Each of us has a unique story for how we found our way to bluegrass music, the instruments that speak to us, what sub-genres we cling to, and where those paths will continue to take us. Some are in the infancy stages, while others have been around to bear witness to bluegrass history. My path is that of one with fresh green sprouting grass, but growing in knowledge, participation, and enthusiasm. I’d like to invite you to share your “coming to bluegrass” story, in the comments of this blog!
I can trace my first bites of bluegrass back to three particular albums that I was heavily listening to nearly 6 years ago. I sure didn't know what was about to take hold of my life. (Click the album covers for a listen.)
1. The Byrds
Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)
2. John Hartford
3. Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band
the mountain (1999)
These three albums stood out of all the other classic country and American that I was listening to at the time. For those familiar, can you see how those albums might stand out? Whether the album was light or heavy in doses of it, the banjo took hold of me.
When you get a hankerin' for the banjo, you will soon become familiar with one man in particular: Banjo God-to-the-Gods, Earl Scruggs. With such charm, that smile, and a cool reserve picking the hell out of his axe, I was quick to be smitten with him and the five string. I wanted to absorb all that I could regarding the history and the sound, and I knew that I had to learn to play it, too.
Since my early foray into bluegrass banjo, my tastes have grown but also stayed pretty limited in the grand scope of the bluegrass genre. I’m a traditionalist through and through, preferring Scruggs and Stanley style, paired with the traditional harmonizing style, over just about anything else. I flat out don’t have the time or the taste to venture into melodic style banjo or progressive bluegrass. My main focus is learning what I obsessively listen to.
Today, any one of my heavily rotated playlists almost solely contains: Flatt & Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, J.D. Crowe and the Bluegrass Album Band, Bill Monroe, Reno & Smiley, Jimmy Martin, and The Vern Williams Band. I don’t need much more than those handful of names for endless listening. Not to leave out some other noted favorites: Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Red Allen, Roscoe Holcomb, High Country - you get the picture.
The sound that I first was drawn to has developed into the sound that keeps pushing me today. It’s the sound of traditional bluegrass that I am compulsively encompassed with - on the surface only to help me hear what I am driven to learn, but it truly goes deeper than that. I’m grateful to facilitate women playing bluegrass together to further their own journeys, I am grateful for the friends and bonds that I’ve created over this music of the people, and I’m grateful to tap into the knowledgeable wells of my friends with rich histories.
That’s my “Coming to Bluegrass” story.
Yennie Dee Brecheisen