me as every bit as “authentic” a form of “preservation’ as anything the “traditional” Bluegrass types have ever done.

It is in many ways, equally pathetic.


Stupid article about stupid infighting in an overwhelmingly “White”, fringe music-genre nobody else gives a shit about:


The really telling bit is this:

Most musicians are generally supportive of innovation in the format, but some fans have a more restrictive view. “There’s some hardcore traditional fans out there who really think that the best bluegrass ever recorded was in the late Forties, early Fifties and that nobody can really improve on that,” says Cardwell. “That’s their favorite, and God bless them, they’re entitled to that perspective. Part of the reason for these strong feelings is they treasure the music so much. It’s more than just a casual interest, almost a passion, a religious fervor. People who just really love bluegrass music treasure it so much that they want to hold onto it very tightly and not let it change because they’re afraid if we don’t keep it the same, then it’ll disappear in a generation or two.


Here’s the thing: if you really want to hear the “vintage” sound, that’s the beautiful thing about audio recordings: the stuff is preserved intact — immune (at least in that form) from the “folk process” – and (barring stupid “copyright”-related bullshit) should remain readily-available to “future generations”.

So, why the impetus to turn an entire music genre into the equivalent of fucking Elvis impersonators?


This is one reason (among many others) why “Bluegrass” has become an aesthetically anemic, derivative, fringe subculture, which is in serious danger of dying out completely in less 25 years.

I don’t see that as any great “loss”, at this point.


Some reflections on my (erstwhile) involvement with various “Bluegrass” music scenes:

I first blundered into becoming “involved” with music, essentially on a whim.

Sumer 1985:

The Subdivision where we lived had something called “Yard-sale day”.  The theory behind this was that everyone in the subdivision who wanted to have a yard sale, should do so on the same day.  This minimized the problems typically encountered with yard-sales: Home-made signage, etc.

Anyway, at one of these yard-sales), more or less on exactly the sort of unexamined whim I have come to utterly hate – I paid one dollar for what was probably the crappiest guitar in history.

It was a “global” acoustic, which was so  structurally flimsy that it made weird “creaking” sounds whenever anybody tried to tune it to  EADGBE.  Also, metal strings seemed to be significantly worse in this regard.

So anyway (because my family are idiot trash), I ended up “hanging out” with my Great-Uncle Warren for a few hours, on an entirely inconsistent basis, from approximately  August of 1985, until Warren died in November 1985 (a little more than a month after my 12th birthday).

I have no idea how many “lessons” i had — probably less than ten in total (because – my “parents” being who they were, they didn’t consider anything I wanted to do important enough to actually warrant a “special” drive – even to have a relative help me learn something.

Anyway, after Warren died, I basically did nothing substantial in terms of music until we stumbled across Ray (the child-raping mandolinist).

Anyway, Ray attempted to “groom” me by way of “hanging out” with me, and (implicitly) using the fact that I had regarded Warren (even during those few hours of “lessons”), as infinitely more of a “father figure” than my own drunken, idiot “father” — to begin manipulating me in a direction which – had he had enough time to pursue it — would most likely have involved him either attempting to take “nasty” pictures of me, or drugging/violating me outright, or something.

Fortunately for me, by the time I had met him, he was already out on bond – awaiting sentencing for what the PA department of corrections describes as “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child”.

So, Ray went “away” (for a different reason).   Thankfully, there was no “bad-touch”, so at least there was something half-way positive about the whole fiasco.

The other marginally “positive” thing to come out of it all was: it was my first opportunity to actually begin taking lessons on a consistent basis.

Nev Jackson was (and has remained) a genuinely odd person:

Several reasons:

  1. Back in the late 1960s, he had a (particularly shitty and uninspiring) music group called the “Summit Singers“.  Warren (of all people) had bought one of the few dozen copies of their album which ever sold, so I have had the “good fortune” to be able to listen to the thing.

