Bluegrass is best played fast! When the beats per minute crest 160 and the banjo picks get revving, the fun can officially start. Today’s modern bluegrass pickers turn up the tempo dial to 11 with increasing accuracy, leading to fantastical results. Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Jim VanCleve, and other bluegrass speed fiends are making some of the fastest bluegrass around these days—and they’re not alone. Enjoy this ripping playlist of the fastest bluegrass tunes and songs on the planet!
The old timers could play with all the speed the youngsters achieve. The late Pete Kuykendall, publisher of Bluegrass Unlimited, told me he once heard a radio station acetate disc recording of Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys with Lester and Earl, playing “Train 45”. Pete said he could not BELIEVE the speed they were playing. Hot, HOT, HOT!!! Of course, he lamented that disc had been broken.
The REAL old timers on the Opry, predecessors of bluegrass music, pooh-poohed Monroe’s “bluegrass”. For instance, Opry star Sam McGee, who traveled and recorded with his brother Kirk and Uncle Dave Macon, called it “crabgrass — too fast! Baaahhh!”
“Youngsters” often have a tendency to play fast for fast’s sake. Just about everyone learns as they age, that there’s MUCH more to bluegrass than showing off your speed.
One of Bill Monroe’s blazingly fast recordings, “Tall Timber” with triple fiddles from the mid 1950s, is actually recorded too fast. As each instrument comes to the mic for their break, the tempo varies widely!!! The fiddles set the time, Monroe’s mandolin slows the time down, then the banjo overspeeds, and the fiddlers have to get it back under control. The bass fiddle and guitar are simply hanging on for dear life. Nevertheless it’s an exciting recording. Sounds like an imminent car wreck!