Hooked on Bluegrass

Frank Solivan II

Curse, environment, genetics, or all such influences ...

It seems I have not known a time when I did not know what a mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, or dobro was. My paternal grandmother Bonnie played the mandolin and fiddle. My father Frank Solivan Sr, is the 9th of her 10 kids ... all of whom had a knack with song and were enveloped with music from early ages.

Bonnie had many picking parties with family and friends through the years. She even had a stint as a tumbler in Vaudeville. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to make music with her, as she passed just as I entered kindergarten. The scratchy old cassette tape recordings of family gatherings, my own vague memories and stories from my dad and his siblings are all I have to connect me to her.

On my maternal side, my grandmother's brothers and uncles were concert violinists and cellist. My grandfather played some guitar and sang some campfire songs. Each of them instilled a huge love for music and entertainment in my mother and her brother, both of whom play the guitar and sing beautifully.

At an early age my father took me to many music functions - the CBA’s Father’s Day Festival was one of them. Whether it was bluegrass festivals, fiddle and banjo contests or family pickin' parties, my childhood years were filled with music. I started playing guitar around the age of 6, when my cousin Ty and my Dad showed me three chords. They went with a little tune called "Little Brown Jug.” Little did I know that was the first tune everyone in my family learned how to play.

As elementary school transitioned into middle school, the fiddle/violin became an important musical endeavor. Horsehair meeting the string and rosin adding the friction that got them vibrating fascinated me. As I moved into high school the cello came into view, all the while trying to keep up with school work, a social life and the banjo. During these formative years, hours of practice became my routine. I even remember my parents telling me, "Go to your room and play that thing!" or "Can you play something else now... the first 100 times you played that lick ... it sounded fine."

I have always been enthralled with acoustic instruments. The fact that music encompassed our family and chose us to be conduits for it's expression, has intrigued me more and more as I have grown older. As a child, I thought this is what all families did, I didn't know anything else! Music was the way of life, the way to connect and sometimes heal the rough moments without using words. In short, I don't recall a pivotal moment that set bluegrass apart as the only music I'm addicted to. My family instilled in me a love for any and all music that sounds good. But as far as my love for bluegrass is concerned - I love the different varieties and sub genres of it and the skill it takes to pull each of them off; I love the way a banjo teams up with the guitar on a 'G' run and the way a mandolin counterpoints an upright bass; I love when three part harmony activates my goose bumps; I love when good lyrics make me think; I love it when music makes me feel something I've never felt before. Above all else, I love how music bluegrass brings people together.

(posted 2/8/2010)

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