I spent NYE with Old Crowe Medicine Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. From the first note they were full of energy, and passion for bluegrass. It was my first time to the "mother church of country music". (www.Ryman.com May 10 1885 Nashville riverboat Captain Thomas Green Ryman (born Oct 12, 1841) is converted by southern evangelist Samuel Porter Jones and decides to build a tabernacle to serve the city's revivals) The seats are church pews and the auditorium is flanked with stained glass windows. The night felt like a revival with the spirituals that were sung. The harmonica playing of lead fiddler Ketch Secor and the singing of lead guitarist Willie Watson left me in awe for most of the night. The sound was clear and the view was great. I was stomping my feet and singing with the rest of the crowd. The intimate venue and the die hard fan base reminded me of early String Cheese Incident shows that I saw more than ten years ago.
As I was taking in the whole experience I was thinking "how is a traditional style of music so popular today"? Being from Virginia, bluegrass is the musical heritage of the region. Some members of my family are guitar/mandolin players so Ive grown up experiencing bluegrass as a part of the cultural landscape. The first time I realized that Bluegrass was a national curiosity was when Oh Brother Where Art Thou hit the silver screen. Some of the craze can be attributed to George Clooney but some was a genuine interest in old time music/Appalachian culture. This was reinforced by cross over country stars like Alison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks, who brought bluegrass out of the hollows and into the main stream.
In the late 90's a self respecting teenager could still be cool while listening to banjo licks one minute, and bass beats the next. Its hard to reconcile how this music coexists with Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Jay Z. I actually think its a natural complement. The old time sincerity that bluegrass upholds is a balance to the anonymity of the computer age. As technology pushes the boundries of communication towards a new and unknown future a counter reaction towards the familiar is established. We fulfill the saying "two steps forward, one step back" with our love of all things Retro. Retro has become a great marking tool. Retro sells music, fashion and throw-back NBA Jerseys. Contemporary craft can fill the same need . Not all craft is traditional, but no art is created in a vacuum. Most artists are informed by the history of their medium even if they aren't devout followers.
I have totally embraced technology (as evidenced by my blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts) and nostalgia for pretechnology. I don't see them as mutually exclusive. I rock out to my Ipod as I try to tap into ceramic traditions that span hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. This paradox is one of the defining characteristics of my cultural environment. Our post modern time lines of influence would be drawn with a etch-a-sketch instead of a ruler.
Here is a video with the band talking about there influences from Nirvana to Bob Dylan.