Bluegrass was shifted into the spotlight with the release of the Coen Brothers film ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’. Despite the use of Bluegrass music that saturated its soundtrack, the film itself was set in the depression, a time period when it was unlikely that Bluegrass was played. Although it is difficult to say exactly when Bluegrass was created, many agree that it started after World War II.
Bluegrass is an offshoot of Country music, relying on a variety of stringed instruments such as the fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, and upright bass to produce its characteristic tone. Themes of bluegrass songs are similar to Country music, usually focusing on the timeless nature of the land and its people, rather than modern advancements.
The name is inspired from The Bluegrass Boys, a band formed by Bill Monroe in the late thirties, who some consider to be the pioneer of this particular genre. The band increased in popularity when it added Earl Scruggs, whose trademark banjo playing or ‘Scruggs style’ has left a mark on bluegrass to this day. In the 1960s, there was a trend toward a new style called progressive Bluegrass or ‘new grass’, and Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead has often been credited with introducing this evolved style of Bluegrass music to audiences, who were still into rock and roll music. In the eighties, there was a resurgence of classic Bluegrass songs, but played in a different way and often incorporating electric musical instruments. By the nineties, several country musicians had tried their hand at it, much like many rock musicians had tried disco back in the seventies.
Notable recent performers include Ricky Skaggs, a one time mainstream Country musician. The great Alison Kraus has won twenty Grammy awards for this genre, clocking up more wins than any other female artist. Kraus, along with the group Union Station, contributed to the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.