Author: Campbell, Bruce

California and Bluegrass - Perfect!

Yep, I like bluegrass music just fine. One of the things I like about bluegrass is pickiní with friends and strangers. I have been fortunate enough to play bluegrass with friends or strangers in a lot of different places. Various states, various countries Ė bluegrass is a language spoken all over the place. It was a thrill to play bluegrass in Kentucky and Tennessee Ė two of the cradles of bluegrass.

But Iím a California boy, born and raised, and I think itís a state that is flat out perfect for bluegrass.

Letís start with the weather. Bluegrass is a music born of front porches, revival tents, and barn dances Ė all venues affected by inclement weather. Simple math: the more days with warm, dry weather, the more days for picking. I have seen scenes of the Grey Fox Festival with torrential rains, and everyoneís smiling as they bail out their tents, and I applaud their fortitude and optimism, but if Iím at a festival and it rains more than a day, Iím getting out of there. Thereís always the next festival, or the same festival next year.

I have learned that my disdain for rain (hey, that rhymes) itís largely a west coast attitude. Out here, rain is usually cold, and occurs in cold weather. In most of the US, rain occurs frequently in the summer, and is not considered that much of an inconvenience, so long as itís not accompanied by lightning. So, that old clichť about ďloving long walks in the rainĒ probably refers to those gentle warm summer rains. Brother, you can keep your warm summer rains. Give me the sunshine, especially the California sunshine.

Another thing I like about California is the way we filter influences through our own particular sensibilities. I have heard people who ought to know say that Californians donít play bluegrass quite ďrightĒ, at least not like they do in Tennessee or Kentucky. This is a sweeping generalization, and like all such claims, itís not entirely true. There are some players in California who have a very, very good handle on a Tennessee or Kentucky sound, and some of them have gone on to join the musicians in those states.

But when you import a genre through a dozen states and a couple of thousand miles, it will pick influences along the way, and take on some slight variations. This can be considered a problem, or it can be considered something worth embracing and celebrating. I think itís a positive trait of Californians that they can simultaneously treasure bluegrass, even as they put their own stamp on it. I believe these are not mutually exclusive characteristics.

We celebrate diversity here, even as we embrace tradition. The constant debates about what is, or isnít, bluegrass music just adds to the fun. We could also debate where the best bluegrass is played, and itíd be just as fun. California gets my vote.

Posted:  8/7/2013

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