Bluegrass music resides in a big tent, with room for interesting and exciting variety. Musically, the tent includes (at least in the minds of some) forms of music ranging from classic Flatt and Scruggs tunes to Alison Krauss, to Mumford and Sons, Yonder Mountain String Band, and out to groups like Trampled by Turtles that might fit just barely under the tent edge fringe.
Locally, there are 20 active bluegrass bands and many more who present at least some bluegrass music, ranging from the 7th Day Buskers to Tim Flannery and the Lunatic Fringe, and including shows like the popular O’ Berkley Where Hart Thou. There are also those on the outside who occasionally dabble in bluegrass like Yale Strom who is doing a presentation of bluegrass-related music at the Jewish Arts Festival on June 6 here in San Diego. There is also a strong series of open mics and jam sessions, the great Summergrass Bluegrass Festival in August, and venues like AMSD Concerts and the Del Mar Powerhouse, which present bluegrass concerts among their other offerings.
Bluegrass also has lots of variety inside its tent regarding how it presents its music. There are the traditional CDs, and more recently YouTube videos, concerts in concert venues, at schools and churches, and even in an underground cave (The Bluegrass Underground). There is some terrestrial radio play on AM and FM stations; on university campuses, and streaming over the internet; both live and recorded, along with full-service sites like CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon; subscription listening services like Pandora and Slacker; and more, as well as sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify, all providing some level of access to bluegrass products and music.
There are even, at least occasionally, TV shows and movies featuring bluegrass music. And, of course, there is the vibrant festival circuit presenting bluegrass festivals around the country. And, everywhere there is an extensive network of jam sessions in pizza parlors and parking lots. Bluegrass even has its own annual convention called World of Bluegrass, presented every year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in Raleigh, North Carolina. Europe has its European Bluegrass Music Association, and bluegrass is thriving in Japan, Scandinavia, and around the world.
Stir in the extensive network of local and online music stores offering bluegrass instruments and music; the network of teachers in every community; and a vast array of instructional videos, on-line courses, bluegrass music camps, Skype lessons, etc. One begins to see the pervasive web that supports the community called “bluegrass.”
This big tent, to me, is a good thing. It provides access to great bluegrass music and resources for those who seek it out, and the diversity of the bluegrass infrastructure keeps our music vibrant. Interestingly, all this is accomplished mostly without support from what is traditionally the most important music support and distribution system: terrestrial radio. Sure, one can subscribe to Sirius Internet Radio and get nothing but bluegrass, but try finding bluegrass on your AM or FM dial driving to work or to the market and most of us are out of luck. In that sense bluegrass is “underground” music.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure, but somehow I like it. I can hear what I want when I want, with a little effort, as can others, but my music of choice isn’t subject to the pressures of needing commercial radio success to pay the bills. That kind of radio pressure drives music toward the bland middle ground, like what has happened to modern country or pop music, making it of little interest to me. It’s fine by me for bluegrass to follow a different path.
JULIAN FIDDLE AND PICKIN’ CONTEST
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 3-5, brings us the third annual Julian Fiddle and Pickin’ Contest, held at the quaint town hall in downtown Julian. The event is presented by the California State Old Time Fiddlers Association, District 7 (San Diego) and features competition on fiddle and other acoustic instruments, demonstrations, a workshop with grand master fiddle champs, dry camping on Friday, and more. Admission is free (except the workshop). Consider a weekend trip to Julian and check it out yourself! For more info visit: www.sandiegofiddler.org/fiddlepickincontest.
HUCK FINN FESTIVAL. The annual Huck Finn Festival comes to Ontario, north of San Diego, over the weekend of June 10-12 with a great line-up, including Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Balsam Range, David Grissman, and much more. Visit www.huckfinn.com for tickets and details.
SPECIAL CONSENSUS IN CONCERT. The great Chicago band Special Consensus will appear in concert at AMSD Concerts on Sunday June 12, 7:30 pm. For info and tickets visit: www.amsdconcerts.com/June
BLUEGRASS DAY AT THE DEL MAR FAIR. Saturday, June 18, from 11am to 8pm is Bluegrass Day at the Del Mar Fair on the beautiful Paddock Stage. There will be a youth presentation, a fiddling demonstration, concerts by local bands, and the ever-popular band scramble. See the daily schedule and check it all out (including how to sign up for the band scramble) at: www.sandiegobluegrass.org. Admission is free with your entry to the fair.