Bluegrass Music

Why I Respect Billy Strings

I don’t buy too many CDs any more. Mainly because I don’t get around to seeing/hearing who is out there. However, I do try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to bluegrass. And I have been pretty vocal in my previous blogs about my admiration of Billy Strings.

A few days ago, I went out and purchased a copy of Me/And/Dad, Billy’s latest release that he recorded with his stepfather Terry Barber. Terry was the man that got Billy into playing guitar. Granted, there were some demons in both men’s lives over the years, namely addictions, that have had an impact on their lives’ direction. As for Billy, growing up in a drug-infused part of Western Michigan didn’t help, but his love for music helped him overcome much of those demons along with an understanding patriarch.

We all know how Billy has become a rising star, not only in the bluegrass community but in the live music spectrum, drawing humongous crowds from traditionalists to Deadheads. One of the things that I admire about him so much is that, to paraphrase Lester Flatt, he never got above his raisin’. His humility has always shown through, and this album is just a sample of that. He recorded a number of bluegrass and old-time country standards with Terry, and share vocal duties throughout. The album has a stellar cast of backup musicians, including Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Michael Cleveland, Mike Bub, Jason Carter, and Jerry Douglas.

You can feel the family warmth throughout the song selection. It truly feels like Billy and Terry jamming with some friends in the living room on a Friday night. With all of the flash that Billy can have on stage at one of his sold-out shows, one can tell that this is where he is most comfortable.

I talked briefly a few weeks ago that Billy was at SPBGMA in Nashville last month (and how I missed it). You can take it for granted that he drew an amazing crowd. However, what I failed to mention is that he went there with a 13-year-old mandolin player named Wyatt Ellis. Billy knows that people come to see him play his chops, but he is very giving in wanting to showcase other talent, especially young kids coming up in the bluegrass community. Perhaps he is serving as a big brother/mentor to Wyatt, and hopefully he can keep Wyatt on the right track in life as well.

Cheers to you, Billy, it is an attitude such as yours that helps keep bluegrass going!

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Lutherie Songwriting

Back to Work!

Well, we laid my mother to rest yesterday, and I feel that I should get back to busy-ing myself in order to keep my mind alert and my slightly arthritic hands working.

Yes, I missed SPBGMA, but I am glad to see that it was a success. Lots of jamming, and plenty of surprises. I am committed to being there next year!

I will still be moving back into my mom’s house and selling my house, so the clean up will continue, along with cleaning out some of my mom’s stuff from her house. As for me, more selling off of music equipment, especially amplifiers and other electric guitar-related stuff that I never use any more. I’ll be also selling some jackets that don’t fit or never fit in the first place but I was too lazy to get rid of. My advice is, if you are in the Detroit area, keep checking Craigslist and look for “Dearborn/Hamtramck” as a location.

I will be trying to hit more shows as well. Not much offered during February and March, but I will keep checking and hope to find a few major bluegrass shows that I can have guitarists try out the 2208! I will definitely try to hit a bluegrass festival as well, but with Milan and Blissfield both cancelled, it will be either Charlotte or something on the west side of Michigan.

And back to practicing gutiar and fiddle, as well as songwriting. Taking care of mom took a lot out of practicing, and I was not motivated to do any songwriting, Hopefully, I can get inspired. I plan to attend more Songwriters Anonymous meetings, as they have always had supportive people.

And finally, lutherie. I definitely want to get back to maintenance and repairs of guitars. I plan to start simple, like setting up that $47.01 bass guitar that I got a few months back ( I still have a few Yamaha acoustics that I want to set up, one that needs some repairs, and a lot of other minor jobs. I really enjoy working on guitars, and I want to accomplish a few things before the Demon Arthritis takes over.

Next week, I should have a blog full of rants and raves. Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Review of 2022 Resolutions

I decided to use this final day of 2022 to look back on how much I followed/missed on my resolutions for the year (

As for getting my house cleaned and sold, that hasn’t moved too far along. Mom is now 90, and I am literally at her house taking care of her when I am not at my job. I have been able to sell a few things on Craigslist, but there is a ton more. Every time I think that I have something big accomplished with that house, I turn my head and see something bigger that needs to be done. My getting that new job then quitting two days later did not help, as I could have been taking some PTO (that I lost when I returned to my old job) to get in there for a day or two to make a dent.

The guitar and fiddle practice has also slipped. I picked up the guitar for a bit around Christmas, but the fiddle has been dry since around Thanksgiving. Well, this weekend I should grab both of them for some refresher. The arthritis is starting to kick in more with the fretting hand as well as the first finger of the picking hand, so I may need a bit of aspirin or put something on them before diving in to a regimen with the two instruments.

