I wrote a blog post a few months ago in which I referred to the band Old Crow Medicine Show as "everything you could ever want in a bluegrass band." One HuffPost user immediately held me accountable:
cjmccardle: "To call OCMS music Bluegrass is totally wrong. Old Crow is not Bluegrass, maybe Neo-grass or New Old Tyme. We here on the East Coast would appreciate the designation. Please, just because a hipster puts a fiddle or a banjo in a song does not make it Bluegrass...as this movement grows, please invent something appropriate to the Music that comes before it and call it that, but Bluegrass? Blasphemy..."
I loved the comment, and for that reason I chose to put "Bluegrass" in quotes in the headline of this article. But there's no denying that a bluegrass-influenced movement is taking place right now. We could spend all day quibbling over the sub-genres of each particular artist, but I still don't think we'd arrive at any satisfying answers.
Anyway, here are some bands to check out. Feel free to offer up your own style classifications if you'd like.
Old Crow Medicine Show
The first time I heard "Wagon Wheel" was in a small-town bar, played by a young country solo act. It just had this quality that I couldn't get over. I walked up and asked him about the song, and told me that it was a new band's twist on some old Bob Dylan chorus, or something to that effect. Within six months, that song became an alt-country sensation to which everyone knew the words. Only recently, after seeing them on the Railroad Revival Tour, did I start checking out other songs and albums. My new favorite is "The Greatest Hustler of All." I insist you give it a listen.
Genre: Wikipedia says Folk, Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Americana, and Old Time. "cjmccardle" recommended Neo-Grass or New Old Tyme.
Trampled by Turtles
About three years ago, while working as a high school substitute teacher, I had a conversation with a female art teacher from Minnesota about Mason Jennings. She was excited that I knew and loved Jennings, so she recommended another Minnesota band called Trampled by Turtles. I chuckled at the name and immediately forgot about them.
That is until several years later when I saw the lineup for Coachella 2011. Way down at the bottom, in tiny letters, there it was again, unforgettable: "Tramped by Turtles." I opened YouTube on my work computer and was treated to a nice shot of "Wait So Long," and then by the equally rousing "Codeine." I saw TBT live for the first time last month and was totally floored by the raw energy. The show was packed with people who knew the words to their songs, which led me to believe that this band is making some serious traction. As they should be. They're solid.
Mumford and Sons
My buddy from England mailed me a copy of this bands CD more than a year ago, so I when I heard "Little Lion Man," I thought I was being treated to something my fellow countrymen would know nothing about. A few days later I heard the song on a San Francisco radio station, and my exclusive love affair came to an end. This band is huge. I can't get my fiancé to take the album out of her car, but that's fine because I think they're great, especially after watching them headline Railroad Revival. Unreal.
Genres: Wikipedia says Folk Rock, Indie Folk, and Bluegrass.
The Devil Makes Three
I went to college in Monterey, about 30 miles south of Santa Cruz, where this band is a huge hometown favorite. Outside of Santa Cruz, they very much underground, but gaining a following in the south and on the east coast every time they tour. Singer-guitar player Pete Bernhard told me in April that the band started off playing alongside punk bands, simply because they couldn't find many similar bands when they started off in 2002. The landscape has since changed, and Bernhard welcomes it: "There's definitely something happening now and I think it's great. Our band has grown a lot and it probably has something to do with the awareness of this kind of music changing. It's great. The more the merrier."
Genre: Wikipedia says Bluegrass, Acoustic, and Old-Time. I've heard mention of Folk Punk, Ragtime, and Rockabilly as well.
The Avett Brothers
I discovered this band while watching a TiVo'd episode of Late Nite with Conan O'Brien back in May of 2007. Two brothers, along with a standup bassist and a cellist, came on stage and hammered out a song called "Will You Return." I learned how to play that song on guitar a few hours later and then shared it with friends during a camping trip three days later. Within one week of that Conan episode, my immediate circle of friends all became fans who have followed them ever since. I even brought my parents to a show in Sacramento and my dad came back and learned how to play the song "I and Love and You" on the piano. Their most recent album is considerably less bluegrass their earliest, but the feel is still there.
Genre: Wikipedia says Folk Rock, Alt Rock, Indie Rock, Folk, Roots Rock. No sign of bluegrass.