Hooked on Bluegrass

Alice Gerrard

I was hooked on folk music to start out with, and started to teach myself guitar. Then I met two people (Mike Seeger and Jeremy Foster) who basically changed my life when they introduced me to bluegrass and old-time music by way of Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Blue Sky Boys, Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs, and others. There was not the separation then that exists more now between old-time and bluegrass music so I (and many others) were listening and absorbing it all at the same time. Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music was our bible.

When I moved to Washington DC in the mid-fifties with my now-husband, Jeremy Foster, there was a lot of excitement around bluegrass music. There were bluegrass bands all over the place; the Shamrock in Georgetown, the bar (I forget the name) near the Trailways bus depot in downtown DC, places like the Cozy in Baltimore, all had bluegrass music with the likes of the Country Gentlemen, the Stoneman Family, Earl Taylor, and many more. There were young people like ourselves who were turned on by the music and starting to learn it and make friends with the country folks who had moved up from the South, especially to Baltimore, and who already played bluegrass music. There were music parties. Then there were the bluegrass parks like Sunset Park and New River Ranch north of Baltimore that we would travel to on the weekends to hear music that lasted all day from you-name-it. They all passed through the parks. We'd take a picnic lunch and share it with Bill, Ralph and Carter, and so many of the others who would drive in, play several shows lasting into the early evening. Then they'd pack their gear into cars or buses and be gone on the next leg of the road trip. And we would load tape recorders, kids, empty picnic baskets, and ourselves into our cars and drive the two or so hours back to Baltimore and DC-tired but so energized by the music.

There was, at that time, from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies, when there was a clear relationship between traditional folk, old-time and bluegrass music-not the folk of Peter Paul & Mary or the Kingston Trio, but the folk of Texas Gladden, Hobart Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs. And I think it was the clarity of this connection that drew me to bluegrass music. I was especially drawn to the harder edge, the sparser sounds, the high lonesome quality. This was what grabbed me and still does.

(posted 3/3/2008)

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