The Songwriters Anonymous group has been getting together in-person since the spring, and I have been able to attend a few meetings. However, because of mom’s care, as well as getting up early for work, I have missed the past few months. I hope to be able to hit a few more over 2023.

Songwriting itself is still lukewarm at best. I have jotted down a lot of ideas, and even bought myself a little pocket recorder to record some lyric ideas just in case a pen and paper are not around. However, no complete song for 2022. God, I hope something inspires me enough for a full song or two in 2023!

Attending SPBGMA last year fell through, but not this year! In a few weeks, I will be in Nashville! Everything is set – hotel, registration, and a rough itinerary. This is my first vacation in over three years, so I won’t let anything screw it up!

As for lutherie, that was also slow. I did some minor work on one of the Yamaha guitars that I bought specifically to clean up and make more playable. But again, I wish that I could have done more.

I was able to get to two days of the Milan Music Festival this past August. Unfortunately, the festival has been retired for good, so I am hoping that something else will take its place, at least for that weekend or near it. Other than that, Bela Fleck’s show, a few indoor shows at the Kentuckians of Michigan Hall and the Michigan Old-Time Fiddle Contest, I really didn’t get to see much live music. I’m not interested in large concerts at all, and The Ark still has high COVID restrictions, so I don’t plan on attending that venue soon. I do find myself scanning the internet for live music in the area, especially bluegrass shows, a lot more than I used to.

So for 2023, it seems that I am on Repeat from 2022. More songwriting, more guitar/fiddle practice, more cleaning of the house, and more searching out live music.

One thing that I did do this past year was video myself performing one of my old songs in my Kitchen Koncert series.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

I’m Going to SPBGMA/Billy Strings

I apologize for being late on this blog, and I am keeping this one short.

Well, I sent in my registration for SPBGMA 2023 in Nashville in January! I really need this vacation, as I haven’t been on any getaway for over three years. Someone hit-and-run my car last week, so I was considering not going due to the cost of repairs. However, if I don’t get away for a few days, and use these next few months to look forward to the vacation, I will probably snap! The AMA AmericanaFest and the IBMA World of Bluegrass conferences used to be my regular trips, but since both organizations have become so political, I’ve passed on them for over two years now, and I don’t miss going (although I do miss seeing some of my friends there).

Although it is not as big as AMA or IBMA, SPBGMA shows itself to be non-political, just there for the love of the music. That is good enough for me, as I just want to listen, jam, and maybe shop some of my songs around. Watching some of the videos from the last SPBGMA conference, I am sure that I will have a blast! I hope to see some old bluegrass friends, make some new connections, jam in the hallways, get some artists to be interested in my songs, and talk to some fiddlers about articles for Fiddler Magazine.

Here’s another cool thing that Billy Strings does. In addition to his charity work of donating guitars to underprivileged kids, he loves to give people a free taste of what his live shows are like. In cooperation with, Strings will broadcast the first 15 minutes of his current show live on YouTube for free, and for anyone interested in seeing the entire show, that person can pay to have the show streamed. Trust me, those first few minutes of a Billy Strings show are powerful, and even if you don’t purchase the streaming service, you will be amazed at his talent for free! Yeah, the first three or four minutes of the free broadcast are loaded with advertisements, but it is worth the wait.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Songwriting

More About Songwriting/SPBGMA 2023

A bit of a follow-up from last week.

First off, I did get a 2004 printing of The Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guide to Nashville this morning. Thumbing through it, I can see a lot of updates. They even put in a cartoon-style map of Music Row and which record/publishing companies are in each building. The chapters are set up more as an overview of each aspect for the aspiring songwriter (record companies, publishing houses, management, etc.), then lists the names and addresses. Alas, as the information here is 18 years old, it is mostly outdated again. Looking at the map, I can tell you from my recent years of visiting Nashville that most of Music Row is different. I guess that if one were to follow this book, the best bet would be to search the internet as well to see if there are any address changes, or if the business even still exists.

Even though I am no longer a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), I still get the monthly e-newsletters. This includes the monthly IBMA Songwriter Newsletter put out by the Songwriting Committee. Most of this month’s newsletter is about the songwriting panels at the September World of Bluegrass Conference in Raleigh. I’ve missed it now for about eight years, ever since it moved to Raleigh and now that the IBMA has thrown its hat into the political ring, and I don’t miss it. However, I noticed that they are taking advertisements for the newsletter now, and the one particular company that has an ad this month is called Buy Demo Tracks (

This company promotes itself as a stopping place for songwriters to either download or request a recording of a song for a demo, which is uploaded on the site to market to artists. In turn, artists can surf the site for possible songs to record, or even get karaoke-versions of song to sing to for a demo or audition. The three founders of the company are songwriters themselves, and a “staff writer” is Rick Lang, an IBMA board member. I will have to do some more research on this comapny, but at first glance, it is either a great resource for songwriters to get noticed, or another way to get money out of songwriters’ dreams.

