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Music: ‘You’re ridin’ the bluegrass train’

Since KAFM is celebrating 15 years of broadcasting, I was thinking about how its programs are formatted — Celtic, World, Jazz, Rock, Variety, Bluegrass. Where did the records and CDs come from?

I know that KMSA donated their bluegrass library to us. And once we were on the air, the recording companies began sending us music. The name got out and singer/songwriters also sent music. And so it goes today. I am a member of three bluegrass/folk organizations that spread our name even further. After all, we are only 300 watts.

Who was popular in 1999, the year KAFM came on air? Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder won a Grammy for Bluegrass Rules! Ralph Stanley & Friends won the album of the year for “Clinch Mountain Country,” by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). The Del McCoury Band won entertainer of the year by IBMA as well. These musicians are still writing, recording, and touring today.



The impact of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” a film by The Coen Brothers (2000), also allowed mainstream America to hear old-time and bluegrass nationwide. There was a new listening audience. The movie was nominated for two Oscars, but did not win. However, the band in the movie — The Soggy Bottom Boys — gave many their first taste of bluegrass. The band was a take-off of The Foggy Mountain Boys (Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt), but were bonifide musicians (remember that word from the movie?). And George Clooney did a great job of lip-synching; Dan Tyminski, of Alison Krauss & Union Station, was the vocalist joined by Barry Bales, Ron Block, Jerry Douglas of AKUS, and several other renowned Nashville musicians. Some of the other musicians who performed on the soundtrack include Alison Krauss, Emmylous Harris, Gillian Welch, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Ralph Stanley, and The Whites.

In 2001, the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack was awarded a Grammy for album of the year and IBMA’s album of the year. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” performed by The Soggy Bottom Boys, also won IBMA’s song of the year. In 2002, the album “Down from the Mountain,” a spin-off album which included many musicians from the movie, was IBMA’s album of the year.



Since then many musicians have put their mark on bluegrass. They have been nominated for Grammys and IBMA awards. Some names will be familiar to you. Others are names to watch for. These musicians run the gamut of bluegrass and roots music styles, from traditional to progressive. Balsam Range has several albums and won IBMA song of the year; another song was nominated the same year. Both songs were equally good. The Steep Canyon Rangers has had numerous awards and nominations and won a Grammy in 2013. Steve Martin, who is closely associated with the Steep Canyon Rangers, won a Grammy in 2010. They have a new album, “Live,” with the Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin with Edie Brickell.

Additionally, The Infamous Stringdusters is one of the most proficient contemporary bands you can hear, and Della Mae is very talented (female) band who play traditional, contemporary, cover, and original music. The Kruger Brothers, immigrants from Switzerland, continue to write and record some of the most innovative music crossing several genres.

Briefly, this is where bluegrass has travelled in the 15 years on KAFM.

As Sam Bush says, “You’re ridin’ the bluegrass train.”

The KAFM Fund Drive is April 11-18. Show your support of bluegrass on our community radio.

GJ Free Press music columnist Veta Gumber, aka Vetabluegrass, hosts a weekly show on KAFM 88.1, Bluegrass and Beyond, every Monday, from 4-6:30 p.m. Tune in to hear old and new bluegrass, from traditional to progressive; from Doc Watson to The Boxcars to Hot Buttered Rum, and beyond! She can be reached at vetabluegrass@gmail.com or on Facebook.


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