Author: Campbell, Bruce

Bluegrass IS International

Greetings and salutations from Music City, also known as Nashville! As a Bluegrass fan, it is gratifying to be in an area where you don’t have to explain to the Average Man on the Street what Bluegrass is. In fact, in Nashville the Average Man on the Street is likely to tell YOU what Bluegrass is. And you may be surprised at the answer!

The appeal of Bluegrass IS truly international and I find that fascinating. For me, and probably most of the Bluegrass fans, Bluegrass is woven deep into our shared post-immigrant cultural history. For some, whose ancestors settled into the regions that spawned the music, that undercurrent goes back for generations. For others, whose traceable ancestry does not include Bluegrass pickers of heritage per se, they have been at least subliminally aware of the genre as an American art form, through mass media and other shared cultural references. My point is, most of had a bit of a head start in being Bluegrass fans, whether we’re aware of it or not.

But I have met some people here who have no such connection. I met people who first heard Bluegrass through some unlikely happenstance, years ago and were immediately moved by the music. If you live in Germany, or Japan or Scandinavia, how could Bluegrass touch you so easily? In these cases, it had to be the sonic impact, solely. There’s no nostalgia for a simpler time, with hillbillies and moonshiners, the little cabin home in the holler, or the little community Baptist church. There’s no direct Grand Old Opry awareness to give context to the experience – they just hear it, and they liked it!

I met a charming Dutch couple at dinner, and the gentleman had some amazing stories about hearing and falling in love with country and Bluegrass music, and the lengths to which he had gone to see his heroes live when they came to play in his country (or in a nearby country), AND get the chance to meet his favorite performers. While his ardor may be somewhat extraordinary (these were GREAT stories!), the very fact that I heard a wide variety of languages while in Nashville attests to Bluegrass’ broad appeal.

Also, having heard some players from outside this country (the birthplace of Bluegrass, after all), I can tell you that these players really seem to “get” this musical idiom. Their singing sometimes betrays their non-US origins, but their playing doesn’t seem to filter Bluegrass through a foreign prism.

In all, I find this discovery heartening. Once again, the more you get to meet people from places around the world, the more you find that there are more things we have in common with each other than what makes us different from each other. And music, (in this case, Bluegrass), being a wonderful common language, makes the world seem like a smaller and friendlier place.

Posted:  9/30/2009

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