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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To the Freshgrass Festival at MassMoCa over the weekend. For those who are interested in the what the social scene looked like to me there's my Twitter feed: @altreuter, #BluegrassBingo.

Louis Armstrong said once, ""All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." Of course, Louis was one of the great geniuses of American music, so it should go without saying that he was right, but at an event like this I find myself thinking about Louis nearly every moment. One of the things that is notable about a bluegrass festival is how white it is, but as Hubby Jenkins pointedly observed during the Carolina Chocolate Drops' set, African American music is the river that runs through all of American music. It's as true of bluegrass-- a form essentially invented by one man-- Bill Monroe defined it, but it has grown nearly as far past his definition as jazz has evolved past Buddy Bolden. At one time I thought different, and considered bluegrass as calcified as Dixieland, but that was my mistake, and although the Freshgrass Festival takes a wide view of the music that includes what I'd call country, or Country and Western, or even some other stuff, there is no question that this is all encompassed by Louis' definition. It is as American as it could possibly be, and it possesses an indisputable terroir.

No two ways about it, everyone we saw could flat out play. Notable: Claire Lynch, Alison Brown, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, David Grisman, Michael Daves & Tony Trischka. The Chocolate Drops were the artists that I was most impressed by; last time we saw them Rhiannon Giddens was eight months pregnant. This time she was in extraordinary voice. And of course, Emmlou Harris-- a classic American voice.


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