Winfield, Kansas, and the musical world

I have been gorging myself on western and midwestern small-town culture, since retiring.  In the last few weeks, I’ve been to a rodeo, a county fair, and Charlie Adams Day (a festival honoring a town legend and his horse).  Last week I attended a huge event that shows just how influential a small town can be.

Winfield is a little town in rural Kansas that was the home of the now defunct but much-beloved Lutheran school St. John’s College.  It was also the home of a man named S. L. Mossman.  He made guitars.  Really good guitars.  In the 1960s, more and more people wanted them, and his business grew, though he refused to mass produce the guitars and kept making them by hand.  After awhile, his company sponsored a competition there in Winfield for the best flat-pick guitar player.  Around that event grew a festival, with more championships (in finger-style guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, and fiddle) and performances in bluegrass, folk, and other kinds of acoustic music.  Thus was born the Walnut Valley Festival, which has launched the careers of countless musicians and has become one of the premier events in American music.

My brother Jimmy, author of the most-read post ever on this blog, and I went to Winfield last week for the festival along with my friend the musician, novelist, and pastor, the right Rev. Fred Baue.  After the jump, I will tell you of our adventures, my musical discoveries with YouTube videos, and some of what I learned. [Read more…]

Earl Scruggs and other influential musicians

Remember my brother Jimmy?  He  is an accomplished bluegrass musician, among his many talents, and he sent me this notice and this suggestion:

I have an idea for your blog. I don’t know if you have heard, but Earl Scruggs died yesterday at age 88. I submit that he is one of the most influential musicians of our generation. He defined how one is supposed to play a five string banjo today, and bluegrass music did not really did not become bluegrass until Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s band in 1945. In many respects, he can be seen as the co-founder of bluegrass music, along with Bill Monroe.

This may be an opportunity for your bloggers to get into an interesting debate as to who they think are the most 20 most influential musicians of our generation.. To limit the scope of the discussion, you may want to limit the list to American born musicians.  Just a thought.

And a very good thought, I might add.  We need to pay tribute to Earl Scruggs.  Bluegrass music is one of the great American art forms.  Who else would you list as among America’s most influential musicians?  (Note:  not greatest, as such, but most influential.  Think widely about the different kinds and styles  of music America has come up with.)

In the meantime, here is Earl, who pretty much invented this way of playing the banjo,  playing one of his break-downs: