Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass

By Stephanie P. Ledgin | Go to book overview

8

The International Language of Bluegrass

Dateline: Mars, February 27, 2004. The wake-up song of the day for the Mars rover, Spirit, was Pete and Joan Wernick's Country Cooking version of “Big Rock in the Road, ” a hard-driving banjo song also found on Del McCoury's 1972 High on a Mountain album. The song was aptly selected to prepare Spirit to make its final approach to an imposing rock dubbed “Humphrey, ” which it was to cut into for study. 1

Bluegrass might be homegrown in America, but its appeal extends across oceans—and planets. Aficionados turn up in such seemingly unlikely places as Australia, Israel, and China.

Today with bluegrass fans and musicians found on at least five continents, the Internet assists in bringing bluegrass enthusiasts in closer contact with each other. Since the mid-seventies, the international scene for bluegrass has mushroomed.

No one can say when bluegrass first crossed borders and captured attention from the Far East to the former Eastern bloc to Down Under. However, there are a number of defining activities that helped carry the high lonesome sound to non-English-speaking countries.

Bill Clifton, mentioned in chapter 4, moved to England in the early sixties and from there introduced bluegrass to a brand new audience, ripe and receptive to music whose English, Irish, and Scotch roots had sprung from beneath their feet but had skipped across an ocean and back again.

Clifton became the premier ambassador for bluegrass abroad. He produced a radio show on the BBC, a special program for Moscow Radio, and toured throughout Europe. Clifton's travels and work in the Peace Corps then took him to the Philippines, to New Zealand, and eventually back to

1See http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status_spiritAll.html#sol54.

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