The felt moment of immediate experience has been lost. Perhaps we have given it away by not accessing it. Perhaps it was robbed by this mainstream media/cereal box religion/consumer culture. Music festivals help us drop out of the noisy centralized confines of the Matrix and fall into the magic of experience; to revel in the full richness of the moment. It is a domain of feeling, and at best it is a vector of love, light, good vibrations and community.
Last year in the early fall, Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California announced the impressive billing of Dawg Day Afternoon. Amongst exciting performances from bluegrass giants like Jerry Douglas and Del McCoury Band, David Grisman’s Sextet was featured as headliner. The event went smashingly. The talent was top notch, and the gorgeous Weill Hall at Green Music Center provided diverse experiences for patrons.
In 1976 the newly-formed David Grisman Quintet recorded the first album of dawg music, an acoustic blend of many styles and traditions. Now forty years later that music continues to evolve with this first recording of the David Grisman Sextet. Many faces, hearts and hands have changed but the musical vision is still intact — the Dawg's own music.
It’s been forty years since mandolinist and bandleader David Grisman began playing with his Quintet, a band that bended more genres into the bluegrass/acoustic idiom that ever before. His groundbreaking compositions sat nicely with the school of acoustic gypsy-swing first popularized in the United States by guitarist Django Reinhardt and fiddle player Stephane Grappelli. Entirely different than the “newgrass” music from his contemporaries John Hartford and Sam Bush, “Dawg” music was and still is truly a form of its own.
David Grisman has been a household name in the acoustic and bluegrass world for many years. His innovations in these genres as well as creating his own genre in “Dawg” music, named by Jerry Garcia, has inspired new generations of bluegrass for decades. Dawg music can be best described as the combination of jazz, bluegrass, and acoustic folk music. These are American staples and combining genres is what American music is all about. After quitting piano at around age 10, Grisman picked up the mandolin and never looked back.
There was a decidedly day-glo hue to the bluegrass played at this year’s Northwest String Summit (July 16-19). Many of the musical merry-makers, and deadicated patrons alike, appeared to still be basking in the warm fluorescent after-light of the “Fare Thee Well” experience. The haunting presence of the now officially departed Dead continues to populate and positively inform a new generation of musical/spiritual adventurers.
To return to a point in your life that you have already lived is metaphysical. Déjà vu, as most of us call it, feels mystical, even if it has a chemical explanation. Scientific evidence aside, to relive something that you have lived before is an experience that seems to connect us with something beyond ourselves. We can both be in the moment and be able to predict (or at least have the feeling that we are predicting) what is coming around the next corner. But to experience déjà vu and to be able to improve upon the actions that once were? Now that is something different altogether.
Bluegrass music is deeply integrated into American musical culture and roots. Yet bluegrass isn’t a pure form. It’s an amalgamation of many preceding styles and individual root systems. None have revealed more about the instrumental beginnings of bluegrass than David “Dawg” Grisman. His mandolin virtuosity was simply too adventurous to not stray from the vein of Kentucky-born grass.