Heather Mandich, band leader and broadcaster from New South Wales, has packed up shop, spent 25 hours flying through 4 airports – missing two connections – and arrived in the southern USA to spend around 13 weeks writing, recording, broadcasting and generally playing bluegrass music on her travels. Now in her 4th week Heather has taken some time to put her thoughts down to share with us on the Australian Bluegrass Blog.
So far it’s been amazing. I say amazing for a number of reasons; one of which is, I can’t believe I just packed everything up and jumped on a plane for 25 hours (4 airports & 2 missed connecting flights) and am actually sitting here in the States living out what many people dream of doing. Writing, recording, performing, broadcasting, across 8 Southern States. Me?! Ha! that is tooooooooooo cool.
Another reason I say amazing is because of how generously I have been treated during my stay here so far. There’s not a day that goes by, that someone doesn’t offer me accommodation, to take me out for a meal or help hook me up with great bluegrassers.
The biggest surprise for me here in the States, is that musically it’s nothing like I thought it would be. I was worried that somehow my humble Aussie infused attempt at bluegrass would be laughed off or criticized. However, the way Americans receive bluegrass performers from other countries and perceive and perform bluegrass is very conducive to seeing the genre being firmly rooted and flourish both in America and worldwide for generations to come. I am a fairly new Grasser, with only 4 years experience, and to be honest, I exhibit limited mandolin picking skills. I play solid rhythm, but I’ve never really been much of a picker when it comes to the breaks. I have always been and will continue to be a singer/songwriter first and foremost.
I was worried, as my experience in Australia so far has been, that the emphasis in performing and jamming is the command you have on your instrument. I have always got the distinct impression that the focus is Hot pickin’ and sing one if you can. This is highlighted in Australian jam sessions I have attended, which are largely composed of instrumental picking and the occasional cry of someone sing one!.
America has a different perspective – just about any blue grasser worth his/her salt, that I have spoken to here, when asked what they look for in quality bluegrass, has explained that they would take good solid tuneful singers and good harmonies with basic instrumental ability (good timing and solid steady performance) over a hot picker who sings a bit on the side. The jams I have experienced here are composed predominantly of the singing of songs, with a tune thrown in here and there. It’s not to say that they don’t do some mighty fine breaks between verses, but the emphasis is the song and the harmony parts it holds.
The reason behind this is not that Americans don’t like super talented pickers, it’s just they are more aware of the quintessential essences that make Bluegrass what it is. Singing is the foundation, solid lead singing and tight bluegrass harmonies. It’s bred into them, they grow up with it and on a whole I’m amazed to find that this has not made them ungrateful or unaware of the treasure they have in family based singing and picking. It is the solid foundation in which good bluegrass grows. In my humble opinion it’s what keeps American bluegrass in perpetual motion – Heather Robin.