Hooked on Bluegrass

William Nadauld

Opposed to the epiphany others use to describe their moment of submission and addiction to Bluegrass, and having neither latent talent, a Tennessee heritage, or a discriminating ear, my journey of awakening has been more a deliberate occurrence. The wiles of a woman instigated a questioning mind to ask the proverbial question. So what’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin? Yes, the slippery slope, but I did not go down easy to capture the treasure I had in mind. I found it necessary to feign interest to discover the difference. Little did I know the lady had her own agenda. But along that torturous path of my education, (hundreds of hours of old time fiddle contest tunes) a far more important discovery emerged - the relevance of participating in and having a history. Yes, it really is about the journey and not the destination.

I learned a lot about Bluegrass on the side of a hill in Calaveras County - not far from JD’s place. A young man from Indiana was helping me set a septic tank and was talking about the cabin he had built in some dark holler near his dad’s home. It was with great reverence and humor that he told me about how his dad had placed a prized fiddle in his hands at age five - which he promptly broke - and how his father picked up the broken bits and the frightened boy and patiently repaired both. That night’s show went well but when he put down the banjo and picked up the fiddle, instant lump in throat.

I learned a lot about Bluegrass one night in a tucked away Nashville suburb when an old guy in a felt hat showed up with his guitar, sat down, opened his case, began singing, and didn’t give it up until morning. A few hours later I watched him perform on the main stage at IBMA.

I learned a lot about Bluegrass from six southern boys who pulled up in front of the house looking for a bed, relief from the road, and something to eat. I listened as they checked in with home, bantered about last night’s gig 1500 miles in the rearview mirror, and wondered what one did with an avocado while devouring 12 pounds of steak, bucket loads of yellow potato fries, and gallons of beer.

I learned a lot about Bluegrass from a friendly clerk in a Tennessee hardware store. When quizzed, she explained her roots from a small Idaho town, now happily a Tennessee transplant with her nine children and a music-writing husband. My paint came with a warm invitation to the family-owned road house for the nightly jam.

Indeed, I am hooked on the people of Bluegrass, and by knowing the folks that make the music, I have found a way to appreciate the power, urgency, and need the music demands of its participants.

(posted 6/6/2010)

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