Author: Little, Cameron


Technology is ever changing, perpetually re-invented, and in a constant state of expansion. Bluegrass, on the other hand, retains its core concept. While each generation adds its own innovations to the genre, and musicians everywhere invent new techniques, songs and approaches, Bluegrass itself is remarkably steadfast in its own earthy way.

The technological advances made over the years produce an astonishing parade of new products, commonly boggling the mind with seemingly endless choices. Whether youíre buying a cell phone, a laptop, or even a lawn mower, you do so knowing that it will eventually wear out or become obsolete. It may take two years or it may take twenty, but eventually there will be something out there that is so much better than what you have that youíll finally want to break down and buy it.

But it's the exact opposite with bluegrass instruments: what about a Martin D-28, or a 1935 Model 27 Dobro resonator? Or maybe the Gibson your uncle used when he was overseas, or the fiddle that your grandmother played at barn dances in the 1920ís? Those will always be precious, and will never be thought of as any less an instrument just because there is something newer out there. We connect to our instruments emotionally, where we do not to our technology. My new laptop will perform admirably and I will deeply appreciate all of its bells and whistles, but it begins to devalue from the moment I step out of the store. On the other hand, my new mandolin will sound just as great in years to come as it did yesterday, even better most likely, and so will the music that can be played on it.

Bluegrass will thrive as long as we remain committed to passing it on. The roots of Bluegrass reach every continent of the globe. Anyone and everyone can sing or play Bluegrass, but only a fraction of the globe can afford an iPhone, or a 42Ē plasma screen. This is why Bluegrass by its nature brings so many people together. It can be shared by anyone in the world! You donít even have to speak the same language to sit down and play a few licks with somebody youíve never met before. This happened to me at Wintergrass Festival in Washington where I found myself in an intimate jam with members of Bluegrass 45. They spoke Japanese. I spoke English. But we all spoke Foggy Mountain Special.

If you give your kid a new laptop for his birthday, for sure heíll love it, and he'll get plenty of use out of it. But in about five years, those shiny new models in the Apple store are going to look pretty appetizing. The new offerings will make older models look like what horse carriages are to Cadillacs. Sure, your child's passť computer won't be completely useless and they can probably continue to use it for another ten years. But if you want to get something for your kid that will generate a lifetime of enjoyment, get them a bluegrass instrument and help them learn to play. Thereís nothing so memorable as sitting down with a young person, placing a mandolin in their hands, and watching them master their first 2-finger chord. In fifty years, and with proper care, a guitar will still sound just as good or better as the day you bought it. Instruments donít degrade with age, and the same holds true for Bluegrass. Down the road, a grown-up child will still remember the day you taught them that two-finger chord.

Now this doesnít mean that Bluegrass is a medium that everyone will enjoy. We all have our personal preferences, but the Bluegrass world is something that we can share, and in doing so we help nurture its roots, which in turn spreads it even further along. Itís something that we never forget how to do and its something that will remain current, for as long as there are people who still play. Itís something that links us to our ancestors and to all those who came before us. You can play on your back porch in a rocking chair, or at the White House to entertain a president. Itís something that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, all languages, all faiths, and all ethnicities. Itís a big, powerful something that we can pass down to our kids, our grand-kids, and their grand-kids. Bluegrass is inclusive, enduring, and timeless.

(Cameron Little is a grateful college-aged bluegrass musician who now knows how to use his grown-up chords.)

Posted:  11/16/2013

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