Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass

By Stephanie P. Ledgin | Go to book overview

Introduction: O Bluegrass, Where Art Thou?

Bluegrass music. More a fabric of our lives than we consciously realize. For those of us who are baby boomers or older, we probably first heard instrumental music, often found in bluegrass repertoires, accompanying some of the zany goings-on in childhood cartoons—traditional fiddle tunes like “The Arkansas Traveler, ” “Sailor's Hornpipe, ” or “Ragtime Annie.” And isn't that “Turkey in the Straw” the neighborhood ice cream man plays incessantly as he makes his daily rounds during the hot summer months? Moreover, who in the five-to-fifty crowd isn't in awe of Kermit the Frog's banjo playing?

Movies and television have brought bluegrass and much of its traditional roots to the forefront on any number of occasions in the last thirty to forty years. Fast and furiously driven by its banjo lead, “Foggy Mountain Break-down” instantly brings to the mind's eye that daring duo Bonnie and Clyde as they made their bank heist getaways in the movie. From the film Deliverance, who wouldn't be able to name that tune, that is, “Dueling Banjos, ” no matter what instruments are battling?

The Dillards, a real-life bluegrass band, portrayed the hillbilly Darling Family sons on The Andy Griffith Show. Andy himself picked guitar and sang a traditional song or two in a handful of episodes. Hee Haw, which had a twenty-year run and lives on in cable rerun syndication, as well as the short-lived Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, and John Denver television variety shows all provided varying degrees of exposure for bluegrass over the decades.

In the nineties, viewers of PBS programming became familiar with “Ashokan Farewell, ” the recurring theme for Ken Burns's epic The Civil War, which featured authentic music from that era in addition to that contemporarily composed waltz tune written “in the tradition.”

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