Bluegrass Music

Youth Scholarships Available from SEMBMA

Since 2020, the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association has offered scholarship money to deserving youth ages 12-18 for use with lessons on stringed instruments or vocals (either online or in-person) to help promote bluegrass and old-time music with the younger generation. The COVID pandemic did a lot to get people, especially kids, to get interested in learning musical instruments since they would be stuck at home. However, SEMBMA has had a difficult time finding qualifying youth for these scholarships, even after many internet blasts and mailings to area music stores and schools.

As a member of the Scholarship/Education Committee for SEMBMA, it amazes me how something like this is is being passed on by qualified students. We have had a few applicants, but most of them have wanted to use the funds for non-educational purposes. We do have restrictions, but if that student can show that they are truly interested in improving on his/her playing of guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, or even singing, and can show us that they are already moving forward in that talent, we will help them without hesitation.

At this time, SEMBMA is helping sponsor one young banjo player named Dante, who is making a name for himself locally at jam sessions and sitting in with various bluegrass bands in the area. We are currently helping to pay for online lessons he is receiving from award-winning banjoist Kristin Scott Benson of The Grascals. She has told SEMBMA how impressed she has been with Dante’s playing and dedication to the banjo.

I remember seeing a young girl performing at the Michigan Old-Time Fiddlers Contest back in October ( I am still kicking myself for not getting her name, as she would be a perfect candidate for one of our scholarships. I have called out to the contest organizers to see if they have information on getting in touch with her.

The International Bluegrass Music Association has long supported youth programs. I had previously mentioned the Junior Appalachian Musicians program, as well as other programs in post way back ( I will definitely be doing more work in locating and recruiting young people into the bluegrass fold and hoping to provide them with needed scholarship money to take lessons. I scratch my head regarding this, as this is “easy money” for the right youth. When I look at the younger talent in the bluegrass field, including Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Ryan Holladay, and a few others, I would think that there are plenty of other young people wanting to achieve that success.

Anyone reading this and knowing of a youth interested in expanding on his/her bluegrass and old-time string music knowledge, please refer them to the scholarship application on the SEMBMA website:

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Farewell Milan Music Festival, Is SEMBMA Next?

A few days ago, I learned that the Milan Music Fest, held yearly in August at the KC Campgrounds in Milan, will be no more after this past year ( Producer Mark Gaynier has decided that after 25 years of running this highly successful bluegrass festival in southeast Michigan, he would like to retire from the event and change course in his life.

No shame or hard feelings here. Mark has worked hard to make the festival a success for his attendees, and when top national acts like Rhonda Vincent show up every year, you know that something was being done right. However, one can understand the sadness of bluegrass fans in the region. This was a great location, and the acts performing were always top notch. There are a few other bluegrass festivals in Michigan, but most are on the west side of the state, making it difficult for those like me that cannot spend time overnight due to employment and caregiving issues.

There is a one-day festival in Blissfield (near the border of Ohio) that the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association sponsors. Although I am a member of SEMBMA, I am never able to volunteer due to my commitment to the Michigan Old-Time Fiddlers Convention held on the same day. At the next SEMBMA meeting (on October 22nd), I plan to suggest that the association recommend moving the Blissfield festival to the same weekend that Milan was. This would help get some of the Milan crowd, as well as not conflict with other events.

Speaking of SEMBMA, the organization has not been in good shape as of late. It is attempting to secure new officers for the board, but there has been next to no response. With that said, there is talk of dissolving the association and distributing what is left in the treasury to various educational funds. Working as a board member on even a small organizations such as SEMBMA take a lot of time and energy. I fully understand Bill and Pam Warren wanting to step down, as they have taken the reins for a number of years.

I have stated to the association that I will help in any way, even taking on one of the board member positions, if it means keeping the group going. I have a full-time job, and almost every hour of my time outside of work is spent caregiving my 90-year-old mother. I literally have to plan ahead days in advance just to do things like get a haircut or even write this blog. However, it would be a shame to see SEMBMA dissolve at this time.

My big disappointment is that there are so many members of SEMBMA that never show up for business meetings, but are waiting in line when a free jam sessions is scheduled. Promoting bluegrass in the community takes more than learning an instrument and showing up at jam sessions. This association is creating scholarships, sponsoring festivals, and working with artists to give bluegrass a voice in the area. It needs people who are willing to donate time and energy in order make a name for itself as a viable organization that is respected in the music community.

