Nov. 17, 18, 19, 2022
Gatlinburg Convention Center - W.L. Mills Auditorium
234 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN

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The Origins of Bluegrass Music: A True-grass History

Like biscuits and fried chicken on Sunday afternoon, there were magical moments in the origins of bluegrass music, when two great things came together.

A Fateful Night
Such was the occasion when sometime around 1926 or ’27, a teenager named Bill Monroe was afforded the opportunity to play with Arnold Shultz for a local barn dance in Rosine, Kentucky.

“One time they [Arnold and his family] was up around Rosine, and they [the townsfolk] wanted us to play for a square dance there, so Arnold played the fiddle and I played the guitar.”— Bill Monroe

Arnold Shultz: Traveling Bluesman
Arnold Shultz was a black, old-time, blues, and ragtime musician from Ohio County, Kentucky. He and his family were coal and dock laborers who traveled all over the South looking for work. Wherever they went they brought their music along.

Arnold was well known for his innovative guitar picking style, in which he played rhythm, bass, and melody by thumbing the bass strings while picking the other notes with his other fingers. He was a major influence for players like Kennedy Jones, who first saw Arnold play back in 1918. Jones then taught the style to other guitar players, who in turn influenced the great Merle Travis.

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  445 Hits

The Birth of Bluegrass Music: Flatt n Scruggs Join the Bluegrass Boys

As mentioned in part one, The Origins of Bluegrass Music: A True-grass History, Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys were still, more or less, just a good ole’ hillbilly string band when they joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.

At the time, they had not yet added a banjo player. They were still just a bunch of good ole’ country biscuits, sans the fried chicken.

In 1943, Bill Monroe hired David ’Stringbean’ Akeman to play the banjo. While this added the last element to what would be the classic ‘bluegrass’ instrumentation, there was still an element missing.

Stringbean played the banjo with the traditional ‘claw and hammer’ technique: the thumb and middle finger alternating between plucking and strumming. The style lent itself more to background rhythm and not to lead playing.

In 1945 Lester Flatt joined the Bluegrass Boys as guitarist and lead singer. Soon after, Stringbean left the band. Monroe began looking for a replacement, but Lester wasn’t all that eager to find one. He was convinced the claw n hammer players just couldn’t keep up with the lightning pace of many of their songs. “They all sound like Akeman!” he complained to Monroe.

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  446 Hits

Ricky, Reno, and Smiley: Monroe’s Bluegrass Family Tree

“Let little Ricky sing! Little Ricky can play!”

In 1960, Bill Monroe found himself faced with an enthusiastic crowd in Martha, Kentucky. He and his Bluegrass Boys were playing a gig at the local high school. 

In between songs, the crowd implored Bill to “let little Ricky play!”

This went on and on for some time. Bill finally gave in:

“Well, where is this little Ricky?”

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  367 Hits

Bluegrass Family Rift: The Stanley Brothers

One night in 1969, Ralph Stanley was racing to a show in Louisa, Kentucky.

Bam!

One of his tires blew out. He was gonna be late.

When he finally made it to the show, he heard singing, and the ring of a mandolin.

“They sounded exactly like us!” he told an interviewer many years later.

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  469 Hits

Rock n Roll, Country, and the Emergence of Bluegrass

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

That’s just as true for the history of bluegrass music, as it is for music as a whole. In fact, there really was no plan. 

Bill Monroe had no plan, as a teenager, to meet and play with Arnold Shultz, any more than he planned to create an entirely new genre of music. He was just playing good ol’ hillbilly country music, in his own way.

Earl Scruggs was about to quit playing banjo to go home to take care of his ailing mother, before he was discovered by Monroe.

Ricky Skaggs was only 6 years old when his family and friends managed to get him on stage with the great man, Monroe, himself. Ricky was too young to have a plan; Bill, unaware of what he’d set in motion that night.

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  397 Hits

The Newgrass Challenge and the True Grass Revival

 “Hey Bill, how about havin’ Courtney here fill in on banjo?”

“No Sir!” Bill Monroe turned to the upstart Courtney Johnson. “What’d you call that music there?”

“Newgrass??”

“Yes, I hate that.”

Sometime, in the early 70s, probably at one of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass festivals, his fiddle player approached him, along with the banjo player for the up-and-coming band, New Grass Revival, to see if Bill might consider letting Courtney Johnson stand in on banjo. 

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  666 Hits

For tickets
Call Krissy at 919-609-6740 Mon-Fri 3:30 pm till 6 pm (leave a message anytime) or use the contact form here. 
You may also buy directly from here or here. 
For additional information call 919-779-5672 Ext 1

FREE Trolly
around town with a stop in front of the Festival door!

865-436-4178
Thursday 10:30 am - 6 pm
Friday-Saturday 10:30 am - 10 pm

Bus Tour to Gatlinburg, TN
Hotel with breakfast, bus ride festival night shows and tours.

Call Paula 919-291-1115 or email Southerntravelnc@gmail.com