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bluegrass

  • Bluegrass fans who love to stay home in the winter aren’t left out in the cold, because of a bumper crop of excellent new albums. Mostly by women and younger artists, they tell a gratifying story about where today’s music is going, and we’ve been reveling in these neo-traditional sounds over on The Old Fashioned (Saturdays 9 am / Tuesdays 8 pm).
  • From the golden era Grand Ole Opry to epic concerts of my Nashville years - Levon Helm’s Ramble and Down From The Mountain come to mind - the Ryman Auditorium is the place for multi-artist country music extravaganzas. We can add to those historic events Saturday night’s celebration of Earl Scruggs on the occasion of his 100th birthday. On the very stage where the banjo legend helped usher the bluegrass sound into existence, this three-hour tribute showcased foundational music played by many of the greatest living practitioners of the genre, including a whole bunch of banjo players.
  • When Ben Wright, then 28 years old, saw a banjo for sale in the window at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, he had no idea how far it would take him. Not just to gigs at the country’s best bluegrass festivals but to an improbable life of sharing American music with audiences young and old in more than 25 countries. Not only does Ben’s band, the Henhouse Prowlers, have a new record deal and a fine new album, the quartet has a track record of sharing bluegrass and good vibes with more non-Americans than probably any other band. And they’ve created a non-profit called Bluegrass Ambassadors to extend that mission into the future.
  • David Grisman was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame this Fall for his “distinctive and influential” mandolin playing and his large output of original instrumental tunes, comprising an offshoot of bluegrass called Dawg Music. He’ll be featured next year in the Hall’s exhibit about the bluegrass life of Jerry Garcia. But Dawg’s legacy also includes a lifelong passion for recording acoustic music. Taking cues from folklorist Ralph Rinzler, Grisman captured live shows, friendly jams, and studio sessions across six decades, and much of that has been released on his own record label, Acoustic Disc. Craig Havighurst got to visit with Grisman at his home in Port Townsend, WA this summer, making possible this special report.
  • When guitarist, songwriter, and Nashville MVP Mike Henderson died in late September, it was an especially hard blow to the original members of the SteelDrivers, the hard-edged bluegrass band that Henderson co-founded in 2005. Its members had been making music with the dynamic Henderson as long ago as the early 1970s. In a special report, Craig Havighurst examines Henderson’s legacy as a player and songwriter and how it’s bound up with one of the most successful roots bands of recent years, just as they’ve released their first gospel bluegrass album.
  • The six musicians of East Nash Grass took the stage on Monday night at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, as they’ve done nearly every week for six years. But for a group that usually keeps its sets loose and full of laughs, everything about this particular gig felt more focused and forward-looking. It was a celebration of their second album, Last Chance To Win, which came out last Friday. Craig reports from the front row.
  • There was a high lonesome echo this week when iconic bluegrass elders Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne passed away within days of each other. Both were mandolin innovators born in the rural south on the eve of the Great Depression. Both enjoyed long careers making music with their brothers - joining the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame - and both soldiered on as solo artists after their siblings could no longer work.
  • Launched as the River Of Music Party in 2003, ROMP found its modern identity in the 2010s as a dynamic, eclectic festival celebrating bluegrass music along with its roots and branches. Organized by and on behalf of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, KY, the fest kicked off a cycle of growth and development that’s helped the city and an important cultural institution prosper in synergy. News of a new Jerry Garcia exhibit for 2024 promises more visitors than ever to this charming, out-of-the-way town. Craig Havighurst enjoyed the 20th anniversary edition of ROMP and filed this story.
  • Historians mostly agree that bluegrass was born in Nashville, on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, when Bill Monroe reconfigured his band and sound around banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt in late 1945. There’s a statue at the Ryman commemorating that momentous chapter of roots music. What the Nashville region has lacked, with a few short-lived exceptions, is a multi-day bluegrass festival to call its own. That may be about to change. On July 1 and 2, The Caverns down the road in Pelham, TN will stage the first Big Mouth Bluegrass Festival, with a state-of-the-art lineup.
  • Musicians are always getting gigs, and in bluegrass, pickers move around among bands like musical chairs for terms both long and short. It’s part of the business. But fiddle star Jason Carter has, I swear, the greatest got-the-gig story I ever heard.