Focus: Bluegrass

February 16, 2010

Throughout my years on this planet, I’ve been fortunate to have taken a number of vacations, trips, and general get-aways, from my yearly jaunts up to Minocqua to our frequent Minnesota visits, even going as far as the hustle and bustle of Anaheim and the overall blarney of Ireland.  Another destination I can’t leave off the list would be Gatlinburg, Tennessee, nestled right in the heart of the Smokey Mountains.  If ever there was a mix of Wisconsin Dells-esque honky tonk and some of the most breathtaking scenery you’re likely to witness, it’s here, and I look forward to the next time I find myself in that neck of the woods.

I was all of twelve when I first headed on down to Gatlinburg with my family, and seventeen when I returned once again.  Both trips had their share of exciting moments, from mountain hikes to tram rides to a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum, but it was on my second trip I noticed, and was subsequently exposed to, a style of music I up until then only knew by name-bluegrass.

The song that did it?  “Rocky Top.  ”  In fact, my high school pep band (in which I frequently played drumkit) had made this song part of our repertoire during the most recent basketball season.  Keep in mind, I had never heard the song beforehand, but as it was my job to man the drums and keep the band in time, I’d play whatever came my way, be it the crowd-pleasing, “Proud Mary, ” or the theme from Magnum, P. I.  I didn’t even know this song was bluegrass-we Waukesha Northstars knew how to rock up our vast array of peppy numbers.  So imagine my surprise when I overheard, “Rocky Top, ” in all its bluegrass glory echoing from a Gatlinburg storefront as I walked the main street one day.

Even more surprising?  I really liked it.

My appreciation of bluegrass, however, was a gradual increase as the years went by as opposed to an instant love.  I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the soundtrack to the wonderful 2001 Coen Bros.  comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?  , which is ripe in bluegrass numbers including the hit, “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow.  ”  Meeting the girl that would become my wife and finding myself heavily exposed to all that is country music helped as well-you can’t ignore the bluegrass presence in many country numbers, be them mainstream or classic.  Finally, all of you SE Wisconsin residents ought to make your way into Cedarburg for their annual Strawberry Festival each summer, and their Harvest Festival in the fall-Morton’s bar and grill features a fantastic bluegrass group that certainly does the genre justice.

I think the things I love about bluegrass the most are the feelings this style of music evokes-listening to bluegrass, I can find myself in Gatlinburg again, or nursing a drink at Morton’s.  Bluegrass is also great traveling music, and it’s hard to picture many an old-timey film without a bluegrass soundtrack.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more natural, fun, raw style of music than bluegrass.  It’s one of the few parts of country music I truly do enjoy-however, there’s other parts I can honestly say I like as well.



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