October is a major month on the musical calendar of Nashville, in which is celebrated the anniversary of radio station WSM-AM 650 and the "birthday" of the Grand Ole Opry show. (the show was first broadcast, according to founder George Hay's memoirs, in late November of 1925, but since the station (which first hit the airwaves early in October of that year) and the show are inextricably joined together it hardly hurts to have the festivities together.
Well, during the final week of September leading into the special month, Music City hosted the annual convention of the International Bluegrass Music Association -- the IBMA. Nashville is the birthplace of Bluegrass Music, specifically in the Ryman Auditorium in the 1940s when Opry member Bill Monroe created the genre, using his band The Bluegrass Boys. And the Father of Bluegrass Music was born in September a century ago in Rosine, Kentucky. Therefore, naturally plenty of observance and celebration of his centennial took place at this year's IBMA.
One of these observances was a free concert Tuesday afternoon under the blue sky outside the Ryman, hosted by the Del McCoury Band. On my way from work to a medical appointment I stopped by for a few minutes of listening pleasure.
The next evening, Wednesday, 30 September, featured a Monroe centennial bluegrass concert, not at the Ryman but in Ingram Hall of the music school at Vanderbilt University. Dieta, wife of fiddler extraordinaire Stuart Duncan, arranged for admission for me, bless her! I was not about to miss it just because it meant a 50-mile trip either way!
And I'm thankful I didn't miss it; it was a dynamic and dynamite performance! I appreciated the format, with WSM's Bill Cody serving as emcee; for about the first half hour Del McCoury Band was on-stage, then Nashville Bluegrass Band (Stuart is NBB's fiddler) took over for the remainder of the concert, and both bands were joined by various other Bluegrass stars in varying configurations. These others included Dale Ann Bradley, Ricky Skaggs, Claire Lynch, Roland White and Matt Combs, who's a fiddle teacher in VU's Blair Sch. of Music.
Stuart and Matt did twin fiddles more than once, and had a fine "chemistry" playing off each other. And then there was the finale, when all the artists took the stage (except Del McCoury and his group who had to leave early for another engagement) and did all the verses of "Working on a Building" and closed with what Bill Cody said was Monroe's signature song or best-known song, the instrumental "Rawhide".
What an evening! What a Bluegrass bonanaza!
The next evening, Thursday, 29 September, WSM broadcast the IBMA Awards Show from the Ryman over the airwaves. I'd have loved to be in the building for it, but the listening in on the radio was pleasure enough. More than once the Monroe centennial was commented on, and the musical performances between presentation of awards were all superb. Stuart was nominated for "Fiddler of the Year" but the award went to someone else. Dale Ann won "Female Vocalist", but I'd have been happy with any of the five nominees, all very talented and endearing women.
And so, for A.D. 2011 Bluegrass Music had their annual party and celebrated Bill Monroe's birth centennial, in the place where Bluegrass began: Music City USA.