Again, I will do what I can given my situation. Heck, I never have time to participate in the SEMBMA jam sessions! However, it saddens me that so much of the membership think that the jam sessions are all that matters.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Music Programs

SEMBMA Cancels Bluegrass Workshop: What Went Wrong?

Last Sunday, the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association had its first meeting for 2022. The last meeting was in October, which I could not attend due to having COVID. I had missed providing any input on decisions made during that meeting.

The big decision made at that meeting was to set up and sponsor a workshop for learning bluegrass guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, fiddle, and singing. The date set was June 10-12, with really only workshops on June 11 and the other days providing jam opportunities. The proceeds would go to the Association’s Scholarship Fund. Cost would be $40.00 for each participant, with a discount for SEMBMA members.

I honestly didn’t find out about the workshop weekend until January (and I am a member as well as on the SEMBMA committee for Scholarships!). So at last week’s meeting, we found out that only five people registered for the workshop. That was less than the number of instructors hired for the event! The workshop would be less than two months away, and there was no word on any more people wanting to register. The person in charge of organizing the workshop stated that she did all that she could to get the word out, sending flyers to music stores and radio stations.

With a unanimous vote, it was decided to cancel the workshop. Some attending wanted to move it to September, while others (myself included) want to hold off for a lot longer until the Association can invest more time and money into the project.

There were a lot of things working against this workshop from the beginning that cancellation was inevitable. The problem is that the coordinator(s) were either too blind to see them, or just did not want to work in order to alleviate them.

Here are some problems as well as possible solutions to making an events such as this workshop more successful:

  • Time allotted to set up and promote the event. In this case, the decision to have the event was eight months until the workshop date. Moreover, the first notices did not come out until January. Talk to anyone that runs a bluegrass event, and they will tell you that they start the planning the day after the last event ends. You need a year to not only follow a structured plan to make the event work, but also time for people to plan to attend.
  • Promotion. The days of sending flyers out or posting them at music stores and expecting a line at the gate on opening day is ancient history. One has to have a strong grasp on social media just to get a message out. Emails are a start, but that has to have a plan, such as sending announcements out on a regular basis so that members and other interested parties get the reminder. These emails should have updates on the event, such as who will be teaching, any special offers, and asking for suggestions from attendees. However, the big blast should be with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I know that SEMBMA has its own YT page, so a video announcing the workshop should have been posted.
  • Money. This coincides with promotion, along with other factors. This is not Field of Dreams, where if you build it, they will come. Much more needs to be done to get the word out, and that costs money. Yes, there are some free outlets such as posting flyers on local bulletin boards, but if you really plan to get people to pay attention, you have to pay for advertising. Local newspapers are a start, but that is a coin toss to see if it will work. Since this is a bluegrass-related event, the advertising is best spent with bluegrass publications such as Bluegrass Unlimited. This goes back to time allotted, as magazines require an ad request months in advance. The thought here is, you get what you pay for. If you don’t spend money, you won’t get great results. Now you may not get great results if you spend a big amount on advertising, but most successful event coordinators know that the first year or two may result in loss of revenue in order to get the word out.
  • Scheduling. Why would you schedule a first-time workshop only a week after a more-established workshop only a two-hour drive away? That being the Midwest Banjo Camp near Lansing, which has been going on for years and has built itself up into a reputable weekend, providing well-known instructors and a well-structured schedule.
  • Personalities. Just who are the teachers that are at the workshop? If I have to pay a fee and you are not telling me who is the instructor, then this guy could know less about the instrument than me! Also, if my kid wants to learn guitar, what is going to motivate me to register and drive an hour or two instead of getting lessons from the local music store 10 minutes away? The truth is, names draw attendees. That is why a lot of bluegrass festivals have workshops and pay artists a little more to be the instructors. Someone is more likely going to attend a workshop with Ronnie McCoury, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, or Darol Anger than Joe Schmoe from the local music store.

SEMBMA is going through a drastic time right now. Current officers are looking to retire, and no one is really volunteering to step up. I currently serve on two committees (the other being the Office Nomination Committee), and it is hectic with the little time that I can spare. Some new, younger blood needs to step in with new ideas. This workshop (and its inevitable cancellation) is just one example of old ideas not working. The issue here is that young people need to know that for bluegrass to survive in certain areas, it needs more than to just learn how to play and instrument and jam.

Chew on it and comment.

Music Programs

More Programs to Get Kids Into Music

Here is some information that is great to read about.

