I was wading through the various announcements, promotions and press releases I get sent and noticed that probably a third of them have absolutely nothing to do with bluegrass music. It seems that everybody wants to be a part of our little community so, when they send out their press releases, they are sure to mention "bluegrass" as well as some other styles. I've also seen numerous links come up when searching for "bluegrass music" in the various search engines that have absolutely nothing to do with bluegrass and some don't even have anything to do with music either.
This odd but frequent encounter with the term "bluegrass" got me wondering why an artist would include a style that they don't even approach in their announcements. One was a rock electric guitar player playing "bluegrass style" but, it wasn't acoustic or being flatpicked in their video. Another duo of "bluegrass singers" that didn't sing anything resembling bluegrass music. The list goes on.
I am happy to see bluegrass getting recognition in other areas but I'm just not sure of the motive. It is kind of like name dropping at some social event or job iterview in the hopes of getting somebody new to appreciate the music. I'm not sure but, this is about a good a guess as I can find.
While many of the announcements I receive certainly touch on the bluegrass style and concepts, this editorial is in regards to those that do not. There has been a bundle of great music released by artists who certainly could be bluegrass and know the music. There is even more by artists that grew up playing Bill Monroe's style and adapt that knowledge and experience to other styles. These are not what I'm trying to understand.
We have seen the "bluegrass" term used over and over in the past as non-bluegrass artists release bluegrass albums. As I noted in one case, "to be a bluegrass album, it has to contain some bluegrass music." That thought still remains true. While there have been some very good successes in this area by such artists as Dierks Bently, Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton, Janie Fricke, among others, many of the other project attempts just fail.
The use of the term isn't restricted just to artists. Some venues add the word to their name along with Blues, Jazz or others. Maybe they hosted a bluegrass artist once or, at least, intended to but, bluegrass bands and the term "bluegrass" are things you just never see on their marquee.
Bluegrass does work well with other styles on some projects. Del McCoury proved that with his collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. There are many Blues and Bluegrass festivals. Bluegrass finds its way into larger folk and music festivals such as Merlefest, Bonnaroo, and others.
I don't think the Les Pauls, Telecasters & Strats plus Marshall or Peavey amplifiers are going towards bluegrass any more than I believe bluegrass is starting to use these electronic devices. Bluegrass and the other styles remain distinct and separate even if we can't ever define what they really are.
When the music doesn't have any bluegrass acoustic instruments, lacks the essential chops, runs and rolls, and is foreign in concept to our little community, I just can't wrap my head around why they claim to be a part of bluegrass or that bluegrass is a part of their music. Don't get me wrong, some of these artists are putting out some great music. Some of these albums are simply outstanding.
So, I will continue to wade through all the announcements in an effort to try and comprehend why non-bluegrass continues to toss the term "bluegrass" around. While I prefer the traditonal hard core bluegrass, I'm pretty open to, and also enjoy, a lot of fringe music that carries the bluegrass label. I just haven't been able to get heavy metal and bluegrass to overlap in my reasoning yet.