No more pussy-footing around for me, I am setting aside the last weekend in January 2023 for the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) conference in Nashville! I haven’t had a vacation in three years now, and this seems like the perfect get-away to get ready for. I have been wanting to attend for the past few years, but the pandemic and a new job has screwed my time up. No more! I’ll be getting a room at the Sheraton and perhaps spending some time jamming as well as marketing some of my songs. In the meantime, I need to sort out my own demos, perhaps record or re-record some demos, and get back to marketing myself! Anyone out there reading this, let me know if you will be there as well January 26-29. I cannot wait!

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Musicians

Bluegrass Jamming

Another Casino Guitars video, another comment from me.

This time, Baxter and Jonathan discuss ways that musicians can meet other musicians to jam with or form bands. They recommend the usual options, such as guitar stores having a bulleting board, open mics at bars, and searching the internet. They also suggest hitting community colleges that have music programs and talking your friends into learning an instrument.

My one and only gripe about these guys is that they are too electric-centric. They never really look at the acoustic side of guitar music. Within the video, they talk about finding the local blues music society for seeking musicians. Now Casino Guitars is a store located in North Carolina, which is in a region big on bluegrass music. There are loads of festivals in the area, and there is a rich bluegrass history from North Carolina (Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson for starters).

As for bluegrassers, we are a well-informed community regarding musicians. Even up here in Michigan, which is definitely not a hotbed for bluegrass business, there is still enough communication going around to know what is out there. There are three viable bluegrass associations in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula that spread news as well as make available to their memberships scheduled jam sessions.

Best of all, bluegrass festivals are a fantastic resource for musicians looking to play with others, whether it be to just jam or perhaps start a band. This has been going on for decades, and will surely continue now that restrictions from the pandemic are slowly being lifted. Bluegrass festivals are unique regarding these amateur parking lot jam sessions. You never see anything like this at rock, country, or jazz festivals. People go there to listen to the music, period. Bluegrass audiences have a high percentage of people that also play musical instruments. Many show up at the festivals with the only intention of jamming, not really caring if they see a band on stage.

I have mentioned it before, that the professional bluegrass musicians performing on stage also like to walk in the parking lots and jam along with the amateurs. There is a great bond with professional bluegrass artists and their audience members. They all get to know each other personally, and part of that is jamming with one another after shows. That is something you do not see at other music festivals.

A few weeks back, I posted a video of a jam session at the SPBGMA conference that happened in January. This is a great example of what makes bluegrass people unique. Music is in the blood, heart and soul of bluegrassers. At SPBGMA and IBMA conferences, jam sessions happen in every corner of the sponsoring hotel. Rooms are set up just for late-night jamming. Old friends reunite, and new friendships are created continually. I miss the early days of the Americana Music Association’s conferences. There would be a number of jam sessions going on, but that seemed to disappear as the organization grew. Fortunately, jamming is still encouraged at SPBGMA and IBMA.

Jamming has become so much a part of bluegrass that Pete Wernick, whom we all know as Dr. Banjo, created three jamming videos and has established a classroom setting program to instruct people on the principles and etiquette of bluegrass jamming.

So if you are beginning to learn guitar, banjo, mandolin, or violin/fiddle, and want to learn what it is like to be in a ensemble situation, consider bluegrass music. We bluegrassers are a welcoming community. I leave you with a great example of this community feeling. Alan Bibey (mandolinist with Grasstowne) is having a great jam session with some very young pickers.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Musical Instruments

Tidbits #4: ArtistWorks, SPBGMA, Landon Bailey, and Me!

I’m not into football like I was before the whole “take a knee” thing. I won’t be watching the Super Bowl. I do think that it is funny that after over a decade of QB-ing for the Detroit Lions and nothing to show for it, Matt Stafford’s first year with a different team has led him to the big game. He played amazing with the Lions, but with a lackluster supporting cast, he could never get any respect from the NFL or press, but if LA wins, He has a chance to be a hall of famer.

