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Bluegrass concert disappoints first-timer

When it comes to music, I have a very specific preference I rarely stray from. It’s difficult to try and classify the genre of music, but I would describe it as the type of music Oprah insistently kept preaching is corrupting our nation’s youth, endangering lives, and giving puppies cancer (probably — I don’t watch a lot of Oprah).

What I can definitely say is that I don’t listen to bluegrass. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to bluegrass, because when I made the decision to attend a bluegrass performance I read on a flyer, I never even knew bluegrass was a type of music.

A quick search told me that not only was bluegrass actually music, but it was a sub-genre of country music, something even Carrie Underwood couldn’t make entertaining for me, and was also referred to as “hillbilly music,” which I always thought was an insult to country folk and not a term of pride.

Even though bluegrass music is something Leatherface would play in his “murder people” playlist, I did have an interest in listening to bluegrass when I found that the roots of bluegrass were found in the musical traditions of numerous countries that immigrants brought over to America, which included Ireland. Even though I only listen to Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day or when I watch The Departed, I still enjoy it, so I had hopes that bluegrass would be all right.

The bluegrass bands were playing Friday night at the intimidatingly named Smiling Skull Saloon, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get in because I don’t have any bullet wounds, facial scars or tattoos. Also, I am only 20. That fear was unfounded, as the bouncer there was not only incredibly jovial, but completely indifferent about my age and my lack of ink.

I paid the cover charge and sat down, prepared to listen to the band, Controlled Folly. Instead, what I listened to was incessant talking, drunken babble, and raucous laughter. It was clear to me that very few people were there to enjoy the cultural experience. Instead, they were just there to drink and have fun on a Friday night. How dare they?

The band was still preparing and it gave me some time to talk to them, which they were more than happy to do with an avid listener. I learned that they were not a bluegrass band, but more of a “newgrass” band, which is progressive bluegrass. While their band kept the core concept of bluegrass intact, some members of their band had electric instruments, which was how newgrass incorporated rock and roll to their genre. This is something that bluegrass does not have.

Talking with the band was more informative than actually listening to them. When the band started to play, it was near impossible to listen to the music and totally impossible to hear the lyrics.

While I was disappointed by the poor acoustics, it was nice to watch some other people dancing and enjoying the music, except that drunk girl who kept pushing ahead of me to film them. She sucked.

I learned two things from my time at the Smiling Skull. One, never go to a bar to hear music; I didn’t hear anything the band had to offer due to the crowd, acoustics and other factors. Two, it sucks being sober at a bar. The crowd, acoustics, and other factors don’t bother you as much when you are struggling to keep your eyes focused.

So, I went to the bars with some high hopes and left feeling disappointed. I guess that in itself is experiencing some of what the college culture is. Instead, I just went home and used the Internet to experience what I missed out on at the bar. A proper bluegrass performance.


Dennis Fulton is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Is bluegrass your kind of music? Email him at

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