Author: Williams, Dave


Did you know that Wikipedia doesnít have a listing for Bluegrass Bands? There are listings for Classical Bands, Jazz Bands and Pop/Rock Bands. There are references for Brass Bands, Marching Bands, Military Bands, Mariachi Bands and even Jug Bands but no reference for Bluegrass Bands. As it might be said in our neck of the woods, ďthat ainít no part of nothingĒ.

Why this lack of respect in the nether world of the internet? I am offering two potential reasons for this ďslightĒ. The first is that those who control the internet have a cultural bias against our music and its traditions and think of bluegrass in stereotypes that donít warrant consideration.

The second and I think more plausible reason is that considering how Wikipedia is authored and the quality of the information contained there, bluegrassers are just too smart, too wise and too busy playing music to worry about the crap on Wikipedia, present company included.

I got into this discussion because the bluegrass band I play in is going through a transition. Our band has been together for close to 8 years with the same 5 membersÖÖ..until last fall when one our members moved away and now we are 4.

Doing this for eight years, you would expect that we would be getting better with more time in grade and, with all due humility, that was the case. Instrumentally, we improved with the time we spent rehearsing with the band every Thursday and with our own woodshed time on our instruments. Vocally, our harmonies were tight and we were often able to get that buzz bands strive to achieve. Everyone new his or her role and we could add new material relatively quickly. Obviously, we were not the next reincarnation of Rhonda and Rage or anything like that but we were okay in our semi amateur kind of way.

During this time, we were huge on the South Bay Area Farmerís Market circuit and tore up Mission Pizza a few times a year. Along the way, were coached by Laurie Lewis and played a set at the old Freight and Salvage, we played most years for the KKUP pledge drive and usually had a few private gigs each year.

As I said, now we are 4 and are still meeting weekly to rehearse but it ainít easy. Our roles within the band are changing and are unfamiliar to some of us. This is particularly true in the harmonies. The voice we lost was one of the primary singers in our 3 part stacks. Our first thought was to just have a couple of us other guys fill in the parts. No problem right. We have been playing (and hearing) these songs for years. Stepping in and picking up a baritone part should be a no brainer. It hasnít worked out that way. We are doing the work but it is slow and much more tedious than we anticipated. Itís takes us back to where we were 5 or 6 years ago when we were fresh and just starting out. Fresh is the operative word here. Now Iím not staying weíre stale but the use before date is certainly coming up quickly.

I have to say it is quite a bit easier instrumentally with moving around breaks and arrangements we are doing fine here and that makes it even a little more frustrating on the vocals.

Part of the problem is the standards we set for ourselves that were developed over the years playing together. Currently, the bandís approach on this is that we achieved a certain level in the past so we should be able to do it again. The problem as I see it is, is the band willing to put the work and more importantly the time in to get back to where we want to be? For what end are we doing this? Do we want to remain the leading act of the Santa Clara Farmerís Market or a big draw on California Ave in Palo Alto.

Playing markets and pizza joints is lots of fun and over the years we did the work so our product was good for the venues we were playing. The question now is how much work do we need to put in to get back to that place. I guess you could argue that it is only farmerís markets but we do take pride in what we do and how we represent bluegrass. Should we try to rework our old 3 sets of material or bring in new material and start from scratch?

As it stands now we are still meeting and rehearsing and I like that. I like the people Iím playing with and, differently from a jam, I like that we have a goal to perform for audiences. We have 5 farmerís markets scheduled for this year and I expect will play them. It is a 50-50 shot that will do Mission Pizza. On from there it is anybodyís guess.

Didnít mean to be a downer this month. Just thinking out loud. Thanks for the ear.
Posted:  3/3/2014

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