Hooked on Bluegrass

Kyle Abbott

How did I get hooked on Bluegrass? Well, this may not be the most romantic idea of getting into Bluegrass but I'll tell you how it happened.

Well, it all started at the '89 Father's Day festival where I was born. It happened at 5:00PM when Bill Monroe was on stage. He looked at me, then looked at my parents, and then said, "Hey! How'd you get up on stage?"

Oh wait! No, no. It happened at the '98 GOF Festival in Hollister. Ok, forget about the last part. Now I remember. We saw an ad in the paper about a Bluegrass festival at Bolado Park, thought it was interesting so we packed a lunch and went up there. When we arrived, we found ourselves in a world of a new genre. It was wonderful overflowing casket of family fun. Papa and Mama were enthralled with the bands and listened for hours. Luke played on "Kids on Stage", and I wanted to go home. Man, I was bored out of my gourd! Of course, back then, even though I played mandolin, playing music wasn't my idea of fun. (not to mention that I forgot to bring my mandolin that day)

Even though I was bored at the festival, I got a'yearning to try out the fiddle. So when we got back to Santa Cruz, we rented a fiddle. I did that for a few days. It wasn't any fun 'cause I could never keep the bow in the middle of the strings ... scratch scratch... so I went back to my mandolin.

And for the next few years, I continued to be bored at festivals. To pass the time, I would generally read books and run around with the festival kids. Keep in mind, these were the innocent kids. Not the punks who blast *BOOM . . . BOOM BOOM* music and once almost burned down the Grass Valley fairgrounds. No, these were the nice kids. Anyway, besides reading and exploring, I'd sometimes play a few songs at Lloyd's camp (where Papa usually hung out). However, back then, I didn't like to sing (even though I did a bit in our kid-based "Hay Fever" bluegrass band) so I just played instrumentals and I only knew a few of those. So as you can imagine I didn't play for very long.

Keep in mind, it wasn't that I didn't like Bluegrass ('cause I did), it was mainly 'cause we already played music at home so driving several hours and spending three days just to play wasn't my idea of a good idea, especially since it only took an hour for me to get musically satisfied.

A few years later, we started attending a jam at the Boulder Creek church. I'd play mandolin for a little while (which was certainly longer than at festivals) and would even sing a song or two. After that, I'd sneak around the church a bit. Move forward a few years, and the Abbott Family Band and weekly jams were born. Weekly jams meant I played longer during the week and the Abbott Family Band meant I went to festivals. By this time, I got bored of being bored so I picked up the mandolin more at jams and even did more singing. Around this time, I noticed my mandolin playing was getting better in levels. Meaning, after playing for a while (months/years), one day, you pick up the instrument and suddenly notice you are more proficient than you were last time you picked it up. (not gradually, just all of the sudden) That gave me some extra excitement about jamming. Also, up until this point, I only liked instrumentals and drove Luke crazy constantly listening to Kentucky Mandolin by Bill Monroe and a whole tape (before we had CDs) of Alan Munde's Festival Favorites (which were all instrumentals). However, now I started to dislike instrumentals a bit. They were so dull 'cause there was no singing and you had to wait for everybody to play the same lines over again before you got to play. You'd think Luke would've been happy about my change of instrumental-attitude. Well, a funny thing happened, years later, Luke had a girlfriend who liked fiddle tune/instrumentals which meant he was now more keen on playing songs-with-no/few-words.

I started to like jamming more and better yet, started liking festivals. What made me like jamming was: 1. I sang more (which meant I got more immersed in the jam) 2. I had nothing else to do so I might as well do it (then it became fun). What made me like festivals is good ol' Lloyd Butler. He was (and still is) the reason I go to festivals, just to hear him say, "You little devil! One of these days I'm going to get you and grind your head with my bare hands!" or "Hey! Doris! You'll never believe what Kyle said to me! He said he's not afraid of me! . . You should be afraid of me, I'm older than you!" I even stayed up 'till 2AM (I know, no big deal to you all-nighter-jammers, but for me, who usually finds nothing attractive about staying up late just to jam, it was big) jamming with The Lloyd, Wayne, Jim and the gang, all of who were all drunk as skunks that night. So, I think what made festivals fun is that I found a group to be with ('cause being a loner going from jam to jam lookin' for a home ain't no fun).

Around this time, upon the idea from Papa (and the terror from Luke), I tried out Clawhammer banjo. Boy, I really had fun with that. I made an old-time banjo from a kit and a fretless banjo from scratch. I picked the style up really quickly (besides, I already knew all the banjo jokes so half of the work was done!) and really enjoyed playing it. Oh, and I did go back and play the fiddle, and all the other instruments as well. Even branching into Tuvan Throat Singing and playing Shamisen (though not at the same time) has dramatically helped boost my regular singing and spiked my mandolin picking. 'Playing by ear' really works.

So, that's my Bluegrass story. So, you see, I wasn't quite so "hooked" on Bluegrass, more dragged myself into Bluegrass. But now I'm in, baby! Keep reading my articles!

Now, how do you turn this thing off anyw . . .

(posted 10/14/2007)

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