Author: Varner, Mark

Happy birthday Missy Raines
profound effortlessness to their passionate playing. The cello and viola would double up on growly notes while the lead fiddle sang with every ounce of its being. Each instrument would rise to the top of the dynamics occasionally and then drop back into its support role. It was like a musical amusement park, the way one of those ethereal Michael Cleveland fiddle solos is. But while he is improvising, these players have to bring out freshness and beauty through an exact rendering of notes written hundreds and years ago. The cool thing was it really felt like they were just jamming. Amazing. I stood right in front of them for 15 minutes and yes, I fed the kitty.

We bluegrass people are definitely ones to thing about team efforts. Our music is not about the individual so much as it is the ensemble. The music machine that is a bluegrass band has to fire on all cylinders or the results are not pleasing. The fiddle, banjo and mando get to stand in the spotlight regularly, but without solid bluegrass rhythm guitar and an in-the-pocket bass line itís a thin and lopsided sounding mess.

And since we are ensemble-minded people we tend to appreciate and laud every player in the band. Still, if anyone is literally in the back of the band itís the bassist. And while many of our bassists are excellent musicians their role is usually limited to a solid and simple beat. Thatís an art unto itself. But one thing that can always get a live audience going and ensures those rare and sought after applause lines is a hot bass solo. When a player masters that huge critter it seems like a mighty feat.

Weíre lucky to have some incredible players in bluegrass (and on the edge): Edgar Meyer, Todd Phillips, Tom Gray, Mike Bubb, Marshall Wilborn, Dennis Crouch, Barry Bales, Victor Dowdy and many more. But queen of them all is my favorite, Missy Raines. Missy is a favorite of many California pickers through her involvement with the CBA music camp over the years and her playing with Claire Lynch and Jim Hurst. Sheís not only a fantastic teacher but a wonderfully smart and funny person to spend time with.

Today is Missyís birthday. Happy birthday to perennial IBMA Bassist of the Year from the CBA.

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  4/6/2009

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email