Hooked on Bluegrass

Peter Salovey

Although I was a child in Northern New Jersey, a teenager in Buffalo, New York, and have now lived in New Haven, Connecticut for 30 years, California is where I was hooked on bluegrass.

As a kid in the 1960s, I listened to a lot of folk music because my parents - from Brooklyn and the Bronx - were really into the New York City wing of the folk revival and exposed us from a young age to the music of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Hoyt Axton, and many others. But I don't remember listening to bluegrass either in New Jersey or in Buffalo. But in 1976 I arrived at Stanford University for College, and that's where it happened!

I think my freshman year at Stanford may have been exactly the moment when mainstream radio shifted from playing classic rock and roll to disco. Although my tastes in music are wide-ranging, does anyone really want to listen to disco on the radio? So, I was looking for some alternative and discovered radio station KFAT from Gilroy, California one afternoon. I just fell in love with the traditional, older country music they played along with bluegrass . . . and I believe it was Cousin Al's Bluegrass Show (on the weekends? I can't quite remember) that represented the first time I really started listening.

And I was hooked. Suddenly bluegrass was everywhere. Well, not really, but there was a great brother duet with guitar and mandolin playing in the stairwell of my dormitory. And an occasional bluegrass band passed through the Stanford Coffee House on a Friday evening. But what really solidified bluegrass for me was discovering Palo Alto's Gryphon Stringed Instruments (thankfully still around, unlike KFAT) and the pickers that hung around there. Suddenly I found myself renting a banjo and taking some lessons, buying a Stanley Brothers album, and looking for live performances, which I eventually found regularly at Paul's Saloon up in the City. I think the first band I may have ever seen live - at Paul's - was the Good Ole' Persons.

In 1981 I headed to Yale for graduate school in psychology, and I've lived in New Haven ever since. Started going to festivals in the summer such as Berkshire Mountain / Winterhawk / Grey Fox. And began playing a little with other people, mostly Yale students and faculty, which led to the formation of our band, the Professors of Bluegrass in 1990. Although I gave up the banjo for the bass, we play out a few gigs a year, with an occasional appearance on the big stage, and you can find us on Youtube. I just look for the best pickers I can find on campus and around town and stand behind them playing root-and-fifth!

Everything comes full circle, I guess, because now I am Carl Pagter's colleague on the board of the International Bluegrass Music Museum (a wonderful organization, by the way - please join!) in Owensboro, Kentucky. And I just discovered that Lisa Anne Burns and I were classmates and fellow psychology majors at Stanford.

I look for bluegrass whenever I get back to California!

(posted 8/11/2010)

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