Author: Little, Cameron


Love. No doubt the deepest and most integral part of being human. It's what drives us, haunts us, and defines us. Having it, losing it, cursing it, hiding it, needing it, wasting it, finding it, spurning it, wanting it, denying it, missing it, celebrating it. For better or for worse, love has a role to play in the life of each and every one of us. Guaranteed.

One thing thatís usually, if not totally, appreciated by humankind is a good song. Songs come in all shapes, sizes, and genres, and cross all cultural boundaries. Bluegrass, Americana, Old Country, and folk music make this boundary crossing possible, in part because they are inclusive genres, in addition to serving as a taproot to our common heritage. If anything, I bet at least 90 percent of bluegrass songs are about love, whether or not they involve words like lonesome, moan, grave, alone, leaving, or cheated. Or moonshine, for that matter, which is in a love category all its own. Okay, okay, most of the songs have to do with FADED love, and wives/husbands/sweethearts who cheated/died/abandoned/murdered their significant other(s), but the music is essentially about love, nonetheless...

In the few years of my life when I was shorter than my mom, she taught me to look at the cheated/died/abandoned/murdered songs, and especially the moonshine tunes, as cautionary tales. This idea still works for me and I continue the habit when I share songs with younger kids. Every time I sing the grittiest songs to the littlest listeners, I make sure to give some history and the possible moral dilemmas of the tune - the who, what, when, where, and why of the music - and before you know it, the kiddies are singing "What a waaaaaste of the good corn likker...!" or "...left me out in the coooold rain and snoooow!!" right along with me. We've sung heart-tugging Civil War songs, love songs, dance songs, and Prohibition songs (which can also be heart-tugging when the moonshine has been abandoned/murdered). The trick is to put the songs in perspective, and before you know it, nearly every subject is a learning opportunity.

When we were hosting jams at the local charter school, our repertoire was primarily Bluegrass and Old Country, but always liberally sprinkled with Celtic and folk music. The common theme though, was music: welcoming, embracing, and supporting the music. There were heart-stopping moments like when a little girl stood up and sung an Appalachian ballad she heard on a PBS special. Or when surprise and smiles blossomed on a struggling fiddle player's face when he was shown a mandolin and realized how much he already knew about the fretboard. There was a frighteningly memorable performance of "Red River Valley" (lovely vocals) accompanied by recorders (not so lovely but brownie points for effort)! What was important was the freedom to share, to feel safe while trying something new, to receive acknowledgement and support, while forging a connection to the past. Whether scratching out "Red Haired Boy" on the fiddle or learning to fingerpick "Blackberry Blossom", the kids and adults shared music, and forged a link in our musical lineage.

I know I started talking about love and here's the deal: love is present not just in the words of a song but in the sharing. It's present when we sit down to practice or play solo, because we CARE enough to have a relationship with our instrument, to tease out a tune or perfect a familiar one. Love is there when we share in the circle, when we listen to each other, when we support and encourage. It's there when we care enough to try our best and put our ego on the line to sing a song. It's about that relationship with the audience, listeners, and players. And it's all about our relationship to music in general. Having it, losing it, cursing it, hiding it, needing it, wasting it, finding it, spurning it, wanting it, denying it, missing it, celebrating it. We are the link, and we are the living heritage.

Posted:  2/16/2013

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email