Bluegrass, old-time music is unmatched

By today most of the music has quieted, and the good folks that descend on Mount Airy every year for the annual Blue Grass and Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention have taken off, bound for similar events elsewhere.

This was the 44th consecutive year the event has been held in Mount Airy, dating back to a time long before cable television had grown into our communities, before the Internet even existed, before home computers were anything but strange little machines on science fiction shows.

And while many modern conveniences were evident at the event — from air conditioned behemoth-sized recreational vehicles to some of the best vendor food made with modern tools and operations — the music still has a distinct feel as if it’s from a different time.

Which is only appropriate, given that bluegrass and old-time music is the music of our great-great-grandfathers, an art form that served as a means for people to entertain themselves, to while away the hours, a means to convey deep meaning and the stories of their lives.

I have to confess, and I hope I’m not writing sacrilege with his next statement, but I have never really been a huge bluegrass fan. Not that I have anything against it, but it’s simply not what I grew up listening to.

That changed a little many years ago, when I was a young reporter working for a weekly paper in the town of Appomattox, Virginia, in the late 1980s. I knew my dad was a big Bill Monroe fan, so I managed to get my hands on a few tickets for him, my mom, and myself (this was before I was married).

Monroe was well up in age at this point, and his playing and singing wasn’t what it had been during his prime, but being there, listening to him live, made the music so much more powerful.

An old friend of mine who played bluegrass until his death in 2008 once told me he loved bluegrass because, in his words, “It’s real music about real people.”

While today’s artists might be able to utilize the latest in technology and production tools, those aren’t critical to bluegrass and old-time music. It’s the lyrics, the soul of the music, the meaning behind the combination of the words and sound, that make the music special.

I don’t mean to represent myself as any sort of convert, nor to make you think I have this extensive collection of bluegrass at home. I don’t. It’s still not among my favorite forms of music, and even when I do listen to it I take it in limited doses.

But there’s no denying that bluegrass music, when done by a truly talented singer or musician, is unmatched in its ability to reach down inside you and make you feel, on some deep almost instinctive level, the emotions behind the piece, hearkening to a time when life was slower, less complicated, when we had time to think, to simply be alone with our thoughts and feelings. Whether it’s a melancholy tune, a celebration song, or a piece meant to convey a person’s religious beliefs, well-done bluegrass and old-time music speaks to people more than any other form of music.

At least it seems that way to me.

John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at, or at 336-719-1931.