It is pretty much what you’d expect: a morass of Woodie Guthrie, “Standard” Bluegrass instrumentals  etc. – interspersed with Nev’s own compositions — all of which come off like what you’d expect from Bob Dylan (if Dylan had an aneurysm):

Anyway, Nev had come up with what now strikes me as a pretty solid career path for himself:

He knew he was never going to make it out of that shitty little backwater area.  He wasn’t even a “big fish’ in terms of what passed for the local Bluegrass/Old-Time/Folk “scene”.  So, he came up with a truly-innovative solution:

Market himself as a “music therapist”.

Here’s how that worked:

I never did figure out exactly what his degree was.  Nor am I particularly clear on whether he was actually affiliated with the American Music Therapy association:


What I do know is:  he gave (drastically-overpriced) “lessons”/”counseling”-sessions at his house, both of which were (as I later discovered), identical:

Both the “lessons” and “counseling” consisted of the following:

  1. How to read tablature
  2. Beginner/intermediate instruction on one of the following musical instruments:






3. The “privilege” of attending his monthly “jam-sessions” at his house.

4. The “privilege” of serving as a readily-available pool of “side-men”  for whenever he somehow managed to get “gigs”.

That’s it, really.

This was an amazingly simply (almost cookie-cutter) formula, which “worked” on two levels:

  1. Those who wanted to learn guitar/banjo/mandolin, etc. could be gimmicked into paying him to receive drastically-overpriced “lessons” in the sort of thing you could learn more easily from either just going to local “Jam sessions”, or by way of the sort of instructional materials put out by Happy Traum, or Murphy Henry (the inventor of the “Murphy method”):



2. Individuals who probably should have been receiving actual psychiatric help for things like depression, eating disorders, substance abuse issues etc. – got to pretend that being able to play “Cripple Creek” on banjo would “cure” them.

Anyway, at anywhere from 60-120 bucks a pop, Nev had himself a really nice little lifestyle:

  1. He got to make 60 bucks for a half-hour of “work” (which mostly consisted of him listening to one of hist students stumble through Bile Dem Cabbage Down), and then telling them to “go home and practice some more”).
  2. He got the psychological ‘rush” that comes from being a “guru” to a morass of “disciples”.

See, there’s the other thing about Nev’s setup: He explicitly “warned” his students NOT to go to local jam-sessions etc. – because we would (supposedly) learn “bad habits”.

What this meant was: his “students” almost never integrated back into the local music “scene” (and – importantly – never went to “jam sessions” other than the one he had explicitly authorized – once every month – at his house.

Now, the thing you have to understand about Bluegrass and “old-time” music in general is this:

Bluegrass is a a MODERN, and very “scripted” genre, whose participants PRETEND that it is some sort of “folk tradition”.

Here’s what I mean:

Every distinctively modern music genre (IE: anything developed within the approximately the last 100 years or so) has been deliberately designed around (fairly) specific genre-based constraints related to: “permissible” palette of instruments, musical scales, song structure, performance style, subject-matter, etc.

Contrary to what many critics of the above trend (mistakenly) believe, the above structural constraints have been trickling down for centuries before the advent of audio recording.  In fact, they are implicit in the so-called “axiomatic triangle” (“Art”/popular/Folk).


At any rate, “Bluegrass” wasn’t entirely or exclusively “invented” by Bill Monroe.  For one thing, the specific instrumental line-up/repertoire etc. had been more or less independently developed by others, essentially as a “refinement” of what was, at the time, a preexisting “folk”-tradition endemic to Appalachia.

What Bill Monroe, The Stanley brothers, Reno & Smiley, Mac Wiseman etc. did was to take a preexisting “palette” of instrumentation/subject matter etc, – and both formalize and polish it.

The subsequent history of Bluegrass music is pretty clearly summed up in the following tidbit:


Historically, there is a consensus that “bluegrass music” began with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys band. The recordings made by this group in the mid to late 1940s are considered the gold standard of bluegrass music. What characterizes this music are:

1.    All the instruments are acoustic: an upright bass, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo.

2.    The singing is a “high lonesome” sound created through three-part harmony with a tenor or high baritone voice on top.

