I have loved bluegrass music ever since I can remember. The pulse-quickening twang of the banjo first called to me when I was 5 years old, attending my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday party. A bluegrass band was merrily playing in the backyard, and I remember being utterly transfixed by the music’s unique sound as well as by the banjo’s unusual shape. My infatuation clearly showed because the banjo player was kind enough to take me inside and let me attempt to pluck the strings during one of their breaks.
Bluegrass has its origins in toe-tapping Irish and Scottish dancing tunes, which immigrated to America in the instruments and minds of the settlers of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 17th century. South Carolina has a rich Scots-Irish heritage in general, and to learn more about this fascinating history in our state, read David Hodges’ article on page 48.
The jump from British Isles dancing music to bluegrass could not have occurred without the introduction of the banjo to these jolly tunes. The banjo, which heralds from Africa, met its perfect match with the fiddle and mandolin on the back porches of Appalachian mountain homes.
For a non-mountain city, Columbia has a surprisingly vibrant bluegrass scene. On page 66, learn about our local musicians who are doing quite a bit more than fiddling around with their talent in this lively genre of music. Since bluegrass is frequently outdoor entertainment, this music presents an opportunity to enjoy a live concert even during these tricky days of avoiding the coronavirus.
Roughly 20 years after I first held a banjo in my hands, I finally purchased my own. Learning to play it over the past several years has been an inconsistent effort of fits and starts, but I hope to have the time and discipline one day to obtain enough mastery of it to pick with the “slow jams” at Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor!