Author: Daniel, Bert


As luck would have it, I had the following piece already written about a week ago and then by chance, I was reminded the very next day of just how ubiquitous the topic it discusses truly is. You see, I needed to find a way for my daughter Juliet to go to the Plymouth Bluegrass Festival. She had been looking forward to the trip for weeks and at the last minute I had to have eye surgery and couldn't go. My friend Lani came to the rescue and so Juliet at least had a ride. Boy was she thrilled! I had already prepared her for the likelihood that she couldn't go. All I had to do now was get her down to San Francisco and drop her off at Lani's house. No problem, even with a sore eye. i got my directions and drop off time figured out too, but Lani felt obligated to warn me that her house was a mess since her family had just transferred a lot of stuff from a summer house.

I was amused that Lani had seen fit to warn me about the temporary disarray. I had never been to her house before so I guess it's a natural thing to worry about. Some people tend to judge you by peripheral things like the neatness of your house. But she needn't have bothered. I've seen worse. And it wouldn't have mattered to me one bit if had been almost as bad as some of my own messes. I've already judged Lani long ago at many campside gatherings and I know she's a great gal. Any of you who know Lani and her family know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, having just written what follows, I was struck by the fact that the subject of stuff is a very topic topic. We Americans are economically fortunate, but most of us are pack rats. I'll bet that currently, just about all of you are dealing with (or neglecting to deal with) the problem of too much stuff. So, without further ado, here's the rest of what i wrote last week.

My friend Andy finally made it back to our weekly jam recently after a long absence. He had made his disappearance just after getting married and we all figured he must just have better things to do. Turns out he was missing the jamming as much as we were missing his guitar playing. But his recent marriage had necessitated a consolidation of his living arrangements and he'd been spending the intervening months dealing with an accumulation of stuff he didn't need anymore. By the time he got rid of all that junk it came to three truckloads. And he still rents a storage locker for all the stuff he doesn't have room for.

I don't even want to think about all the stuff I need to get rid of. After more than fifteen years in the same house the accumulation is so bad that I have trouble finding the stuff I do need because so much of it is hidden behind piles of stuff that I'll never use any more. Life would be so much simpler and easier in many ways if I just had fewer possessions to keep track of.

Of course, the process needed to deal with this accumulation problem is so tedious for most people that it's more natural to just avoid it. Avoid even thinking about it. Some day, someone will have to deal with it. But not you, not now. Every now and then you might start to feel guilty that your heirs will have to clean up your mess after you die or that you'll be unprepared for that move to a new house. But how far do you get? If you're like me, you tire of the purging pretty quickly. Perhaps after that ninth item that you used to cherish but now has no use for you anymore. "Well, I MIGHT need that". And back into the pile it goes.

The last time I had to move I made pretty good progress with my packing until I got to my office. A room I called the black hole because the stuff that went in there never came out again. I finally got the job done but that one room probably consumed more than half of my packing time.

Simply put, if you own something that you haven't used in some arbitrary time, say three to five years, you need to get rid of it. Families used to have a tradition of spring cleaning. Once a year, after you scrubbed everything and knocked down all the cobwebs, you gave away or sold unnecessary things of value and you threw away all the other stuff you weren't using.

I probably selected this uncomfortable topic right now because we're headed into the fall season, about as far from spring as you can get. We all need to suck it up and do it like Andy did, but maybe not right now if we don't feel like it. But ask yourself this: Are you happier now than you were when all of your wordily possessions fit into that VW bug you used to drive home from college? Probably not, and if you are it's probably not because of your material possessions. We bluegrass fans are fond of our axes, sure. But how much room does that take?

If the house catch of fire
And there ain't no water 'round
If the house catch on fire
And there ain't no water 'round
Throw this old guitar out the window
Let her burn right to the ground

Stuff. Who needs it? But if I need a bigger truck to tote a few more lawn chairs and my bass to Plymouth next year, maybe I'll think about it. I hope I'll have enough room if somebody needs a ride.

“What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?

Are we meant to take more than we give?”

-Burt Bacharach

So what is it all about? This old argument of what is and what isn't bluegrass music has resurfaced again, thanks largely due to the IBMA's choice of a keynote speaker at this past weeks annual bluegrass convention.

