Bluegrass is alive!

I’d love to take a few days off after the IBMA madness but it’s not looking good. The Stringdusters are gearing up for the second annual Festy Experience this weekend. Our amazing team is putting the finishing touches on this magical event. Check out the American Songwriter preview. Next week we leave for 6 weeks of epic shows all over the country–2 weeks with Toubab Krewe, 2 weeks with Yonder and 2 weeks with the Emmitt-Nershi Band, in support of our brand new live album, WE’LL DO IT LIVE. We’re living the dream!

What’s next for the ‘bluegrass’ people of the world?

Definitely good things. I had an amazing time preparing for the speech I gave last week in Nashville. It put me in touch with so many different people, and so many different perspectives–a great way to learn new things about the world. Just about everyone I reached out to was more than generous with their time and ideas. Thank you all very much. Many people care deeply about this music, which leads me to believe that good things must be ahead. If you want to check it out, the speech lives here, but the general idea goes like this:

There’s an undeniable consensus among bluegrass musicians/professionals that bridging the gap to the bigger acoustic world is a good thing. We’ve had this conversation for years, but because of the current state of the recording industry and the recent mega-success of string band music (clearly bluegrass-RELATED) there is a new opportunity at hand. ‘Traditional’ bluegrass has solidified its legacy. It’s awesome, so trad style bluegrass players will always come along, but only because they love to play it that way. You can’t ‘preserve’ a style of music, you can only support the music you love, and there are more opportunities for fans to do that than ever before. Some more traditional scenes will continue just as they are now, as not every acoustic band is destined for the big time. But the music is evolving like never before, just like every other art form, EVER. Young musicians steeped in the style of Monroe, Scruggs, etc. are taking the essential bluegrass techniques to amazing new levels of skill/articulation, and applying them to new compositions relevant to the current times. The music can’t ‘sell-out’ aesthetically, because it’s simply too hard to play. Nobody needs to brand this new music ‘bluegrass,’ only to acknowledge that it’s all related, and that we can work together to create more opportunities for young bands and more recognition for our elder statesmen. The music doesn’t need help, but the reputation of the community does. If we can open our arms, good things will happen.

So how do you do that?

For the Dusters it involves bringing our new brand of bluegrass to all kinds of new people over the next 6 weeks, trying to create a place where we can all enjoy music together, regardless of who we are or what the music sounds like. If you believe in more connected, more peaceful, more positive ‘bluegrass’ community, let the world know about it. In the end it all comes back to supporting the music you love. Help your favorite artists out and spread the good word.

I think it also involves moving past the ‘debate.’ If people don’t get it by now, that’s TOTALLY OK! There’s such overwhelming support that at some point you get permission to leave the nay-sayers behind. Perhaps we’ve reached that point, and it’s finally time to purge the bad energy (it’s the root of the problem). You work as hard as you can to explain the positive nature of all of this, inviting everyone along all the while, and if there’s still friction then the dissenting parties should be able to go their separate ways. It’s ok.

The IBMA has a great opportunity. So many of these larger acoustic acts will never shut the door on ‘bluegrass’ simply because it’s so amazing. They can help, and legions of skilled young pickers are ready to rise given the opportunity. But will this grow out of what already exists? Henri Deschamps made a good point in a panel discussion this past week, stating that when a business is not doing well it may need to start something new, outside its current walls. The best part is, that something is already happening. Hopefully the IBMA can find a way to be a part of it. They certainly have the support of their members and musicians.

What a great week. I was there during the day, sharing ideas about all of this with old and new friends, and there all night (5 AM, 5 nights) playing with all kinds of killer musicians. My 9th year in a row. Even my Mom was there this year. She wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t really cool. So yes, good things are happening


  8 comments for “Bluegrass is alive!

  1. October 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Chris, this sounds a little contentious:


    Could it be possible that the overwhelming consensus you’re hearing is in support of musical innovation and new bands? But the nay-saying is a rejection of the jamband culture? Can you separate the band/music from the culture? If so, why don’t more jamband fans attend bluegrass festivals if they’re just in it for the music?

  2. Lc
    October 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Anything about Cobby?

  3. pam
    October 11, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Hi Chris!
    I subscribed to you after some friends of mine from a group called Berachah Valley performed at the IBMA conference this year. I saw a link to the speech you gave and was so encouraged by it. As an African American woman it has been a bit intimidating to be honest traveling and performing in certain bluegrass circles at times, and our music is more folk, Americana but we have ALWAYS been well received by our audience and those who invited us. Though we are not a bluegrass band, we have elements/songs/instruments that blend well with bluegrass. Your speech reaffirmed what we have been experiencing locally so I was encouraged that perhaps the same sentiment is spreading in the larger bg community. The tips you gave on promotion, finding your scene, being who you are and networking with GOOD musicians on par with yourself were invaluable.
    Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.


    Pam Baugham
    Sweet Betsy

  4. claudia daguer
    November 6, 2011 at 5:46 am

    Hi Chris, why don’t you have a Bluegrass Night so that people will get more aware of the music. Maybe every Friday or Saturday so that people can get more exposed. I have been listening to Bluegrass music just over a year now and I admit i cannot find anything like it anywhere else in my neighborhood… (NewYork) I usually visit Nashville with my grandma though and a lot of bluegrass artists are there for sure.

    Keep rocking!
    Claudia of

  5. JR
    November 7, 2011 at 4:03 am

    No comment on why Cobb left the band?
    I also think that the consensus is in your head.
    This discussion has been happening forever, yet you act like you want to be the savior of bluegrass. It’s doing fine with or without you or your band. Be a part of it, or don’t be a part of it, but please stop preaching to people like you are smarter, better, and know what they need more than they do themselves. Period.

  6. chrispandolfi
    November 7, 2011 at 9:58 am

    The consensus is not in my head–that’s why I called so many BG professionals leading up to my IBMA keynote. You don’t agree with this vast majority. That’s fine. But it doesn’t mean there’s no consensus. I did the work, sorry if you don’t agree with what I found. Just trying to speak up and help out, because i love the music.
    Cobby has a family now, and needs to be off the road.

    • SCDusterhead
      November 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Mr. Pandolphi – great response to #. It wasn’t that lone ago that the host of the “big show” Sam Bush, was shunned because it wasn’t Bluegrass. Thank God I grew up on Zeppelin, Skynyrd, Flatt & Scruggs, Monroe, Jean-Luc Ponty and NGR…they all helped tweak the sound I love to hear. The ‘dusters just happen to complete this personal melting pot.

      Glad to understand why Jesse left. Family IS everything.

      I have had the privilege of hearing and seeing some of the Youtube Vids; post Jesse and listened to a few shows on Live Music Archives again, post Jesse. While they all sound great….for me there is an element missing. I’m not sure what Dominick Leslies’ commitments are, but I do hope the ‘dusters will be adding a full time Mando soon.

      Keep on Truckin’ !

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