Broadening Horizons through Bluegrass Music
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why I enjoy bluegrass music so much. There is the obvious music part—it’s fun to play and listen to. But, there are more subtle aspects that my reflections lead me to believe are perhaps more important. Let’s see if you agree.
I have met and become friends with many good folks through my bluegrass connections with whom I play music. Many I have known for decades. I look forward to seeing them, to chatting, and to sharing music, family and good times. As I reflect, I recognize that but for my engagement in bluegrass music my life path would not intersect with many of these folks.
Maybe this is true for you, too? Take my case. I’m a retired lawyer and current mayor of the city I live in. My work world is and always has been coat and tie, pushing pencils, meeting with elected officials, and tackling complex societal problems like sea-level rise, affordable housing, crime, and more. The folks I interact with in this world are typically highly educated and white collar (or fancy pant suit), and intellectually oriented. Of Bill Monroe or the songs of Flatt and Scruggs they know not.
Usually, I do not know the life background of my bluegrass friends, other than their musical interests. When I enter a political meeting in my non-music world, everyone knows I’m a lawyer, a mayor, what my politics are, and my positions on the issues of the day. When I enter a bluegrass jam session, the members know me as a bass or fiddle player, and none of the rest. I like that.
For the most part my bluegrass friends are ordinary folks. I know none that are in politics. I know one who is lawyer. They don’t know me as politician or lawyer. They know me as a bass player, or perhaps as a fiddle player, depending on what I have out at the moment. My world is broadened through my bluegrass connections, allowing me to establish relationships with good folks with whom I would otherwise not likely connect. This musical connection also cuts easily across age barriers.
For example, I have great relationships with a skilled wood worker, with a lifetime truck driver, a machinist, and a grocery clerk. I also play music with a college professor and a member of the USGS, but for the most part my bluegrass pals are more mainstream.
I also play regularly with “youngsters” in their teens, 20s, and 30s and also with many others who are geezers like me. We group by musical taste and skill, not by age.
That all enriches me. I learn from them, from their life experiences and perspectives that differ from my own. I suspect (I at least hope!) it is mutual, too. How many welders get to yell at the mayor for being off time in a small jam session? My music friends and I speak easily and freely, sharing a lot. It’s nice to be reminded that what we do is not who we are. The one topic we stay away from is politics. That can quickly be a divider.
My take away? Music can unite us and save the world. I’m sure I have friends whose politics are 100% off line from mine. But, so what. Music shows us we share more in common than what divides us. Now that’s a take-away that bluegrass music and its founders may not have intended, but it’s a welcome part of the realty of participating is this wonderful world.
Bluegrass music and the bluegrass community have proven to me that we can all get along. If I could, I would start every city council meeting with a bluegrass song and would require all city elected officials and managers, and staffers to participate in a bluegrass music jam session once a month instead of spending time on social media or watching news. I suspect my city, and the community, would be better off as a result!
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