Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wernick elaborates

Pete Wernick answering Craig Ferguson regarding the suggestion of changing the name of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Craig says:

"I don't think anyone really thinks the Telluride Bluegrass Festival consists of entirely bluegrass music."

Exactly. That’s part of the problem. Almost all events calling themselves bluegrass festivals DO present either exclusively or predominantly what loyal bluegrass fans would describe as bluegrass.

Why should any event call itself a bluegrass festival when it presents predominantly other forms of music.

If an opera festival presented more than half music that wasn’t opera, or a jazz festival presented mostly music that clearly was not jazz, or you went to see a baseball game and 2/3 of the time were devoted to people playing soccer, not baseball, it wouldn’t just be “doctorates” that might notice that, and object.

Calling something bluegrass when it’s not compromises the meaning of the word. The word means something, and what it stands for is a precious thing that is worthy of keeping a clear label for.

Back in 1973 [I think that’s the right year] Fred Shellman, bless his soul, started a festival and decided to call it a “bluegrass” festival. A misnomer then as now. He featured the NewGrass Revival then, and every year until they disbanded at the end of 1989. They were the only band featured each and every year.

Many of the other bands have had a progressive take on bluegrass (such as Fred’s original band, with Kooster McAllister) all the way up to String Cheese Incident, or Leftover Salmon, Alison Krauss, or Yonder Mt. String Band, who’ve all been featured quite regularly in recent years. Bands like this owe a huge stylistic debt to the New Grass Revival, and Bill Monroe would certainly not describe those bands as Bluegrass.

I would call Yonder Mt. bluegrass, but I think they are more aptly called newgrass. They are much closer in style to NGR and Sam Bush than to Bill Monroe and the BG Boys. It shows in everything about them –- repertoire, arrangements, even appearance.

The people who started the first small bluegrass festivals in the 1960s were very concerned that real bluegrass music be preserved. I was at the first several of these amazing events, and there was a fervent spirit that bluegrass music should be supported and not be allowed to die. A number of leading bands back then had altered their music to include electric instruments, and there was a sense that bluegrass might get marginalized, and artists like Monroe and Ralph Stanley would be left behind.

Thanks to the early bluegrass promoters and groups of the 1960s, the new magazine Bluegrass Unlimited, the ongoing efforts of Bill Monroe, (the Father of Bluegrass) well into his 80s, and since 1985 the International Bluegrass Music Assn., the worldwide bluegrass community began to flourish. All these people were proud to present and promote real bluegrass music, with very consistent notion of what was presented as “bluegrass”.

While certainly The TBF would in some cases present real bluegrass (Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley one time each, Del McCoury Band several times, and Hot Rize throughout the 1980s), there would also be rock bands, hybrid bands with electric guitars, pianos, and drums, folk-type artists like James Taylor or Shawn Colvin with plugged in bands, and often with nary a fiddle, mandolin, or banjo in sight. One year I counted the total number of bands out of about 30 on the festival which included a banjo. The number was under ten. At a four day “bluegrass” festival??

So the so-called bluegrass festival has consistently presented less than half bluegrass.

OK, for years I could make the case that the name is inaccurate, but I could never think of better name.

When I thought of the name NewGrass Festival this past year, I thought, how appropriate. That band, the NewGrass Revival, launched this festival over 30 years ago, and Sam Bush has been at every one. To my reckoning, he’s hands-down the Father of NewGrass, having started the NewGrass Revival in 1971 while still a teenager, and has carried on this style full-time for 35 years now.

At the festival he typically sits in with different bands every day. He’s often thought of as the central figure of the festival, and I think most people would agree he embodies and has embodied the spirit of the festival, since long before the current captains were even aware of the festival.

The term Newgrass has been around a long time, but it has not yet been established as an actual marketing category. But it obviously fits a lot of bands, certainly many on the typical lineup of the TBF. One reason I like renaming the festival after Newgrass is that it would firmly establish itself for what it is, the festival that -- more than any other -- launched the term NewGrass, and even more important, the innovative but roots-based spirit of “newgrass”.

I am not trying to hassle Craig, but rather just trying to help preserve the meaning of the word “bluegrass”, and to give proper credit to the festival for what it is, and to Sam Bush for his magnificent creation and contribution.

Craig says:

"We do get the very occassional complaint. Pete is right about a lot of things. Yes, the locals in Telluride refer to The Festival simply as "bluegrass", yet they sure know what it "is". And agents, artists and managers around the country simply refer to it as The Telluride Festival. Really, The Telluride Newgrass Festival is just as "accurate" a name as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Not that I can define either genre, but I would say that we're more likely to have bluegrass then newgrass these days."