What is the underlying message that IBMA is trying to communicate? What is it that they've been saying for some time but we're not getting in the message?The IBMA has openly said they do not see their role as a “Definer of Bluegrass as a music genre.” However, as others have pointed out, by adopting their big, open tent philosophy and embracing any kind of music that someone may choose to call “Bluegrass” regardless of it's true characteristics is actually doing just what they said they didn't intend to do. They have defined bluegrass to their own tune. Whether we choose to accept their definition or not seems to be where the battle is headed.

I say it's green, she says it's blue and you may say it's turquoise. The point is that when it comes to art or artistic output, we all see exactly what we see and we don't see what someone else sees. That doesn't make either wrong. However regardless of the number of shades of blue some of may declare is the accurate and true color, none of us has the right, or the ignorance to say it's red. But as in the case with the colors, there is room for variation in bluegrass music too but no one should mistake it for Jazz.

Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley and every other bluegrass first generation member didn't or doesn't do everything the same. They have variations. Even the same song isn't played exactly the same way every time. How many DIFFERENT versions of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” did Bill Monroe record? His song “Cheyenne” doesn't sound anything like “Rawhide” and neither of them sound like “Wheel Hoss”. The point is that there is a great deal of variance and difference in just those three or four songs – all from the same source.

Likewise, Tony Rice's “Manzanita” doesn't sound like Flatt & Scruggs “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” There is a great deal of difference, yet both are considered “Bluegrass Classics.” And both are embraced as “Standard Bearers” in the bluegrass genre.

It seems that the arguments from one side to the next within this issue want to gravitate downward to whatever the debater's personal preferences are and that must be allowed to be “THEIR DEFINITION of Bluegrass.” I think it's bluegrass and I like it so therefore that's good enough.

In his keynote address to the IBMA assembly, Noam Pikelny said that if music fans think something is bluegrass, that’s good enough for him – and good for the genre. If that logic is upheld and adopted so that the “we all must get along” people can be happy, we'll have a million different definitions and, thereby, while attempting to find a solution for one problem we'll be creating at least one more or maybe a million more problems.

It's not about what music fans THINK is bluegrass and it's not about what they like or what you or I like, or what Noam Pikelny, or the IBMA like.

“What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”
It is about protecting something of value. It's about good shepherding over that which we have been charged with. It's about guiding the new shepherds so they don't confuse the sheep with the wolves. It's about keeping our herd intact and allowing the herd to multiply by natural means. It's about tending to the individual members of the flock who need special attention from time to time and it's about allowing the entire herd to move and graze at will where it's safe to do so. But no good shepherd will allow his herd to graze right over the side of the cliff and plunge to it's death while trying to sell tickets to the show. And that is just what it appears IBMA is doing. Poor shepherding of that which they have been charged with while attempting to fatten the purse holdings with outside money has led the flock towards that dangerous cliff.

Along the way, some of those who paid to watch the show seem to think we should allow their buffalo herds to graze with our sheep and still others who see that happening think that their pride of lions should also be allowed in the same pasture … and on and on it goes until the menagerie resembles everything under the big top except that there are no cages and our shepherds are being eaten alive.

Big Tent indeed.

“Are we meant to take more than we give?”

What are we taking? What are we taking away from those who are not truly bluegrass but want inside the tent if we do not allow them in. What are we taking away from the genre if we close the doors? On the other side, what are we taking away from those bonafied Bluegrassers inside the tent if we don't close the doors to non-qualified entrants?

What are we giving? What are we giving to the edgy style and what are we giving to the traditionalists? By keeping the doors open or by closing them?

We take away from the purity of the genre with every new radically different note played when it's accepted as if it were not different. We give back to the genre the ability to grow by introducing it to outside influences and allowing those influences to shape and mold it.

However, just as a farmer knows to rotate crops in the field so as not to deplete the soil of all of the nutrients needed to grow healthy plants that will mature and bear fruit, but still knows enough to eradicate the weeds, we must allow our bluegrass fields the opportunity to grow with nurturing and cultivation but we must keep them from becoming overrun with undesirable vegetation.

A good farmer is not one who plants a seed then stays away long enough for any outside element to overrun his crops. A good shepherd is not one who ignores his flock when they're bleating in panic.

Regardless of which side of the debate you favor, I wish you health, happiness and fantastic pickin' or grinnin', whichever you partake of. And I welcome any comments. This same article will be posted on on Monday, September 30th. You may use the comment section to post your thoughts.

Have a great Bluegrass Day,

Posted:  9/29/2013

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