Author: Campbell, Bruce

Think Globally, Listen Locally

I know of no art form that embraces amateur participation like bluegrass. It’s instantly accessible, eminently portable and provides both instant gratification and lasting enjoyment.

The professionals in this music form are a curious anomaly – it’s not their fault they play and sing so good is it? Maybe that’s why it’s so common at a festival to find the genre’s biggest stars blissfully picking away around a Coleman lantern with us regular folk.

So, since this the people’s music, and there are people everywhere, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy it – whether you prefer to play it, or just watch and listen. If you can’t find a jam session or an open mic in your neighborhood, maybe you’re not lookinghard enough. Of course if you can’t find a jam, you can call a few friends and make one of your own!

Recently, I had a couple of friends over, and we found an open mic event downtown, played a few songs, met a few more friends, and ended up coming back to my house and picked until about 2 in the morning – it was great! On Christmas Eve, I had some friends over for some snacks and beverages, and what do you know? A jam broke out! What made it really special is my youngest son was there and acquitted himself very well on both bass and guitar, and he’s not even a “bluegrass guy” – but he’s certainly been around enough jams to have picked something up by osmosis.

Is there any other form of music that offers such opportunities?

Around the Bay Area, where I live, in addition to jam and open mic opportunities, there are a number of venues to catch local bands play. I love this, personally, and enjoy the range of talent. Some bands are just trying to get going, some are really getting together and some are clearly ascending and developing. Regardless, everybody wins – the folks onstage, and those of us in the audience.

I met some people recently who enjoy music, but they only watch big time music acts, which means they’re traveling a fair distance and paying some pretty big money for tickets, to sit in a large arena, watching musicians whose gaze will never meet theirs. They can’t even SEE the audience for the glare of the spotlights. Yes, these are artists whose talents are so large they can project their magic to the cheap seats in a big arena.

Even though the gap between an arena act and a club act is wide, to watch and hear talented musicans ply their trade in an intimate venue is deeply enjoyable, in the company of friends and neighbors. For those that haven’t discovered this, I feel pity. Even more sadly, I expect most of the readers of this column already know what I’m talking about – but maybe you can drag one of your friends to a local bluegrass show, and show them the joys of amateur night!

Posted:  1/9/2013

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