But enough of that! Let’s talk music, specifically bluegrass! Have you checked out the ArtistWorks YouTube channel lately? It has always had some great instructional videos on its channel, but the last month has been fantastic! Great lessons from Chris Eldridge of The Punch Brothers, banjo legend Tony Trischka, and mandolin magician Sierra Hull. However, the best two videos they have posted recently are fiddle duets with Darol Anger and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes. This is old-time fiddling on overdrive. ArtistWorks has always been a great resource for beginner to intermediate musicians wanting to learn more. If you have never checked this channel or ArtistWorks’ website, do it soon!

I regret not being able to go to the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) last month in Nashville. I will do whatever I can to go next year. In the meantime, attendee Stephen Hudson captured a lot of jamming going on with his video camera. What is always great with bluegrass jams is that pros sit in with amateurs and it ends up a good time. The amateurs feel blessed to get a chance to jam with a hero, and the pros get to be regular guys/girls, while also seeing what is out there amongst the fans. I have said it before – bluegrass artists are the only artists that I am aware of that regularly rub elbows with their fans, getting to know a lot of them personally (there are a lot of bluegrass musicians playing big stages that I call good friends), and will stay until the last autograph is signed. Now, check out one of Stephen’s videos.

There are a lot of people on YouTube that review guitars, amplifiers, and effects pedals. I’ve subscribed to some of them, and one in particular that amuses me is Landon Bailey. His delivery is a combination of Bill Murray, Steven Wright, and Don Imus. You can never guess what his next video will cover, except that it will have something to do with music. Like his 15-minute video of a wind-up metronome clicking at 100 beats per minute. Check him out, you will love his wry sense of humor.

Finally, I put a video on my channel that is a lesson on beginner bluegrass bass with an electric bass guitar. It is rough to say the least, as it was my first attempt at editing, and since I use an older digital camcorder, the video can be grainy when there is not full light. Take a look, and please give me some feedback.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Guitar Coronavirus Musical Instruments

Tidbits #3: Shure – Part 2, Mandolin Straps, Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar, etc.

A few more ramblin’ thoughts for this week.

For some reason, maybe due to my ordering of the fake Shure SM58 microphone a few weeks ago from, I received another microphone in the mail that didn’t cost me anything. This one is labeled a Beta 87a, but it definitely is not a Shure Beta 87a! It came in the same packaging as the SM58, with a faux leather zipper carrying bag, mic clip, cable tie and owner’s manual. Just by looking at the body of the mic, with the poor attempt at engraving the Shure label, one could tell that this was a fake. However, the big giveaway that it was not a true Shure Beta 87a was plugging it in. The 87a is supposed to be a condenser mic, which requires a phantom power of at least 24 volts to operate properly. This fake Shure mic had a dynamic element in it, so it worked without power, and sounded like a dynamic mic. Granted, I got this for free somehow, but true Shure Beta 87a mics list for about $250.00. has these advertised for under $30.00. Use common sense when ordering something like this. If you see a Beta 87a under $200.00 new, it is most likely a fake. Unfortunately, some jerks are getting away with selling the fake ones as real. Do yourself a favor if you want a true Shure mic – buy it from a reputable dealer.

Besides doing some lutherie work, I have also been making braided mandolin straps during the pandemic. I learned to braid from a friend a few years ago, and usually while I am resting up in the evening and watching TV, I like to be a bit industrious by making straps. I started making leather guitar straps a few years back when I was gifted a bunch of nice-sized leather hide pieces. Once that ran out, I started using the leftover scraps and some laces to make mandolin straps. I make them for both A and F models, most are black with a different color ends, but I am making a few pink, blue and green ones. If interested, contact me here and I’ll email you some prices.

This past week I started working on my bluegrass rhythm guitar playing. Man, am I out of shape, musically! Seriously, I forgot how much of a job it is to keep good timing, proper strumming, and make a G run that doesn’t sound lousy, all at the same time! Since I haven’t worked with any band for a number of years, I have used the guitar almost exclusively for songwriting and recording with myself playing all instruments. Now that I’m practicing along with some jam tracks, I recognize what I’ve forgotten and let drift away from my rhythm technique. Lester Flatt and Jimmy Martin knew how important a rhythm guitar was to a bluegrass band, and as phenomenal of a lead player that he was, Tony Rice always stressed the importance of rhythm, and his was like a metronome. Speaking of a metronome, that is what I will be working with for a while.

Well, it looks like the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA) has cancelled this year’s Nashville Convention, which is usually scheduled for the last weekend of January. Yes, it is due to COVID-19, but they are setting the date for 2022 to be January 27-30. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

One positive note is that the 47th annual Kentucky State Fiddle Championship is scheduled to happen March 20 at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro. With what little has been available, I am SO tempted to make the trek! Go to for more information.

Chew on it and comment.