Author: Campbell, Bruce

How Do You Prefer Your Bluegrass Served?

What’s the ideal bluegrass festival? Is it really big, or more intimate? What’s the ideal bluegrass concert?

Do you prefer a lineup chock full of the biggest stars, or do you enjoy “discovering” some up-and-coming acts from just outside your local area? Or do you like to see some local acts on a big stage, to see how they measure up under the spotlights?

These are the questions that promoters have to consider when mounting a show. A festival that’s too top-heavy with stars has some problems. First of all, big names are expensive, and there’s a tipping point where the cost of talent is greater than the likely return from the gate receipts. Don’t get enough big names, and you don’t draw enough to cover whatever you talent you booked.

There’s always the audience’s preferences to consider, assuming you can correctly glean them. Personally, if there are too many big name acts, I get overwhelmed and find myself stealing away to find a jam before the stage shows are done. Not everyone feels the same, of course. Some folks would be content to park their behinds in a comfortable lawn chair and watch and listen from midafternoon to midnight –all the power to them!

Some festivals don’t even bother to book big name touring acts – instead they headline popular regional acts. These festivals often have a real down-home feel and can be GREAT fun – a very pure bluegrass experience, with little separation between the jammers and the performers.

Concerts are another fun night out. Sometimes they feature a big name act whose tour has them passing through the area, and a big time band in a small intimate venue is awesome – the talent just jumps off the stage at you. Throw in an opener who’s a local favorite and audience members get a real big bang for their buck, and they’re snug in their home beds shortly after the show.

As a performer, I have played all of these types of events, and each has its charms. In any given year, I can usually look back and decide I’ve had the most fun if there were a nice variety of gigs. The bigger the stage, the bigger the money and the bigger the thrills, generally speaking, but the greater the pressure. Smaller gigs are a little more relaxed, and they get the same show as the big gigs. Concerts are fun because of the focus – the folks in there chairs paid their money to see us, and there are no distractions. Concert audiences often take in the most and get the best from bands, I think, for that reason.

The winners in all this, of course, is the audiences. They get to pick and choose the events they want to see. It’s up to the promoters ad the artists to take note of their preferences and tailor events and shows to match those preferences. I think we’re darn lucky here in California to have so many promoters and artists to understand this.

Posted:  11/17/2010

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