Hooked on Bluegrass

Carl Abbott - 2007 version

I wandered 40 years in a musical wilderness before coming home to bluegrass. Regrettably music wasn’t a part of my upbringing. Interestingly though, my father played steel guitar in Hawaii before he went off to WW I. He and my mother played in their early days, but the ‘pace of life’ after my brother and I were born shoved music out of the picture. I was raised, as most 20th century children, to be independent, and music wasn’t necessary for independence and success. With no reason to stay, my ‘independent’ upbringing led me to travel and live abroad for the next 15 years.

I was inspired early on to play music by various encounters with fellow travelers who could play. After settling down in Thailand I bought a banjo and a book - my first attempt and failure. Settling down later in Sweden I tried my hand at tenor guitar and another book - failure #2. Then, off to Japan where I really jumped into it and tried a standard guitar, then a mandolin and finally a fiddle - all from a book, of course. Failure #3, #4 and #5. Why all the failure? Without a doubt, trying too hard and trying to do it alone.

When our kids came along, and with still an ember of hope alive, I figured my long musical quest might pan out if we all did music together as a ‘family duty’. As soon as the kids could toddle, my mother began coming over on Saturdays to help make music a family tradition. A few years later, we bought instruments for the boys: a banjo for Luke and a mandolin for Kyle.

This was the turning point. Of course, I never sent them to music lessons - as you can tell, that’s not my ‘modus operandi’. This turned out to be one of the luckier things I’ve done; the kids approached our home music in a gradual and intuitive way. Later on we saw a poster for a bluegrass festival. We went to the ‘Good Old Fashioned’ festival, half expecting hoards of ‘drunks and stoners’. What a p-l-e-a-s-a-n-t surprise. Finally, I found what I had been yearning for all my life! Luke did the ‘kids on stage’ with Frank Solivan and the die was cast.

The kids finally had ‘teachers’; They listened and observed folks playing music at bluegrass jams and festivals. Of course it’s not that surprising that they picked it up so naturally. That’s also how they learned to speak! The beauty of this for me is how their approach to music taught me to stop struggling and simply approach music intuitively. For someone of meager musical talent, this is especially magical. I gave up ‘goals’, I gave up ‘practicing’, and now just play honestly. Music became a journey of self discovery. So now finally at 65, I can sing, play and enjoy! And to top it off, we Abbotts are doing what we can to help other musical losers like myself find mountain music too.

(posted 9/22/2007)

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