Bluegrass Plays No Second Fiddle: Ensemble’s Popularity Continues to Rise

By SASHA HART

Bluegrass music at Colorado College attracts many musicians and large audiences. Last week was no exception as CC’s three bluegrass ensembles—The Ginger Ales, The Steel-Cut Oats, and The Nuts and Bolts—played a concert in Packard Hall for a full house.

When asked what she thought of the concert, Siena Brody-Heine ’19 said, “I thought the performance was great. It seemed like there was good number of Colorado Springs community members that came in addition to students.”

That popularity has grown over the years. When Keith Reed, the director of all three bluegrass ensembles, came to CC in 2004, he only had four students. Since then, the program has grown to include three ensembles and 35 private students.

Bluegrass music is an umbrella term that includes musical influences from virtually everywhere. It has aspects of roots, folk, rock, Irish, and blues, yet is simplistic enough that even a beginner can play.

Located in the Front Range, CC is in the heart of a thriving bluegrass scene. While many bands won’t necessarliy define themselves as bluegrass, Reed said that there are lots of jam bands that would fit within the bluegrass style of music. In addition to many local bands, there are lots of music festivals focused on bluegrass music in the area, including the festival that Reed takes students to in Durango every year.

Many students who start taking music lessons in bluegrass have no prior experience with the instrument they are playing. Reed teaches all music by ear. The ability to be taught by ear is part of what makes bluegrass a more accessible and attainable type of music.

The three bluegrass ensembles are formed based upon ability and experience—beginner, intermediate, and advanced. This allows students regardless of ability level to join an ensemble if they want to.

Reed feels that one of the most important aspects of bluegrass music and playing in an ensemble is the translatable skills. For instance, speaking in front of an audience at a concert can translate to speaking to a large group of people in a meeting. He noted, “The beauty of [the bluegrass ensembles] is that it creates a community at CC.”

He believes the friendships that he sees created through the ensembles are the most rewarding part of the CC bluegrass scene. And when students leave CC, bluegrass is the type of music that students can find anywhere. 

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