Author: Martin, George

Here comes the next generation

I have been thinking a lot lately about young people and music. I think it started at Grass Valley when I watched and listened to Annie Staninec, Angelica Grim and Molly Tuttle, young people who not that many years ago were roaming around the festival grounds with their pals, jamming together, participating in the Kids on Bluegrass program, growing up around music.

All three of these young women now have actual musical careers. Annie and Angelica were on the main stage at various times and Molly played Vern’s. Other next-generation kids I’ve watched mature include fiddler Alex Sharps, hot flat-picker Marty Varner, and multi-instrumentalist Luke Abbott.

I’m not pals with any of these young musicians but I do recall playing with most of them, casually, at various times in the past. I think it was nearly 20 years ago that a very young Annie Staninec and I were in a jam that broke up, and I sat with her for about a half-hour and played rhythm guitar while she went through all the fiddle tunes she was learning. ??Listening to Annie’s soaring fiddle solos with the Kathy Kallick Band I thought to myself, “Oh, yeah, I used to play with her.”
When Marty Varner was just a little fellow he was learning to flat-pick guitar solos and obviously was listening to Tony Rice and other fine guitarists. Often the boy would come to a place in a tune where a special hot lick would go really well and he would launch into it seemingly on faith and usually crash and burn. I didn’t hear Marty this year but someone told me he’s playing like his old heroes now -- minus the crashing and burning.

Alex Sharps has been gigging around with his fiddle, Luke Abbott has a beautifully done CD out, Angelica is in The Sisters Grim band, and Molly Tuttle has gone to Berklee School of Music, played with her father on Prairie Home Companion and won the songwriting competition at Merlefest a few years ago.

All these things might have happened without the CBA, its festivals and its youth programs, but maybe not. It seems to me there is something powerful about the festival atmosphere, the opportunity for youngsters to have musical friends to motivate them, the CBA Teen Jam tent, the summer music camp, the bluegrass academy and the kids program.

Coincidentally my band has been playing concerts at public libraries for little children a lot lately. They are a tough crowd; you can only hold their attention about 45 minutes, tops. And you need every gimmick in the book.

We get them singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” They stomp and clap to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” I’ve got a train whistle to blow when we sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

We have a giant rubber duck that we squeak while we sing the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. We try and keep the beat bouncy and syncopated so the little ones can dance, and a bunch of them always do.

Usually after the show a few little kids will come up and want to touch the banjo. I tell them it’s just like a drum with a guitar stuck to it.

And I wonder if one of those little girls will be the next Molly Tuttle.

I sure hope so.
Posted:  7/10/2014

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