Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass

By Stephanie P. Ledgin | Go to book overview

4

Bluegrass Bends and Blends

The family tree of bluegrass is more like a forest of tangled roots and branches. As discussed in preceding chapters, its origins run deep and wide. Even after bluegrass emerged a distinct genre, almost immediately subtle variations were seen and heard. The music was heading into its second and subsequent generations.

A mere decade after its birth, differences began to take hold that redrew the boundaries of bluegrass. Styles developed that some would continue to identify as bluegrass, while others would call them progressive, newgrass, and new acoustic. Hard-core traditionalists would go so far as to opine, “That's not bluegrass, ” especially when an electric bass appeared on stage. Then blends developed, marrying bluegrass with jazz, classical, rock, and ethnic genres.

By all accounts, the changes that occurred in the late fifties and throughout the sixties caused the music to proliferate. The folk boom heavily fueled these conditions. With a diversity of approaches to bluegrass came a naturally expanded audience.

Some of the variations that occurred corresponded to particular geographic centers of activity. At the same time, the bending and blending of bluegrass did not impede the start-up of new traditional bluegrass groups alongside these branches; in fact, both camps have continued to surface and thrive right up through present day. Furthermore, newly composed “tradition” songs were, and still are, being added to the pioneers' repertory.

The exposure triggered by the folk era gave bluegrass one of its biggest early pushes into public view, setting the stage for its viability in situations other than intimate concerts or informal jam sessions. The bluegrass festival as an “event” emerged in the mid-sixties as did the first print publication, Bluegrass Unlimited, devoted to the music.

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