The grass is always greener someplace else, the old saying goes, but there is truly no better place to be than in Nashville during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass. For years, this has been the top annual gathering of the tribes for bluegrass business folk and fans alike. The event’s move from Louisville to Nashville in 2005 allowed the IBMA Awards to take place at the Ryman Auditorium, where bluegrass music was fundamentally shaped if not invented by Bill Monroe’s band in the mid 1940s. This is the week one feels most connected by the common purpose of promoting and exposing this vital American music, a mission we at Roots are happy to pursue all year around.
MCR is not an official showcase for World of Bluegrass, but we certainly feel a kinship as we present our season-closing show with a lineup of bluegrass bands that would be the envy of any promoter anywhere. It’s significant that while much of bluegrass is populated by front artists with bands (like this week’s Barry Scott & Second Wind), three of our acts are BANDS, with band names and band mentalities. They are all also near the top of the heap on the circuit in terms of awards, touring and quality of their recorded work.
I can’t hide my personal enthusiasm for the Infamous Stringdusters. For my money, they’re the most exciting, relatable young band working today, and they have a great background. This is, for one thing, a band that may not have happened but for the annual jamming and networking and friendship making of World of Bluegrass. They were all sidemen, making their way through other groups and widely recognized as virtuosic players. When they banded together in about 2006, they made a new kind of acoustic chemistry. They let their multi-faceted influences touch up their music, but they also keep it anchored in something that pure grass fans can love. Instrumentally, they are daring and accomplished. When they dig into a set, weaving around each other and playing in attentive, ever-changing clusters, it’s a thing of wonder. Their current album Things That Fly ups the ante on their two previous, excellent releases. I love ‘em as people, songwriters and musicians.
We’re also so fortunate to have a return visit from the Grascals. Their story is similar to the ‘dusters in their varied backgrounds, and when they formed, these guys rocketed to the top of the mountain, taking two IBMA Entertainer of the Year Awards. They’re in good shape to perhaps win the big one again this year, with the release of their killer CD The Famous Lefty Flynn’s, which is itself up for Album of the Year. Among their killer apps are the cutting, moving voices of Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson and the smoking banjo of Kristen Scott Benson.
Rounding out our band of bands is New Found Road, a group with origins in bluegrass gospel music but which now slots in as a solid traditional bluegrass outfit. Guitarist/vocalist Tim Shelton sets the tone that helped land these guys on the prestigious Rounder Records. With Barry Scott filling the Vietti Emerging Artist slot, you’ve got a cross section of bluegrass music today – and tomorrow.
And as if that’s not enough, we’re expecting a late-breaking visit from a venerable group who don’t play bluegrass but who have played plenty of bluegrass festivals over the years. Riders in the Sky launched way back in the 70s as a part serious, part whimsical tribute to the Western part of Country & Western. They’re Grammy winners and perennial audience favorites. Singer/guitarist “Ranger” Doug Green is a historian of cowboy songs and a master yodeler. They’re always fun and enthralling.
We couldn’t think of a better way to usher in Fall, usher out a great season and anticipate celebrating the first anniversary of Music City Roots when we return on October 20.