Hooked on Bluegrass

Jim VanCleve



I would have to say that it wasn't necessarily one specific instance that got me hooked on bluegrass, but more of a steady exposure to it over several years and finally a couple of classic live performances that finished me off.

I was born in Sarasota, FL and around the age of five, my Grandpa, my Dad, and my Aunt all began playing music at a local restaurant with a fiddler who had won the Tennessee State Championship several years running. I believe he was in his sixties at the time, and he spent his winters in Florida. Ralph Blizzard was his name and he still plays. He has an album or two out on Rounder records and has a very distinct style.

When I was five or six, I would go stand on a chair in front of everybody and blow the Train Whistle while Ralph played Orange Blossom Special. My first experience in front of people. :) Later, at age eight, my family moved to Western North Carolina where there is an abundance of bluegrass, and old time flavored music. My family was always listening to everything from John Prine to Peter Rowan to Emmylou Harris to Tony Rice, Norman Blake, and Doc Watson. I can remember hearing The David Grisman Quintet records from sitting on the beach in Florida while the sun went down.

I had a very eclectic exposure to music early on. What I would say finally hooked my on Bluegrass and Acoustic music were a trip to the Galax Ole' Time Fiddle Contest in Galax, VA and a visit to MerleFest in North Wilkesboro, NC in the same summer.

I was playing a little bit by then and was probably 12 years old or so. I got to witness the Tony Rice Unit live and in color at MerleFest. Rice had been and always will be one of my heroes. I had always had a personal goal to play on stage with Tony Rice somewhere...(and at age 19, I got to fill in for Bobby Hicks at a Bluegrass Album Band reunion show with Rice, Doyle Lawson, JD Crowe and Jerry Douglas....Goal Filled and WAY surpassed!!) :) I also saw Strength in Numbers (Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mark O'Connor, Bela Fleck, and Edgar Meyer) on stage at MerleFest that year. That coupled with the Rice Unit experience sold me on bluegrass.

I completely fell in love with it from that point on and have since went on in search of everything from the earliest classic bluegrass to the most recent jazz and rock in efforts to expand my knowledge. Now I'm trying my best to do for other people what those great performers did for me at that early age with my own band, Mountain Heart. I can't wait to visit California again...Grass Valley is hands down, my FAVORITE festival...The people there are most definitely Hooked on Bluegrass!! God Bless!

(posted 4/16/2006)


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