Author: Campbell, Bruce

Feminist Roots to the Father's Day Festival

James Brown said “It’s a man’s world”. The same might be said about early bluegrass. Yes, there was Hazel DIckens (famously and importantly), but mostly, it was a male-dominated genre.

In my first year of college, one of the male professors said “I am a feminist”, and I was shocked. He explained what he meant - that he was actively committed to the struggle for women’s equality. I respected that, and decided I was a feminist too.

We’re lucky in California, really. We have been fairly removed from some of the dramatic sociological struggles. I’ve always believed in equality, and was raised in an environment where this was taken for granted. The CBA’s history when it comes to women in bluegrass reflects this west coast mentality, too, I think.

Checking the Father’s Day festival’s history, it’s obvious that the CBA was well aware of local feminine bluegrass talent - the Good Old Persons, Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick all graced early versions of the CBA’s signature festival.

Looking at the bluegrass landscape today, it is replete with strong female stars: Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Allison Krause, Sierra Hull, Dale Ann Bradley - the list goes on and on. Are the doors wide open now, then?

Maybe, but I am told it wasn’t all that long ago when the notion of a female performer in a bluegrass band brought a lot of sneers and grumbles. Admit it - weren’t you surprised the first time you saw a female banjo player?

We can’t change the past of course, and longtime bluegrass fans have a lengthy history with high lonesome singing by male voices. But who can forget the first time they heard heavenly singing from Laurie Lewis? Can anyone of good conscience insist such talent doesn’t belong in the bluegrass pantheon?

Women didn’t invade bluegrass. They just lent their talents and love for the genre, and the results have been thrilling. I have been blessed to play alongside a distinctive bluegrass talent in Lynn Quinones, as well as many others over the years, and I think it’s fair to say that California is bursting with bluegrass talent, in all the well-known genders. And the California Bluegrass Association deserves a TON of credit for recognizing this a long time ago.
Posted:  6/4/2014

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