Bluegrass and Public Radio Music Month

   ( This is a cross-post from my regular blog about music and music culture at )


I love bluegrass and I love public radio, and I’m feeling extra protective of both these days for various reasons. So I though it wise to clang the bell here about what may be a little known fact: April is Public Radio Music Month. It’s not a political thing (though I’ll have some political-ish things to say in this series of posts). It’s more of a time to acknowledge public radio’s contributions to our nation’s music culture, which is immense. 

Here’s how the official web site puts it:

Music in America would sound very different without public radio. Local public radio stations take creative risks, nurture new talent, and give emerging artists a chance to be heard. They celebrate traditional music genres like classical and jazz, and partner with local music organizations to take these art forms to the next level. And they play a key role in their local music economies, sustaining and growing the careers of musicians by connecting them to local listeners.

I fundamentally agree. There are caveats and issues to be sure, but when you consider the breadth and cumulative impact of public and non-commercial radio, from the local level right up the chain to NPR, music has no greater champion or discovery maker. 

Every genre of serious music – every artist who’s reaching for integrity before celebrity – has a stake in public radio. Losing it would be devastating frankly. But I’m interested in focusing here on a better relationship between public radio and bluegrass specifically. I want to see the bluegrass community step up with more direct acknowledgement and financial support. And I’d like to see public radio redouble its efforts in covering and broadcasting bluegrass.

So what to do?

As an organized thing, they’re asking bands and artists to shoot and share pictures of themselves with THIS sign, which can’t hurt. A written or video testimonial would be awesome. At the micro level, fans and musicians are urged to use the hash tag #thankspublicradio during April, as they tweet about shows, features, discoveries, hosts and etc. (I also have access to a tool kit I’d be happy to share with you that’s chiefly for radio stations. If you broadcast bluegrass on a public station, drop me a line or a comment and I’ll gladly pass it on.) Mostly though, I’d like to see artists, managers, agents, promoters, luthiers and other members of the bluegrass community go, er, public on behalf of their closest-to-home public radio station. For my own part, I’m a proud and longstanding member of WPLN , home of the long-running Bluegrass Breakdown with Dave Higgs.

I have in the past tried to get IBMA to advocate officially on behalf of public radio and public broadcasting more generally, but that gets sticky. Too many constituents have philosophical objections to tax dollars for culture to get anything of substance out of the legislative affairs committee. I obviously oppose that ideology and I hope to have time to make my case in detail that our national investment in broadcast culture is in fact too small and vital to our survival as a free democracy. The recent election may well have saved public broadcasting and the national arts and humanities endowments from extinction, but looming budget austerity leaves public broadcasting ever vulnerable. But that’s for later.

Am I “disinterested” in the journalistic sense? Of course not. I’ve been a freelance music correspondent for WPLN and NPR. And I have direct connections with bluegrass. I’m a board member of IBMA and a partner/colleague with the team at Music City Roots, which believes in and supports bluegrass like you can’t believe. But because of all that, I know what I’m talking about, so I hope you’ll give this series of posts a chance and share them as possible.

I’m here as an American citizen, to tell the truth. I want bluegrass to thrive as an art form and social glue, because I believe it’s good and healthy for my country. I know of no endeavor or community that more completely embodies what Bill Ivey calls the “expressive life” than bluegrass. Because bluegrass is populist AND fine, everyday AND extraordinary, free AND regimented, red state AND blue state. Public radio is one of that music’s most important conduits to the people, and I think bluegrass music as an industry owes public radio more than the tepid or tacit support I’ve witnessed. Not to mention outright opposition.

Our culture – our remarkable civilization – is not to be taken for granted. It’s not inevitable. Some scary trends in commerce, culture and technology point to fragmentation, stratification and chaos in this anxious 21st century. Bluegrass, as well as other folk traditions and community art-making, helps us all move together in the opposite direction.

So, bluegrass nation, how does public radio affect you?

Posted by & filed under Artist & Music News, Featured.

  1. Ted Lehmann

    Fine manifesto, Craig. Bluegrass music on both NPR and PBS has had a strong presence, even when it’s subliminal, as in the weekly Car Talk shows which are introduced by and undergirded by bluegrass music. We have a great friend in public radio and should return the friendship heartily. Thanks.

  2. Nancy Cardwell

    My life would be very different (read: poorer) if not for Mike Smith’s “Seldom Heard Music” bluegrass show every Saturday night on KSMU public radio station in Springfield, Mo. Since the early ’80s Mike has been the voice of bluegrass music on the Ozark airwaves around my hometown. He also regularly announces news about upcoming bluegrass events and even invites live musicians in the studio now and then (particularly at fundraising time). Thanks Mike, and thanks KSMU! -Nancy Cardwell

  3. Traditional American Music Project

    Here in the “wild west” of Reno, Nevada, we have two fantastic, locally produced public radio shows that feature bluegrass music, and we love them both! And they are both available nationwide! (get them on your local NPR station!). Jimbo and Dondo have helped us build festivals, concerts, workshops, jams and just a flat out great musical community here in our little mountain paradise! Check them both out!…..
    Jimbo’s Juke Joint and Acoustic Roadhouse Cafe (
    The Risky Biscuit Hayseed Hoot (

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