3.    There is great virtuosity on the instruments, and the instrumentalists take solos.

4.    The music is comprised of instrumental songs as well as ballads and story songs.

Before Bill Monroe there was Old Time Music, but it did not feature instrument solos or the three-part high-lonesome singing. There was blues from the Delta and Piedmont areas, but it did not utilize the instrument mix or singing strategy of Bill Monroe. There was fiddle or mountain music developed derivatively in Appalachia from the music imported from the British Isles, Italy, Africa, and elsewhere, but it, too, did not have many of the characteristics of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass music.

Bill Monroe listened to all of these styles of music, enjoyed them all, and his genius was to take aspects of all these forms and meld them into a new form: what we now call “bluegrass.” Pretty simple, no? If the music sounds like what Bill Monroe did, it’s “bluegrass” and we have our clear definition.

Music, however, is a living, breathing, ever-changing art form. Even Bill Monroe experimented with electric guitars, drums, and had a female bass player. Those who were contemporaries or early followers of Bill Monroe – the Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Flatt and Scruggs, and many others no doubt were influenced by the basic style of bluegrass created by Bill Monroe – each put their own spin on this new, evolving music. Although they changed what Bill Monroe had done in many subtle ways, most would agree their music is close to that gold standard and falls within the definition of “bluegrass.”

The next generation of bluegrass musicians pushed the envelope further – far enough that their music came to be called “Newgrass.” Newgrass Revival was a seminal group of this era (the 1970s) as was Old and in the Way. These groups used the same instruments Bill Monroe’s band had used in the 1940s (although John Cowan of Newgrass Revival played an electric bass) but they broke from tradition in many other ways, including the types of songs, the complexity of the chord structures, singing styles, and instrumentation. Newgrass became very popular and enjoyed considerable success.

From there the third generation of bluegrass musicians pushed the envelope even further. Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart, Alison Krauss, and many others put their marks on the music while still using the same basic acoustic instruments, some with an added Dobro. Groups like Alison Krauss and Union station took the music in a more pop-oriented direction with huge success. Hey, Alison Krauss has more Grammies than any female artist and the first million-selling bluegrass album.

If one compares what each generation produced with the music of their immediate predecessors one can see a gradual progression over time. But, if one compares the music of the third generation to the gold standard of the 1940s the change is dramatic. For some, too dramatic, and for these traditional purists this music is not “bluegrass.”

Now, we have the current generation of bluegrass musicians whose approach is wider and more varied still. In one sub-group we have bands like the Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain String Band, and others who still use the traditional instruments and still present recognizable aspects of earlier bluegrass music, but produce a more rock ‘n’ roll or jam band influenced version of the music. In a second sub-group we have bands like Trampled by Turtles, the Avett Brothers, Railroad Earth, and others who have pushed the envelope way further, still using banjos, mandolins, and fiddles, but electrifying their acoustic instruments sometimes adding drums and going pretty full-on rock ‘n’ roll to appeal to the younger generation.

With each progression of the music there are those who “fall off the wagon” trying to stand their ground that if it isn’t at least pretty close to what Bill Monroe did in the 1940s, it isn’t “bluegrass.” At the same time, there are large new audiences captured by the newer sounds. What all the performers of these versions of “bluegrass” have in common is a respect for Bill Monroe and the pioneers. The Avett Brothers love Bill Monroe. Yonder Mountain, too, as does David Grissman and the other modern practitioners. Bill Monroe was the innovator of his time, doing what no one had done before him, and these modern musicians, arguably, are doing the same – innovating and respecting that part of the Monroe tradition.


I personally thing the above “big-tent” line of agitprop is entirely too charitable – especially toward so-called “traditionalists”:

For one thing, there is a real tendency among Bluegrass fans to define Bluegrass negatively – usually, by contrasting it with whatever passes for  mainstream “Country” (and/or rock) happens to be doing, at any given time.

