Author: Campbell, Bruce

Crossover Appeal - Good for Bluegrass!

If you’ve ever read the “Hooked on Bluegrass” series of stories, you’ll see that people come to embrace bluegrass music through ways and experiences as varied as snowflakes. One thing nearly all the stories have in common though – they are nearly all individual epiphanies. We are picking up new bluegrass fans, the old fashioned way: one heart at a time.

Maybe not, though! As we look back through a few decades, we will see mass media events that brought new bluegrass fans by droves. They are far and few between, but their effect is undeniable, and persistent. Consider these influences over the years:

TV Shows that presented bluegrass to a wider audience: The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw
Movies that presented bluegrass to a wider audience: Bonnie and Clyde, Deliverance, O Brother Where Are Thou
Artists whose mass appeal spans genres: Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Allison Krause, and now, Steve Martin

Those of you who play bluegrass in public know that nearly all the requests you getare songs from these sources. These shows, movies and artists help keep bluegrass in the public ear, at least a little!

I caught the Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers show last weekend, and it was clear from the buzz in the crowd that Martin was the main draw. I heard one interesting exchange behind me:

“Do you think they’ll play any songs from “O Brother Where Are Thou'?”

“Why would they?”

“Well, that’s bluegrass, isn’t it?”

It is from tentative forays like this that bluegrass fans can be formed. The person sitting behind me heard bluegrass in the movie, liked it, and was interested to hear what this new bluegrass band (The Steep Canyon Rangers) might sound like. I think she was a little worried she might not like it, and have a tedious evening.

Of course, the Steep Canyon Rangers, as we all know, are a top notch bluegrass band, and I think many new fans were made that night. But it takes a little time. Steve Martin recited some lyrics from murder ballads, and got some huge laughs, which seemed odd to me. But the show, which was 90% Steve Martin originals, was respectful of the genre – it never hid the bluegrass or old time inspirations. Bluegrass, and the CBA, owes Steve a debt of gratitude for embracing this art form in such a visible way.

So, the next time you’re asked to play “Dueling Banjos”, or “Man of Constant Sorrow”, or even “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”, don’t roll your eyes and sigh. Instead, embrace the opportunity to make new bluegrass fans by giving them something they know, and then – hit ‘em with something great they’ve never heard before!

Posted:  8/29/2012

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