Evolution of Bluegrass

HVBA’s six-week bluegrass course at Marist College’s Center for Lifetime Studies has wrapped up, and by all accounts it was a smashing success. Each 75-minute session was part informational and part musical, with a different instrument highlighted each week. Instructional presentations ranged from old-time music and other predecessors to bluegrass up through present-day spinoffs such as Bela Fleck and The Punch Brothers.

Mike Foley, Jerry Oland and Eric Rosi-Marshall kicked off the instructional segments with an overview of some of the early influences on what would become bluegrass. Dave Angell focused on the emergence of brother acts and the dramatic breakthroughs brought about by Bill Monroe. Eric Rosi-Marshall covered so-called “Newgrass” and other recent developments, stressing the ongoing dynamic between tradition and innovation—a tension that, as Eric made clear, was at the heart of Bill Monroe’s work.

Featured instrumentalists included Kalia Yeagle, fiddle; Joan Harrison and Betsy Rome, from True Blue, on banjo and guitar; David Gandin, bass; Andy Bing, mandolin and Dobro; Wayne Fugate, mandolin; Korey Brodsky, on guitar (backed by his dad, Rick, on bass); and Bill Keith, who gave a dazzling presentation of melodic-style banjo. The final session featured an hour-long jam involving all of the musicians who had presented in previous weeks.

Many things made the “Evolution of Bluegrass” unique among CLS courses. In addition to the subject matter, it was clearly a massive team effort, as opposed to the more customary format of one speaker addressing a subject in lectures. In addition to the many musicians and presenters, the program benefited from Lynn Lipton’s countless hours preparing slides and musical selections to accompany the talks, as well as her major role in rounding up HVBA members to participate and contributing to the overall planning of the program. In addition, Fred Robbins filmed and edited every session and uploaded them to YouTube for all to see. (Connect through the hvbluegrass.org/old website, or look in YouTube for Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association or Evolution of Bluegrass. You will also undoubtedly find links to many of the countless videos created by Fred over the years featuring bluegrass musicians.)

Every passing week saw more and more people “dropping in” as word spread about the program. Although official enrollment was 61, by the final session, all 80 seats were filled, and several were standing (or dancing!) in the back. If one aspect of our mission is to spark interest in the music, this course was clearly a success. Each week, several audience members would remain to tell the presenters how much they enjoyed the class. Further evidence was the fact that, at the recent Audie Blaylock concert, as many as a dozen class members showed up, and once again thanked us for bringing bluegrass to their attention.

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