OK so I thought the discussion on “Banjitar” was pretty interesting…
But let’s not beat around the bush here. Bill Monroe had a guitar in his band; and consequently, we are each of us free to show up to the Big Piney Dirt Bluegrass Festival parking lot Pick-In with a guitar. Bill Monroe had a banjo in his band; and consequently, we are each of us free to show up to said Yonder Pick-In with a banjo.
So somebody has the bright idea to mate a banjo and a guitar and viola… Birth Of Banjitar. Except that for whatever reason, if you bring it into the Purified Regions Of The Hallowed Parking Lot Pick-In, you’re gonna end up on the back lot picking with the other heathens who bucked Tradition™ and showed up with stuff like a twelve-string guitar, an accordion, an autoharp, and an electric bass with a battery-powered amp.
So it seems only reasonable to postulate, my dear pick-buds,… “What actually constitutes proper instrument selection for Bluegrass within the Orthodoxy described to us by our Forefathers?” In short, “What is the Official Bluegrass Purity Test?”
Well, that’s a fer piece harder to describe than it seems, if you’ve been listening to The Bluegrass Channel on Sirius or looking at the weekly charts from BluegrassToday(.com). Just as jazz went through its share of what we call today “iconoclasts” (mostly sax players that made it a point to blow up any traditional or conventional approaches to melody and structure, although a few influential pianists are highly regarded today as “iconoclastic”…), Bluegrass has been blessed with its share of iconoclastic visionaries who looked to expand their horizons as well as that of their art (for me, David Grisman comes to mind the fastest, although the entire industry seemed bent on taking his lead once they realized their electric fence hadn’t been powered on in years).
Clearly, to the Traditionalists™ on whom the future of Monroeism is hung, the “Bluegrass Purity Test” is a simple one… “Would Bill Monroe Abide This?” If not, then you can just march your heathen piece of wood to the back of the parking lot where you hear accordion “music”.
Herein lies the problem… one person’s “Purity Test” is another person’s icon-just-waiting-to-be-bashed-because.
The Osborne Brothers took alotta crap for showing up to Bluegrass Festivals with drums and electric bass. And NOW,… people hang on Sonny Osborne’s every word each week like He was the Last Word In Orthodox Bluegrass Tradition™. How’d THAT happen?! Oh, that’s an easy one… he was a trendsetting pioneer in modern American music. THAT’s how that happened.
The Seldom Scene had a really easy way of dealing with “The Bluegrass Purity Test”. They simply claimed to be doing “Americana” while claiming that “real Bluegrass” was JD Crowe and whatever incarnation of his band was playing at the time.
So we’re back to, “Do we really need a Bluegrass Purity Test”? I propose that we DO. We need for people who pick to know the difference between the bedrock of their Traditions™ and the liberties that they take as trailblazers. In other words, we need to know the difference between an Interstate and a Scenic Highway. Beethoven was expected to know the difference between Mozart’s cultural trajectory and the one he was bringing to the table. Strauss was expected to know the difference between the trajectory of Wagner and the one he strove so fittingly to steer into the twentieth century.
If any of my protracted ramblings make a whit of sense to you, then you probably know where I’m coming down on the “Banjitar” thang… If you wanna pick one up and make Real Bluegrass™, then by all means have at it… Learn something jawdropping on it and then show up in the Parking Lot Pick-In and cllaim your rightful place in the Circle Of Breaks. If you wanna do something new, then Go For It Too.
It’s all good. I 100% honestly believe that. IT’S ALL GOOD! I mean, just lookit The Dobro™… somebody had the bright idea to glue a hubcap onto a guitar and once Bill Monroe had one in His Band, it was as acceptable as beer and F-150s.