I attended The Festival of the Bluegrass last weekend. My friend, Linda, has been trying to get me there for years. Her family organizes and operates the whole shebang. As much as I love Linda, I don’t love bluegrass music, so I’ve always begged off. This year, I caved, mostly because I decided it would be fun to hang with my friends regardless of the music playing in the background. And it was. This particular group of friends makes any Saturday night fun.
The sun was setting when we arrived, and the hot day softened into a warm June night. We set up our lawn chairs close to the back of the concert area and relaxed with our favorite beverages. Someone succumbed to the aroma and bought a funnel cake, and we took turns brushing powdered sugar off our clothes. (Those things smell so much better than they taste.) We laughed, shared stories, and made friends with the folks around us.
A funny thing happened while we were sitting there. The music became more than background noise. Bluegrass musicians are storytellers, and I love a good story. A good storyteller compels you to sit up and pay attention. I started paying attention when the lyrics made me laugh.
Grandma bought a hog
Grandma bought a hog
If yer thinkin’ bout bacon
Yer sadly mistaken
Grandma bought a riding hog
How can you not pay attention to a song about a Harley-ridin’ grandma? That gem was followed by “I Met My Baby in the Port-a-John Line.”
My eyes were a-floatin’ with love on my mind
I met my baby in the Port-o-John line.
As we were chuckling about the lyrics, Rachel told us her dad had been in a bluegrass band, and so she has a warm place in her heart for bluegrass music. She told us stories about traveling to gigs all over with him when she was a kid. Not a bad way to grow up, meeting new people and listening to amazing musicians.
The lyrics weren’t all silly. The bands I heard played songs about love and loss, joy and pain, faith and hope. The crowd loved them, and if I didn’t love them, I certainly let go of the snooty disdain I had secretly fostered when we first set our chairs down.
Then Mountain Heart took the stage. Holy cow! To say that I enjoyed their music would be a huge understatement. They were flippin’ incredible! Their music was as high octane as anything I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t sit still. I had to dance. On Linda’s suggestion, I moved with her to her reserved seats on the front row. Bluegrass fans are different from rock fans in that the staid old people have the front row seats and aren’t much for dancing. Security insisted that we stay seated so the staid old people could see. (Maybe they weren’t all old, but their insistence on church-like decorum made them seem that way.) Luckily, there were plenty of fans of all ages in the middle aisle who felt the music like I did and needed to dance. I was embraced by those folks and danced my little heart out.
Linda told me later that Mountain Heart wouldn’t be back next year. Their music is just different enough from traditional bluegrass that a lot of the hard core Festival-goers don’t like them, so they are rotating them out, and then bringing them back the following year. Apparently, some of the fans actually left the concert area in protest and didn’t return until their set was finished.
I was dumbfounded. While I heard other good bands, none of them brought it like Mountain Heart did. They actually made me say out loud, “I think maybe I do like bluegrass music.”
I let go of my snooty attitude when I sat and listened to live bluegrass, and then I embraced the music when I heard Mountain Heart play. Unfortunately, the next person won’t get that chance, at least for a couple of years, because a core group of fans has an equally snooty idea about what bluegrass should be.
How often do unyielding, preconceived ideas about what is good get in our way? As a romance reader and writer, I run into it all the time. If it’s romance it must be trashy and poorly-written. Romance fans know that snooty idea is wrong-headed on so many levels, and yet it persists.
My friend, Nick, posted an Esquire Magazine article on Facebook that listed Kentucky as one of the most stylish states in the Union. The comments on his post ranged from incredulous to derisive, and we live in Kentucky. The snooty stereotype that we’re all a bunch of overall-wearing rubes runs so deep, we’ve internalized it ourselves. I haven’t worn overalls since the 80’s when they were stylish for five minutes.
I’ve resolved to be less snooty about things I think I don’t like, especially if I don‘t really know anything about them. What else have I missed out on because it doesn’t fall into a Kathy-approved category?
If you don’t know Mountain Heart, check out the video below. It’s good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to hearing them live. For my Owensboro friends and family, they are playing this Friday night at Yellow Creek Park. Go check them out. I promise you won’t regret it.