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David Royko Psy.D


IBMA World of Bluegrass 1997

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, October 21, 1997

TEMPO

ARTS WATCH

Bluegrass review


TRUE TO OLD SCHOOL, BLUEGRASS ALSO TRIES NEW

By David Duckman [David Royko]

Special to the Tribune

   Several key components of bluegrass music's past, present and future

were on display during this weekend's International Bluegrass Music

Association's "World Of Bluegrass" event in Louisville. Like the honesty

of the music itself, however, these essentials were delivered straight

up and free of any ostentation.


    One of these elements is the accessibility of the stars to the fans.

IBMA's annual trade show, convention, awards show and music festival is

bluegrass music's biggest event, and the artists revel in the chance to

throw some appreciation right back.Once again, the Del McCoury Band

walked off with an armload of honors, including "Entertainer of the

Year." But when the band took the main stage for a festival performance

the following night, the set list was tossed, as Del McCoury announced,

"Tonight we'll do whatever you want us to do--within reason," that last

part inserted in jest in case anyone needed a reminder that bluegrass

is, as founding father Bill Monroe used to say, "music with no filth."


    At once honoring the "I" in IBMA and acknowledging the music's roots

across the Atlantic, this year's "Fan Fest" roster featured some of

Europe's finest pickers. The Czech supergroup Druha Trava, which

translates as "Second Grass," mixed Monroe, Chick Corea and Bedrich

Smetana in a set that confirmed that, while bluegrass is an American art

form, its soul knows no borders.


    For a genre that has existed for a mere half-century, bluegrass

players and listeners tend to be almost obsessive regarding the music's

history. At the awards show, after dobro giant Josh Graves was inducted

into IBMA's "Hall Of Honor," he played a couple of celebratory numbers

with another legend, banjoist Earl Sruggs. Later, Ricky Skaggs and a

who's who of ex-Bluegrass Boys and old friends held forth at a packed

session of picking and reminiscing dedicated to Monroe.


    One of those old buddies, the eccentric mandolin genius Frank

Wakefield, served notice that he is back on the scene with a giddy

main-stage set that was among the weekend's highlights.


    Yet perhaps most exciting were the young players who will guide

bluegrass into the next century. Featured in a set billed as

"Teengrass," mandolinist/composer Chris Thile, fiddler Mike Cleveland,

banjoist Jonathan Jones, guitarist Josh Williams, and fiddlers Luke and

Jenny Anne Bulla made up this band of high school kids who are already

world class virtuosos.


    More importantly, their skills are at the service of their strong

musical personalities, leaving little doubt that the next millennium

should be a good one for bluegrass music.


[end]

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