Mudcat Café message #1265256 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #73111   Message #1265256
Posted By: Jerry Rasmussen
06-Sep-04 - 10:47 AM
Thread Name: Is bluegrass an attitude?
Subject: Is bluegrass an attitude?
I've been listening to a lot of bluegrass recently, and as Martin Gibson says, bluegrass has been called "Folk music on overdrive." Seein's as how we can't even agree on what "folk music" is, I'm not suggesting we try to come up with a clean definition of bluegrass.
But, I've been wondering, in my usual, non-scholarly way. I've always thought of bluegrass as Bill Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers. There was a classic combination of instruments with each taking it's part, even to the point of runs and picking patterns becoming pretty standardized. Harmonies were mostly standardized, too. There is a tightness and drive to that kind of bluegrass that very few forms of music can touch. But then, I listen to my CD of Mainer's Mountaineers (What'll I do With The Baby-o is playing right now.) They have the energy and drive of a bluegrass band, but the banjo is'n Scruggs style, three finger, there are no typical guitar bass runs, and the harmonies are not the usual bluegrass harmonies. They call the music "bluegrass" on the record jacket, but it sounds more like mountain music on speed. If anyone would care to define what mountain music is, be my guest.

At the other end of the spectrum are more adventurous bluegrass bands who still seem like bluegrass because of the instrumentation and the roots that are showing. Segue over to the Dixie Chicks and I start to get lost. I don't know where bluegrass ends and country starts.
There's no real way to define bluegrass any more than any other kind of music.

What I'm wondering is, is bluegrass a matter of "attitude." I don't mean "attitude" as in "bad" attitude. Maybe "approach" or "mindset"
is part of what I'm trying to say. Is it also instrumentation? We all know that you can't play folk music with a piano. :-) At least not in the narrower definition of the term. Does bluegrass have to be acoustic? Does it have to have banjo, and does it have to be played Scruggs style? What about fiddle? Is electric bass allowed now? (I imagine it is, although I haven't been to a bluegrass festival in recent years.)

Come on, MG, tell me how you see this.. And anyone else who has an interest in bluegrass.

Meanwhile, I'll go back to listening Mainer's Mountaineer's. Or maybe The Stoneman Family. Whatever the record label may say, they don't seem like bluegrass to me. Just mountain music on speed.

Jerry