Bluegrass on the Belvedere: R&R RePast

Posted: January 26th, 2024 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

I’m a rock & roll lifer. I got stories, lots of stories. Here’s another.

Bluegrass music is not rock & roll. Though it’s certainly a part of it.

Elvis Presley’s first release had Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on one side, and blues master Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama” on the flip.

There was plenty of cross-pollination through the years.

Byron Berline, once of member of The Cumberlands, played fiddle on the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.” Jerry Garcia hooked up with Vassar Clements and former Bluegrass Boy Peter Rowan in Old and In The Way. Rowan ventured into rock in Seatrain. Banjo savant Earl Scruggs joined his sons in forming a rock band.

Sam Bush and Newgrass Revival covered Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes.”

So let’s venture back to the halcyon days when the only urban bluegrass festival settled in on Louisville’s Belvedere.

I’m sketchy on the exact years. Though I know it was on in the 80s and beyond. The Belvedere opened in ’72. So there’s your general time frame.

The always free jam was usually scheduled in early September, perhaps on occasion over Labor Day weekend.

Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys would be the headliners. And, as in ’87, there’d be a celebration of the creator of the genre’s birthday, which was September 13.

Eventually underwritten by the folks at KFC, it featured all the greats of the time.

Doc Watson. Osborne Brothers. David Grisman. J D Crowe. Maura O’Connell. Tony Rice. The Cumberlands. Mark O’Conner.

It was as downhomey as you could get on concrete slabs over a parking garage, with skyscrapers staring down instead of oaks and magnolia trees.

Just like the many festivals out in the country, most all in the crowd who was a musician brought an instrument, and would jam along Main Street or in corners by the Rust Building.

A bluegrass concert on the space that stood out for me might have been a stand alone. Again in 80s or 90s.

John Hartford. The banjo player and fiddler had written a Grammy-winning breakthrough hit, “Gentle on My Mind.” He became a regular on the Smothers Brothers TV show, played on the Byrd’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” He was according to many a founder of newgrass music, which started after kids who grew up listening to “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” fell under the spell of “Whipping Post.”

Sam Bush: “Without Hartford’s ‘Aereo-Plain’ there would be no newgrass,” with its added instruments like drums and dobro, sometimes amplification, contemporary song lists.

Why that particular night stands out is the crowd. The Belvedere was overrun, given Hartford’s popularity. I remember musing the footing might actually crumble from the weight of the throng. Wasn’t going to happen, but it was so bumper to bumper in the audience, I thought it.

At the turn of the 90s, the annual fest spread its wings. To stages in the middle of Main Street. And Americana. Featuring such as Marcia Ball, Joe Ely, Wayne Toups and iconic Townes Van Zandt. Along with Bela Fleck, Berline Crary & Hickman.

The ’90 festival turned into an homage of sorts to Stevie Ray Vaughan, who had been killed in a helicopter accident a few days before.

The other day at the gym, a fellow was wearing a John Hartford t-shirt. We strode down memory lane.

I came home and took a trip in a “Steam Powered Aeroplane.”

— c d kaplan

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