I disagree, and here’s the data, going through this year’s lineup:

Thursday, June 15

NOT BG - Tim & Mollie O'Brien
BG? Wayword Sons
NG Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband
NG The Drew Emmit Band
Not BG Neko Case
BG/NG - Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Tim O’Brien, Bryan Sutton
Not BG Bonnie Raitt

NOT 3 BG 2 NG 3

Friday, June 16

BG The Badly Bent
BG David Grier & Mike Compton
NG The Greencards
Not BG - Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers
NG - Jerry Douglas Band
?? Not BG The Decemberists
Not BG Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
Not BG - Drive-By Truckers

NOT 4 BG 2 NG 2

Saturday, June 17
BG/NG Tony Rice & Bryan Sutton
NG - Shawn Camp
NG - John Cowan Band
NG - Yonder Mountain String Band
Not BG - Telluride Troubadour
Not BG - Missy Higgins
NG The Sam Bush Band
Not BG - Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

NOT 3 BG 1 NG 5

Sunday, June 18
NG 10:00 - 11:00 - Edgar Meyer & Mike Marshall
Not BG 11:15 - 12:15pm - Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir
NG 12:30 - 1:45 - Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet
BG 2:00 - 3:15 - Del McCoury Band
NG 3:45 - 5:00 - Tim O'Brien Band
NG 5:30 - 6:45 - Nickel Creek
Not BG 7:15 - 8:30 - John Prine
Not BG 9:00 - 11:00 - Barenaked Ladies

NOT 3 BG 1 NG 4


not bluegrasss or newgrass: 13
Bluegrass; 6
Newgrass: 14
0f 33 acts


Del McCoury
Badly Bent
Grier and Compton (some bluegrass)
Wayward Sons
Rice and Sutton (some bluegrass)
Thurs. nite jam with Sam Bush (some bluegrass)
Tim O Brien (some bluegrass)



Sam Bush Band
John Cowan Band
Yonder Mt. String Band
Jerry Douglas
Nickel Creek
Meyer and Marshall
Rowan and Rice quartet
Ryan Shupe and Rubber Band
Drew Emmitt Band
Shawn Camp
Sutton and Rice
Tim O Brien Band (maybe part bg??)
Sam Bush thurs. nite jam.

Craig says,
"Perhaps the most linguisticaly accurate name would be the "Telluride Bluegrass Invitational", nearly all genres are "at home" at The Festival; but at the end of the day, there's a reason bluegrass remains the name. Traditional bluegrass, as the ever opinionated doctorates might describe it, remains the nexus of the festival, from my point of view, - a place we always return to."

I think it’s clear that it’s NewGrass and Sam Bush that the festival returns to, pretty much as a featured Saturday night tradition every year.

But really, Telluride Bluegrass is more a direction then a genre; and, I know this kind of escapes Pete. "

Craig seems to be saying there is a term “Telluride Bluegrass”, and it’s a direction.

I’m just trying to make the point that the word “Bluegrass” is and has long been, a definite genre, NewGrass is certainly a genre, and NewGrass is a much more appropriate, straightforward term to describe to the world and festivarians the genre of music the festival is all about.

Yet festivarians around the globe are quite clear on the at once definable and yet undefinable eclectic musical combinations expected to be found at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival by the annually gathering Festivarian Nation.

Festivarians aside, the people around the globe who go or have gone to any of the 600 annual appropriately-labeled “bluegrass festivals” over the last 40 years have a clear idea of what bluegrass festivals are, and Telluride doesn’t fit the definition. This is clear to any real bluegrass fan. If you don’t know whether to believe me believe me, just find one and ask.

The June Telluride Festival, in all its diverse musical glory, needs a new name to be accurately labeled. It’s the home of the NGR and Sam Bush, the Father of Newgrass. It’s the original purveyor of newgrass/jamgrass and many other offsprings of bluegrass. So why not call it the the Telluride Newgrass Festival??

1 comment:

tob said...

No one is denying that Craig really cares most about the bottom line and he bought the festival name a few years back and has been expanding the Planet Bluegrass empire significantly since. Some, like Pete aren't happy about that or his attitude as he can certainly be difficult, as many could attest. Steve Symanski in particular can be a real monster.


Pete has completely lost his mind!

I heard he attacked Psychograss and Tony Trischka for plaing a Bill Monroe tune in a weird way. Got all mad at Rodney Crowell for playing rock music before a Hot Rize set at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and has been totally harrassing Craig at Planet Bluegrass about this name change for years.

I wish Pete would just give this tirade he's on a rest for a while.

Who cares what the festival is called?? Like he said, any real bluegrass fans know what a real bluegrass festival is, so what does it matter.

Hot Rize isn't a bluegrass band by his own definition. They are most certainly a newgrass band, but what is that? Why do we have to define these genres, which are ultimately innacurate anyway.

What is jazz Pete? Is it what Louis Armstrong created, or was it Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. It's inherently indefinable.

Bluegrass was created by Bill Monroe, but if you were to ask him about these bands playing today on whether they are bluegrass or not, Pete knows fully well that less than 10% of them would make Bill's list of Bill's bluegrass. Bill Monroe wasn't the only person to play bluegrass, so why does everything have to pass his test to become bluegrass. It's ridiculous. To me, Flatt and Scruggs is has much more bluegrass-content than Bill. The Stanley Brothers were much more Gospel tinged than either one, but they are still called bluegrass.

Pete needs to just let this go and stop trying to define music genres. Keeping score of who's bluegrass, newgrass, or not?

What kind of music does Tim O'Brien play? Newgrass, Folk, Bluegrass, Old Time, Jamgrass?

The answer is all of the above.