I’ve been on a bluegrass kick lately. It seems like every time Brandon walks in on me in an empty room, he catches me listening to one breakdown or another.
For him, that’s a little odd. But I grew up on mountain music. It was part of my daily routine when I was little. Papaw Cochran picked the banjo, and Papaw clogged. Steel guitar and upright bass melodies float on the winds of my early memories.
To this day, bluegrass and the mountains are synonymous for me.
It’s hard to imagine Western North Carolina before bluegrass existed, yet that time wasn’t all that long ago. The genre was born in 1939 when Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys brought their version of hillbilly music into the mainstream on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Early bluegrass developed out of old-time, blending in elements of gospel and blues. But like traditional Appalachian music, its roots are in the folk ballads of the English, Scottish, and Irish settlers who brought their musical traditions into the hills.
The fledgling genre was popular in the Old North State. North Carolina artists like Gaither Carlton, Al Hopkins, Scruffy Jenkins, Doc Watson, and Earle Scruggs helped shape and refine the high lonesome sound of modern bluegrass. These pioneers sang about lost love, poverty, and day-to-day life in Appalachia.
The older I get, the more I appreciate those musical themes and the traditional feel of bluegrass. I identify with it. I think others do, too. That is probably why the genre has surged in popularity over the last few years – people like me are itching to connect with their roots.