George D. Hay created “barn dance” in November 1925 on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. His goal was to have a weekly showcase honoring country music and its history. Hay’s show featured artists that would become legends such as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff. This “barn dance” became the Grand Ole Opry, now owned by Ryman Hospitality. The broadcast is one of the longest running in history and can still be heard on 650/WSM every Wednesday. Robert K. Oermann, an Oprey journalist, wrote, “Little by little, the national media began to notice a shift in the balance of power in America’s music business during the years following World War II. New York’s Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood’s movie soundtracks still ruled mainstream pop music, but a network radio show beamed from Nashville was making waves with a newly popular national sound. That show was the Grand Ole Opry, and the sound was country music.” Can this be done now with bluegrass and in Charleston?
The fourth installment of Grass in the Hall included Angel Snow, SC Broadcasters, and Mandolin Orange. Never heard of them? Well they might just be the next Williams, Cline, and Acuff. This is the sprit behind the experiment that is Grass in the Hall. When Eddie White brought the idea to the Charleston Music Hall he pitched it as a “Barn Jam downtown”. Barn Jams are Eddie White’s weekly Wednesday showcases of bluegrass, Americana, and folk artists out at Seewee Outpost. The Grand Ole Opry was the celebration of the best that country music had to offer, and through a similar vein, Grass in the Hall is doing the same thing with bluegrass music in Charleston. Reimagine the quote from above about the change in music post-WWII, ‘Little by little, the Charleston media began to notice a shift in the balance of power in Charleston’s music business during the years following 2012. Folly beach jams and Mount Pleasant pop ruled mainstream music, but the Charleston Music Hall beamed from 37 John Street making waves with a classic sound. That show was Grass in the Hall, and the sound was bluegrass music.” For Awendaw Green and the Charleston Music Hall, this dream is what we can only hope for.
Angel Snow, SC Broadcasters, and Mandolin Orange are three of the most talented groups that have played the Grass in the Hall series, and the Music Hall stage. Angel Snow’s voice is vintage; not the pop voices heard on the radio, but a burning, smoldering rasp with range for days. SC Broadcasters have some of the tightest harmonies, and undeniably one of the greatest flat pickers in music today, David Sheppard. Mandolin Orange is clean, bright and hits the listener deep. Art is deemed worthy when it does not follow trends but sets them while simultaneously knowing how to nod at the past it derives itself from. These three acts define self-awareness in bluegrass, a genre wrought with excessive banjo solos and overdone gospel numbers. Instead, Angel Snow, SC Broadcasters, and Mandolin Orange bring their own powers to the battle and are not afraid to take the hits along the way because they know ultimately what they are doing is genuine and will resonate longer.
– Bennett Jones, CMH