Hooked on Bluegrass

Harold Spens

If anyone had ever told me that bluegrass would become the center of my world, my raison d'etre, (reason for being), I’d have called him a fool. I was born and raised in Flatbush, New York, and I can tell you, bluegrass was nowhere to be seen. Hadn’t even heard the term, much less been exposed to it. Then, fresh out of high school, my parents shipped me off to a small liberal arts school in Lexington, Kentucky, called Transylvania University. (Transylvania is Latin for across the woods, an appropriate description of Kentucky in the late 1700s when the institution was founded, so let’s put aside the vampire jokes, please.)

Talk about culture shock! This was back in the late ‘60’s and New York hadn’t been too far behind California in the ‘Cultural Revolution’. But Lexington, OMG, it was like stepping back in time, landing on another planet, both, I guess. Kids at Transylvania viewed the world around them with an entirely different lens, they spoke a different language, liked different things, listened to different music. And of course bluegrass was everywhere on the campus. And since it had taken root in Kentucky, the students and staff and community at Transylvania U. held it in as high a regard as, well, KY’s favorite son Daniel Boone. Me, I couldn’t see it. I mean, sure, it was okay, could even be beautiful if done by people who knew its subtle nuances and understood its chemistry, but I’ve got to say that, for a Flatbush boy, bluegrass was just not something to get all exercised about. It was just kind of there, a part of the landscape.

But then, in the spring of my freshman year, all that changed when one of my dorm mates invited me to spend the weekend at his family’s estate in a little town called Barbourville. The place was palatial, a horticultural showcase, known through central Kentucky for its exquisite gardens and orchards and, yes, beautifully manicured lawns. And Danny’s father, it turned out, was a bluegrass legend; he was, in fact, credited with shaping and cultivating the earliest varieties, carried to Midwestern United States in the early 1600s by French missionaries and spread via the waterways to the region around Kentucky, into what is today one of the top three pasture grasses in the United States and the most desirable species of grass for lawns. Yes, I can say that weekend in Barbourville in my nineteenth year changed my life forever. Before school started the following fall I’d transferred to Morehead State University, which had and still has the best agricultural sciences program in the country, changed by major to horticulture, with a minor in landscaping and, well, I’ve never looked back. Bluegrass rocks my world. To say I’m hooked on it would be an understatement.

(posted 8/19/2012)

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