Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Bluegrass: A History" & Why People Say Bluegrass Isn't Dance Music (Part 1)

Exploring the contentious relationship between bluegrass music fans and dancing.

One of the things I love about the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) conference is how much it reminds me of a large family reunion. A large group of people who are, in many cases, seemingly involuntarily connected to this community of folks who are all connected by a deeply ingrained musical commonality. Everyone there loves "bluegrass" but what "bluegrass" "is" is different for each of them. Because of this, the bluegrass community is peppered with phrases that can trigger extremely contentious arguments in a matter of seconds.

It's difficult to not sound arrogant when making these broad generalizations. If I've learned anything from all of the research I've done it is that "bluegrass" is a moving target full of paradoxes and contradictions. While some people believe that bluegrass should be very rigidly defined and others believe that it should be a completely open definition, I sit somewhere in the middle. And with topics like the relationship between dance and bluegrass, I think there is a strong historical basis for opinions that are and always will be contradicted by exceptions. 

Hippies dancing at Smithfield, Virginia, Pickers' Convention in 1977. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer