Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
What is Bluegrass?
Well, it’s a hell of a lot more than a lawn from Kentucky, I’ll tell you that.
Bluegrass is a style of music that is steeped in American history. Its harmonies and compositions illustrate, layer after layer, the story of the American song. From the frontier of the West to the recent troubles with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, in one solid Bluegrass album a listener can learn much of America’s past. It does it all with a sound that is frozen in time—a sound that paralyzes you for a moment, wondering, “Wait a second. Have I heard this before? What is this? It sounds like 1932 Woody Guthrie, but he’s singing about President Obama!” Put best, Bluegrass host DJ Moguls describes it as a musical form “where tradition meets innovation.” Moguls explains, “That’s really what my show is about – tradition and innovation. “The Green Mountain Bluegrass Hour” plays the old staples of the scene but also represents the new generation’s interpretations.”
Perhaps the one constant theme to Bluegrass is its refusal for glamour and sensationalism, instead remaining persistent to the topical everyday workingman theme. The International Bluegrass Music Association describes this exact formula when explaining the history of Bluegrass in America: “[As] settlers began to spread out into the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Virginias, they composed new songs about day-to-day life experiences in the new land. Since most of these people lived in rural areas, the songs reflected life on the farm or in the hills and this type of music was called ‘mountain music’ or ‘country music.’”
From ‘country music’ sprang Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, first appearing at the Grand Ole’ Opry in 1939. It is a safe argument to make that this was the very beginning of Bluegrass. It wasn’t something that would die quickly either. However curious it may be for a digital-sounding 2010, Bluegrass is making its way into the major metropolises of the U.S. today. “I’m really ecstatic about how bluegrass is thriving in the cities, particularly New York,” DJ Moguls tells me. “I’ve seen some of the best bluegrass, from some of the genres top legends to your common NYC subway picker, right here in Brooklyn.” In support of Moguls’ claim, just this past Wednesday, modern Bluegrass vanguards The Punch Brothers played the Music Hall of Williamsburg to an enjoyable and, ahem, crowded crowd.
BreakThru Radio’s “The Green Mountain Bluegrass Hour” is a great way to become acquainted with the Bluegrass sound for interested music fans foreign to its style, and at the same time expose listeners to some of the more cutting edge Bluegrass styles for the more established Bluegrass enthusiast. Moguls’ setlist covers all ranges: He opens up his show playing contemporary Burlington, Vermont string-quintet Possumhaw, follows up with the Seventies flatpicking guitar solos of Danny Crary, and returns to the modern progressive styles of Chris Thile (leader of the aforementioned Punch Brothers). It is all in there, and the more you listen the more you will become hooked.
In the coming weeks of BreakThru Radio programming, our DJs will be focusing on representing the sounds of The World Cup. No, we will not be playing hours of vuvuzela drone; but we will be representing the tournament’s nations through the bands and songs that come from each country. This poses a question (debate?) on what and who will represent the U.S.? Will it be our Hip-Hop? Indie Rock? Jazz? Blues? Country and Folk?
How about Bluegrass! Listen to DJ Moguls’ “Green Mountain Bluegrass Hour” on Sunday afternoons and try to convince yourself that this is not the sound of pure Americana. You won’t be able to do it. From the soloing fiddles, to the percussive-like slap style on the banjo, to the harmonic lyrics about commonplace perseverance in the face of adversity, Bluegrass is America’s music.
Light-years away from how the rest of the world may view the American dream (you know—the one that is portrayed on Reality T.V. shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore. Or the world of the 21st Century rapper that is sensationalized on MTV. Or the subterranean badass punk that is exposed through globalized Indie Rock culture), Bluegrass lays its roots in American simplicity, honesty, and truth. DJ Moguls sums it up well: “I’m attracted to bluegrass because it is such an honest genre. Don’t get me wrong, I listen to everything from Fela Kuti to Wu Tang, but there’s something sincere about Bluegrass – there’s no flashing lights, just a few sets of strings. Pretty impressive.”
Be sure to check out the latest edition of “The Green Mountain Bluegrass Hour” with DJ Moguls on BreakThru Radio!
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– Kory French