Thus (for example),  in the 1940s/50s, the only substantive “difference” between “Bluegrass” and “Country” music artists such as Hank Williams, was: Hank Williams stuff (sometimes) included (electrically-amplified) lap/pedal steel, and typically didn’t include banjo or mandolin.

The two genres diverged fairly radically with the development of the “Nashville Sound” (by producers like Chet Atkins):


In the 1960s, this same sort of thing happened again, with an infusion of new blood: a morass of (self-described) “Folkies”, who hated acid rock, psychedelia, the “hippie” movement, etc.  (Basically, the pretentious, Coffee-house “hipsters” who tended to bitch about the Kingston Trio before they glommed onto Bluegrass for its supposed “authenticity”).


From my (admittedly limited) experience, these “folkies” tended toward a certain level of ‘self-segregation”, snobbery and pretense: they the were ones most likely to bring huge, overstuffed binders full of  “folk ballads” collected by people like Alan Lomax.

At the same time, there was always this edge of winking inauthenticity, in that most of these “traditionalist” folkies tended to be college educated, and openly antithetical to the “folk process”, itself:


For exaple, I personally witnessed one of these “Folkie” women literally throw a tantrum (complete with crying-jag) over the fact that a performer used the “garbled” version of the lyrics to Wildwood Flower, as opposed to some pretentious (and totally unknown to the rest of those at the particular jam-session) version of the lyrics, originating from some 19th-century “broadside” or other:


See, that’s the problem right there: Pretentious, elitist, “Musicology” dick-heads who insist on prattling on about the (supposed) “virtues” of (purportedly) “oral” traditions – and then shit themselves when the products of those “traditions” refuse to be ENCASED IN “TRADITIONALIST” AMBER.


“Traditional” Bluegrass (every bit as much as so-called “authentic” folk music) amounts to little more than cultural fossilization, or some sort of “reenactment” based on (false and garbled) “nostalgia”.

As such, even the most “progressive” Bluegrass musicians cannot substantially deviate from the “Bill Monroe Fossilized in Amber”-paradigm, to any genuinely significant degree.

When they do attempt such things, you either end up with something which is stylistically indistinguishable from the “Gypsy Jazz” pioneered by Django Reinhardt over in Europe (decades before “Bluegrass” even existed) — the Tony Rice/David Grisman axis – or idiocy of this sort:

The weird thing about the above is: it somehow manages to play on the worst stereotypes of Blacks and Whites — picture “Cletus the slack-jawed yokel” from the Simpsons attempting to be a “Gangsta rapper”.

At its “best”,the “tradiitonalist” axis ends up with stuff like this:

Either way – both variants exhibit the following characteristics in common:

  1. Bluegrass tends to be both racially and theologically homogeneous:  Virtually no non-Whites, and (at least musically) a drastic over-reliance on “religious” material which treats Fundamentalist/Evangelical, Protestant Christianity as NORMATIVE.

There really aren’t any “Bluegrass” scenes anywhere else – except possibly as as a sort of “parody” of U.S. pop culture.  Such Non-U.S. “scenes” tend to be, if anything, even more rigidly “traditionalist” than the most “Traditional” U.S. groups:

The above strikes me as little more than an exceedingly clumsy caricature, on the level of The Beverly Hillbillies.

The thing is: I have infinitely more respect for what these folks over in Thailand are doing, than I do for some Latte-liberal “Hipster” dickhead.  Several reasons:

  1. They appear to genuinely love what they’re doing (IE: there’s a quality of earnest, deadly-serious sincerity to the whole thing, which utterly lacks that winking meta-parody which goes on among far too many non-mainstream music scenes.
  2. They are daring enough to attempt to do something which originates outside of the demographic/geographic/cultural constraints which imprison so many others – of all ethnicities/racist/subcultures.