I came across this program during a web surf and thought that it was great. It is called Violins Not Violence, and it helps to promote music to children and young adults to keep them out of gangs and crime in California. The organization recently donated a violin and guitar to two deserving youngsters who have an interest in pursuing music as a hobby or perhaps a vocation. While there is not much information on the website (, the recent donation did receive some media coverage. I recommend making a donation to the group, as one can see that actions are more powerful than words with this non-profit group started by two police officers.

A cute T-shirt is being offered by the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum, and will also be available at the ROMP Fest September 15-18 (the same week as MerleFest, another screw-up in the roots-music traffic jam of September). The shirts says, “Pick Banjos Not Fights,” and is available at the HOF website ( While no word is available on if any of the sales goes to supporting music programs directly, the HOF and the IBMA have a number of youth-oriented programs dedicated to promoting music and keeping children out of trouble.

I have talked about the Junior Appalachian Musicians program ( before, but I want to mention it again. This program has helped hundreds of kids in the southeastern region of the US with pursuing an interest in music, particularly the music form that region that was developed by their ancestors. I highly recommend going to the website and learning about it. I know that the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (, of which I am a member and part of the Education Committee) have been working to begin such a program in our area, and we have small programs such as JAM. SEMBMA currently offers an annual scholarship program for you ages 13-18, and holds a musical instrument “Petting Zoo” at many regional bluegrass festivals.

Also of note here in the Michigan area, a SEMBMA member Dixie Roy Andres has been hosting a program called Fiddlin’ Dixie with Lil’ Friends for about 10 years now at regional bluegrass festivals. Her program gets young people into music by having them build their own canjos, shoebox guitars and toilet paper roll kazoos. It is a wonderful program to get small kids involved with. For more information, go to Dixie’s website (

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Tidbits: Garcia, Ellis, SEMBMA, Circle TV, YouTube

Hey! Remember back on May 16, 2020 when my blog was about how the IBMA refuses to recognize Jerry Garcia as a viable influencer on bluegrass music ( WELL! It seems that this year’s World of Bluegrass virtual conference is having a presentation on Jerry and his work with the bluegrass music industry. Hmmm, I wonder where they got that idea from. Anyway, here’s a link to the description in the schedule: . It will be on October 1 at 11:00 am. I’m not expecting a thank you from IBMA, if you want to know.

Last Saturday the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association had its annual Hall of Honor ceremony. I was proud to see that Marvin “Red” Ellis was inducted. I wrote about him in a previous blog (, and will continue to research the history of bluegrass music in the Detroit area. On a related note, there was a good article on the Miller Brothers in the September 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited. The Miller Brothers were originally from Kentucky, lived for a while in Indiana, them moved up to the Detroit area for auto factory work. While in Michigan, they recorded a few bluegrass albums in the early 1970s. They are definitely a group that I hope to research more for the SEMBMA Hall of Honor.

Speaking of SEMBMA, the Association is now awarding scholarships to youth 13-18 years of age who are interested in pursuing further education with bluegrass music. The scholarships will be paid directly to the instructor/institution, and lessons can be in-person, over the internet, or some form of video. Students can be studying a stringed instrument (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, autoharp) or studying vocals. For more information on the scholarships and to secure an application form, go to . Submission deadline is January 1, 2021 and may require a personal interview of the applicants by SEMBMA board members and/or the scholarship committee.

Late to the Party Department: I just discovered that Circle TV ( is available in my area over the air (I don’t have cable, and my mom’s cable service sucks to say the least). I don’t watch television much, maybe an hour a day, but now that I can watch Circle, I may make use of it since the pandemic still won’t let us go to see live music. I get to watch the Opry on Saturday night (although host Bobby Bones irritates the crap out of me), reruns of Hee Haw and The Beverly Hillbillies, some Ditty TV programs, Daily & Vincent, and even some CMA songwriter programs. Pass me the Doritos!

YouTube fiddle lessons videos: I may have mentioned FiddleHed here before, but if not, I highly recommend checking him out, even if you don’t play fiddle. I have an article on him for Fiddler magazine coming up in the Winter 20/21 issue. I bring him up because he is one of the few that actually “teach” the tunes. I recently did a search for fiddle instruction for the Bill Monroe song “Uncle Pen.” A lot of videos came up, but most of them were hardly instructional. They are usually just a camera pointed at the fingerboard during the “lesson,” and no slow downs or explanation of what the fingering is. That is not instruction, that is just showing off that you can do the lick. Thank you again, FiddleHed!

Chew on it and comment.