I just got back from my latest installment of Bluegrass music at the Blueberry Bluegrass music festival in Stony Plain, Alberta. I’ve gone to 4 such festivals now and as much as it’s a little heavy on the “country music” side for my tastes there’s a few factors that keep bringing me back. As such, I’ve decided it’s about time that I give a little rant on what makes this stuff so awesome.. So here we go!
The biggest factor that keeps bringing me back is that I find the popular noise out there is saturated with pitch-corrected
drones models that have been dressed up and bundled as brands. Thus most of them can’t carry a tune to save their lives (but are saved by sound effects). Further, the content of their music tends to focused around adolescent high school topics. If you don’t yet agree, then you haven’t listened to enough Bluegrass (or at all).
The musicians at Bluegrass festivals are ACTUAL musicians.. Take Sierra Hull for example, she’s a damn fine example of the caliber of muscian you’ll find a Bluegrass festival. Though she’s good looking enough to go main-stream, this kid completely demolishes
posers “brands” like Kanye West. She sings like the best of them, but forget that, she completely owns the Mandolin and can tame even the most caffinated mind with her mastery of it.
For a Bluegrass band to make it by any stretch, the band must demonstrate genuine musical competence. There isn’t much technology to hide their flaws and so all they bring to the stage is themselves. It’s pretty rare for a Bluegrass band to live off their music, so those you see are there because they love the music. That reinforces the quality of what they bring with sincere passion and dedication. These are passionate people that channel their talents in to poetry and harmony.
Bluegrass music (as I’ve observed it) tends to touch on difficult tales of human woe. You won’t find stories such as someone trying to validate themselves by bragging about stealing, killing or sexing. Instead, the stories tend to be of dealing with the heart break of losing a loved one (usually to death), struggling to survive under brutally harsh conditions or any other subject of substantial emotional complexity. There’s also some cutely hidden comedy in several tunes including the very existence of a set of Bluegrass tales known by my posse as “Murder Ballads”.
Some Bluegrass tunes are also heavily laced with Christian references. I personally don’t subscribe to that school of thought, though I don’t mind listening to it as it’s mostly songs about feeling good. In the few cases where you hear the typical Christian bullying “join us or suffer” ranting, I still find grace in the music itself as it’s usually quite technically competent and it’s not like hearing another Christian try to politely bully me will damage me. Every rose has thorns – I just smell it and smile.
Another factor that keeps me hooked on Bluegrass festivals is that the genre entails fairly soft sounding instruments. So when you sit by a stage of bands playing Bluegrass, you are bathed in fairly calming music. I often find myself dosing off and having fantastically restful little cap-naps at these festivals. It’s one of the best medicines I’ve yet to experience.
Blueberry 2009 Drama
In the case of the 2009 offering of the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival, there was a fair bit of drama one of the nights as an unsually massive storm ravaged the festival site (and acutally all over Alberta). The storm was reported to have wind speeds around 100km/h (and it felt like at least that). A lake feel from the sky in a matter of minutes and the area was bombarded with a few dozen dump trucks worth of peanut sized hail. Personally, there were a few moments while I hid under a big trailer (that was shaking in the wind) where I wondered if there was a tornado in coming and I wondered what that experience was to come. Thankfully, the storm died down and it only took a few hours of cleaning to get our camp site back in order.
Unfortunately the same storm took a much greater toll on another similar festival about 100 Km away – apparently someone was killed by falling equipment and their stage was completely destroyed.
Some of my favourite Bluegrass bands include:
- Bearfoot Bluegrass (though looks like they’ve changed vastly recently, not sure about the changes yet)
- Sierra Hull
- Eric Uglum