Author: Campbell, Bruce

Bluegrass Stars – Pals of Mine (Mostly)

One of the cool things about bluegrass legends is their accessibility. Unlike other genres with their starmaking machines, there doesn’t seem to be a gulf between performers and fans as in other forms of music.

I guess part of this is due to its limited appeal. If a performer can only be seen in an arena, or a stadium, the chance to meet the performer before or after the show is pretty limited – by sheer logistics.

At a bluegrass venue, it seems like it’s pretty easy to get a chance to meet your favorite
stars, if you’re willing to get there early, or stay late, and be patient and polite. At a
festival, if you’re real lucky, you might even find yourself picking with one of your heroes!

Since I came to bluegrass from a rock music world, I was amazed and awed by the ease with which I could meet me favorite performers at festivals and shows, and amassed a decent collection of snapshots of me and my famous “buddies”.

Eventually, it kind of dawned on me, that none of these interactions were all that
meaningful, and I started to wonder why I was even doing this. I got the chance to meet Steve Martin after a recent show with the Steep Canyon Rangers, and I was excited for the chance. This was a pretty good size venue and security was tight – only a chosen few were allowed backstage to meet Steve.

So, we got our chance, one by one in a room, and I realized I hadn’t a whole lot to stay to Steve that would mean very much to either of us. We chatted a bit about bluegrass and the CBA, but I felt like I was just one more nameless face he had to meet among thousands and I beat a hasty retreat. I skipped the photo op, or autograph request. I felt a little embarrassed, to tell the truth. Steve was nice and patient, but I think he would rather have gone to the hotel for some peace and quiet.

Being in a working bluegrass band has provided a lot of chances to meet bluegrass “stars” in a legitimate setting – the green room or otherwise backstage. Some of them are really fun company. Jokes fly fast and furious, and sometimes the humor is a little shocking. Small talk about instruments is pretty common and fun for everyone involved.

I don’t know if bluegrass people are nicer than most folks, but it really seems to me that bluegrass pros are more inclined to befriend people they meet in their travels, and why shouldn’t they? Doesn’t it make the time more interesting to engage in conversations, and enjoy (if only briefly) the variety of people you meet on the road.

There are exceptions of course, but I’m not going to name names. Maybe the uh, “less friendly” stars are shy, or I saw them on a bad day. Things can get pretty weird pretty fast. In Wintergrass one year, (back in my “get a photo with everyone” days), I was jamming a hallway, when who comes through but Tony Rice, and I said “Hey, Tony! Can I get a picture with you?”

He was very nice and agreed and we quickly posed together for the picture. But as soon the flash went off, there was a stampede of people towards us. Wild-eyed, gibbering, slobbering fans surrounded us.

“Tony!” they shrieked. “Touch my guitar!” and a dozen hands thrust Martin and Santa Cruz and Colling guitars at him. His eyes got wide and he beat a hasty retreat. But I got MY picture, and Tony was never less than polite and genial as he made his escape.

Posted:  9/4/2013

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