Author: Cornish, Rick

The Myth of the Great Local Band--Deconstructed
 

Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where if day-top-day decisions were made by popular vote of all effected residents rather than decide-and-decree by a few self-appointed oligarchs the ratio between tennis balls and soup bones to I-pads and sugar free latte’s would flip in the blink of an eye. But oligarchies and electoral colleges aren’t going anyway any time soon, so let me get down to business.

Day before yesterday our third-Tuesday-of-the-month guy Led Lehmann sent to me his November Welcome, a piece called The Myth of the Great Local Band. The opening paragraph read as follows…

Wherever we go in bluegrass we hear from local people about a band (or bands) that are every bit as good as most touring bands and that we just must hear them. At festivals on showcase stages or in the field or parking lots (mostly a term of art these days), in performance at local events, in jam sessions in shops or in people's homes, and in the hallways at IBMA or indoor festivals we are introduced to fine people who love bluegrass music, pick regularly, and make important contributions to keeping the music alive by spreading it to the next generation, but we don't hear great bands. The bands we hear do a competent job of covering a rather short list of bluegrass classics as well as playing a lot of “classic country music,” which they love and which is easier to play than bluegrass, but they aren't great bands. (The entire article can be found at http://tedlehmann.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-myth-of-great-local-bluegrass-band.html.)
Ted’s told me for years that he uses his CBA Welcome Column slot as a sort of testing ground for his essays; he welcomes and appreciates feedback from us ‘westerners’. Hence, after read The Myth… I sent him a note with my reaction. I told Ted I agreed with his premise generally, that I thought he did an excellent job conjuring and then articulating his proofs but that I doubted his views would be shared universally. And then I sat back and waited the twenty-four hours it would take before the piece was posted on his blog. The first Bluegrass L response came just a few minutes after the essay was posted at tedlehmann.blogspot.com.

The thing I've noticed with a lot of these bands is that at the core there are one or two
exceptional players or singers and generally there just aren't enough people of
similar caliber to fill the band out...

This was followed almost immediately by…

Having devoted the majority of my day at a job that has nothing whatsoever to do with music, I haven't had time to read the source material in its entirety. I'm going to respond as one of the filler-outers who happily takes a supporting role in a band with "one or two exceptional players." My response is that, in the big tent theory of bluegrass where many variants of style are acceptable, please consider being equally tolerant of the beer joint bluegrass band that imperfectly covers the old standards to the great satisfaction of the audience dancing like mad on the beer stained floorboards. We / they aren't hurting anyone. Plus, it's not that hard to find the door. Peace, i>

Three minutes later…

Great post; can't beat a live band; who cares if they're "great", they're playing their hearts out and we're lovin' it!!

I was beginning to wonder if these list-serv folks had read the same essay I read, and apparently so had Ted because we heard from him next…

A careful reading of my essay would let those who feel judged or criticized know I understand the value of good cover bands and others who generally choose, for a number of good reasons, to play locally. They contribute a good deal to the maintenance of the traditions and joy of bluegrass music, including contributing virtually all of the fine players that decide to go on the road with touring bands and seek to leave a wider and more durable mark. I wrote about the "great" local band, and continue to believe that the few bands who transcend being local and are still great (Seldom Scene, for instance) are the exception that proves the rule. Ted

And then this…

What is there in that quote that prompts your plea?

Obviously this guy was wondering the same thing I was wondering. Next, from the guy who had earlier asked for ‘tolerance’…

Nothing at all, why? Either forgetting what he’d written or acknowledging but not apologizing for his non sequitur.

And then the quick retort…

Well, I ask because you called it your response to that quote. Twice. When, as you seem to be saying now, it's utterly unrelated to it. Just looking for a little clarity here. He wasn’t planning to let his pal dodge this one, dammit.

So the guy pleading for tolerance from Ted does a quick two-step…

Nope, you're just overanalyzing. All is well! Overanalyzing? Really? I’d say the fellow was calling the kettle black since it was he who read more into the essay than was there.

Next a new guy REALLY attempts to re-direct the conversation…

There are very few great bluegrass bands, period. The day of the great bluegrass band seems to be gone. There are still some good entertainers and great musicians out there, but great bands worth leaving a good parking lot jam for? Not so much.

Now back to Ted Lehmann…

It depends a good deal on what you attend bluegrass festivals for. I do believe, however, that the people who attend festivals primarily to jam have the effect of degrading the quality of the stage show. How is this? Because they seldom go to the stage, they argue to keep the price of festival tickets down, thus reducing the amounts promoters have available to spend on bands. Potentially great bands are less likely to form or perform at festivals due to low pay and empty chairs before them. Look at the increase in bands playing concerts, arts centers, and stand alone productions. Also look at the return to the bands at such events. – Ted

A promoter steps in…

I have contemplated the issue that Ted brings up constantly over the years of producing XXXX and have to disagree with his assessment. There are several reasons people attend our event. While many come for the professional quality stage show and instructional workshops, some come mainly to jam, and others because it is an inexpensive place to park the RV in The XXXX Lakes for several days. However, the number one reason people attend is to socialize with their friends and be part of the scene. The bottom line is that everyone who comes through the gate pays admission and adds to the gross income, helping to subsidize the stage show whether they attend it or not. At XXXX we strive to maintain a multifaceted event, including a professional level stage show, but value all customers that support the production. This being said, I can't understand why some people choose an often-mediocre jam session over a world-class bluegrass performance. The serious pickers often are in the front row studying the pros in hopes of learning something to improve their playing.

And finally, wouldn’t you know it, some clown, one of those damned logical guys who actually remembers what the thread was intended to be about, brings it back to the subject of Lehmann’s essay…

Ted, your premise, simple and utterly straightforward, one which has been emblazoned in the brains of most every regional festival promoter in the land who's had to say no to the best band in the county and hire a first tier, ‘national’ act, is just damned hard for members of local bands to accept. It's like the less than attractive parents of their less than attractive newborn coming to grips with the fact that their little pink and wriggling bundle of joy will simply never win a beauty contest. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have had the kid and shouldn’t enjoy the heck out of her.

Denial, my friends, is more than just a river.


 
Posted:  11/15/2012



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