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Finger-pickin' good time

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By Stephen Lega

I didn't listen to much bluegrass music growing up. Metallica, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, and AC/DC were more likely to be playing in my cassette deck. (Why does that make me feel old?)

Like many teenagers, I was convinced that I knew more than I really did, and music was one area I wasn't open to anything but my limited tastes.

But something happened when I saw the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" As much as I enjoyed the story, I really enjoyed the music, much of which would be considered bluegrass. I bought the soundtrack (I'd upgraded to CDs by this time), and found myself listening to it more and more often.

A friend let me borrow his copy of "Del and the Boys" by The Del McCoury Band. By the end of the opening song, "1952 Vincent Black Lighting", I was hooked.

This friend happened to be a banjo player himself, and he invited me to attend a couple jam sessions. I can't play any musical instruments myself, but after seeing and hearing the music performed live and up close, only then do I think I started to appreciate the skill involved.

In covering the Kentucky Bluegrass Music Festival, I've observed professional musicians giving lessons to absolute beginners. I couldn't help thinking that those professionals were once in the other seat, trying to figure out how to control the sounds coming out of the instrument in front of them.

Now, listening to someone like Gary "Biscuit" Davis perform is a genuine treat. There's a reason he is the only three-time national banjo champion. Even if you don't like the banjo - or don't think you do - I'd encourage you to listen to what Davis can do if you have a chance.

Michael Johnathan, the host of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, has been to Lebanon each of the past two years for our bluegrass festival. During his stage appearance Saturday night, he spoke about listening to live music as opposed to just watching music videos or listening to it on headphones. He described a live performance as music in 3D, and I have to say, I'm inclined to agree.

There is something different, something special about being in the same room as the people making the music. If not for the bluegrass festival, I may have never been exposed to acts like Rhonda Vincent, Grasstowne, The Grascals or The Hagar's Mountain Boys.

I've seen the KBMK grow each year, weather permitting, of course. (That is one of the risks of having a festival in the winter.) Brad Lanham, the president of the Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians (which hosts and organizes the festival), estimated that 1,500 people came to Marion County High School over the weekend. That's a far cry from the first event when a few hundred people attended the Friday and Saturday night shows.

There's a reason this event continues to grow, and I think it goes back to the 3D experience Johnathan was describing. I'd encourage you to experience it for yourself some time.

Admittedly, you are still likely to hear Danzig or Mastodon playing on my car stereo, but from time to time, I find myself in the mood for something different.

And I've learned that sometimes a little bit of bluegrass can be just the thing I need.