Author: Campbell, Bruce

As Spring strains to emerge...

Somewhere in history, there must have been a marketing genius who realized the way to create widespread demand for this folk music form would be to throw open the doors and invite everyone in. The Big Barn consists of jam sessions and ,now that the weather is threatening to warm up – festivals!

Listening to music is generally enjoyable – that’s where its basic magic comes from. How many other forms of music are so inextricably intertwined with such mass participation, though? How many other forms of music are spread on such a grassroots (pun intended) level?

Bluegrass’ commercial appeal has waxed and waned over the years, but even at its infrequent peaks, it was never blockbuster boffo stuff.At least not in the “top of the Billboard charts” sort of way. Tell the truth – isn’t bluegrass more fun when it feels like a semi-well kept secret? That sense of a shared semi-exclusive musical taste makes it all the more delicious!

Sharing a secret is always fun, and that’s where the festival experience comes in. How can you consider something exclusive when you’re sharing it with hundreds of people? The fact is, you can. Everyone at a bluegrass festival speaks a secret language, and for days on end, they get to speak in that tongue with other devotees, and it’s heady stuff.

This social aspect is vital to the appeal of bluegrass, in my opinion, and festivals offer a way to enjoy it at every level – from top notch professional musicians to the rankest beginners. And bluegrass’ charms are evident at every level. Of course it’s a thrill to watch and listen to bluegrass played at the highest level, but it’s also deeply satisfying to sit around a circle and hear the music played by folks who may never aspire to the professional level. It honestly doesn’t matter – the whole spectrum is integral to the bluegrass experience, and it’s the root of its drawing power.

Multi-day festivals offer a time-honored way to really steep yourself in an experience – through constant, persistent exposure. Like a Native American sweat lodge, you leave the circadian rhythms of your “normal” life behind, and as you play through fatigue, your inhibitions and barriers break down, and what’s left is a purity of music – whether it would sound good to outsiders is not even important.

Bluegrass festivals hearken back to a time when folks from far flung communities could not see each other more than once a year – or even less frequently, and when they did, they celebrated hard and long. Over the course of years, kids grew up, babies are born, and some folks grow old. For those few days, they forged memories they could draw upon, time and time again, for a smile. And this is exactly what we’re going to do, yet again, this year! I can’t wait..

Posted:  4/4/2012

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