February 20, 2005

#98: Teenage bluegrass band plans

Former Jam camper Mary, from Kentucky, writes:

Hi Pete,

Sorry we missed your Morehead jam camp. We were still in Branson, Mo. Ben's teen bluegrass band was invited to participate in the Youth in Bluegrass competition. Only 12 bands were selected, so it truly was an honor to be there. Alas, they didn't win. You never know. We had a great time, and learned a lot.

It's good to hear from you and get the report. Congratulations to Ben and the group for the invitation to Branson. What a fine way to spend time. The bigger thing now than winning is the enjoyment and the learning, so I'd say that was a great situation for them.

There seems to be a stirring among the bluegrass community as to traditional vs. contemporary. Some contests don't want such favorites as, "Foggy Mt. Breakdown," and some just eat it up.

The FMB thing will help them learn how to read audiences, etc. That's not just about trad vs. modern, that's also about "overdone" vs. unusual, how audience-pleasing any piece is, etc.

We have come to the conclusion that they need to cut their teeth on the old stuff, then branch out into more contemporary tunes. What do you think?

Sounds right to me. The old stuff is what the contemporaries cut their teeth on, or maybe we've gone another generation more, as with Chris Thile publicly thanking the first generation for inspiring the next generation, that inspired him. The first generation was the one with the most fire and urgency in the music. They also created and selected most of the core repertoire that made bluegrass what it is.

They do some Allison Krauss, and some original material. They did a small show when we got back. Nobody was there but the parents and the radio station. The radio guy gave them free tickets to The Grand Ole Opry.

What a great thing! This is one way the Opry old timers get to pass the torch. They will plant seeds for big dreams.

They will be playing a local radio show this Saturday, a city-wide concert next week, a festival in July, a fireman's dinner in August, and the Tennessee Valley Fair in September, right before Mike Snider. We are talking with [a bluegrass bandleader] to see if she will produce a CD for the kids.

All really good stuff. They will learn more than they could in any school. It's good if they learn to function largely autonomously, with parents more as fans and chauffeurs (and parents of course, on non-music matters) than coaches or marketing departments, which can twist it.

I strongly recommend that they get together with [the bandleader] or someone else worthy, well in advance of recording plans, with the goal of showing them what needs work and tightening (almost for sure, any teenagers will need help on the singing). They can make big gains through the summer, maybe record a few tunes to put on a web site, and save a real disk for when they are readier to make one, after the summer. Learning and breaking in some original or unique material will make any recording more interesting to djs and fans.

We just got back from the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington. We always love that festival. We got to jam a lot in the campground, and had a wonderful time. While at one campsite, a member of King Wilkie came and jammed with us.

Mom and Dad need some of their own music fun, always!

I have written yet another song.

Yes! Keep them coming. I remember hearing you sing one or two, really nice.

I feel so inadequate when I hear songs written by Blue Highway, and others. Their songs seem so much more marketable.

Don't think about that when you write. Always steer over, toward the feeling you have about the words and music, and it will work out. That is your style, and they have theirs. No gain in comparing styles. Any good style can hit a bullseye with listeners, if the song is good.

I figure if I keep writing, eventually I'll write a hit.

Well, there's certainly a chance, but try not to think of that. Think about what will musically satisfy you, as you can't have a hit without that.

In the meantime, I'm having fun and enjoying myself.

The payoff!

Thanks for being such a great resource for us. Hopefully, we'll get to see you down the road.

I hope so too. I appreciate your occasional checkins, progress reports. I love the idea that your family can now share music in a variety of satisfying ways.

Keep on!

Pete