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Chatham County Line's glossary for bluegrass beginners


As the first World of Bluegrass crept to a close last year in downtown Raleigh, Chatham County Line stepped on a Fayetteville Street stage to deliver a history-heavy ode to the festival's arrival: "What was born in Kentucky and moved off to Nashville," they harmonized, "is living in Raleigh now."

The song became the weekend's anthem.

At this year's World of Bluegrass, Chatham County Line will play several times, with an afternoon spot on the Red Hat Amphitheater stage on Friday. They've become emissaries of sort between the musical form and the city itself. With that in mind, we asked the quartet—Chandler Holt, Greg Readling, John Teer and Dave Wilson—to build an introduction to bluegrass for the people in their city who might not be overly familiar with its nuances. The band performs Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Lincoln Theatre at 11 p.m., and again at Vintage Church at 1 a.m. They also perform Friday, Oct. 3, at the Red Hat Amphitheater at noon.

BLUEGRASS—Music that incorporates certain instruments and specific singing. "Certain" and "specific" can vary wildly and without warning.


BILL MONROE—The True Father of Bluegrass (right), Monroe combined his mandolin prowess with his knowledge of hard-driving rural blues and traditional folk. His band was the Bluegrass Boys.

EARL SCRUGGS—With his percussive three-finger style, Scruggs took the banjo to the center of the bluegrass songbook. He joined Monroe's Bluegrass Boys; their Grand Ole Opry appearance Dec. 8, 1945 cemented the banjo's bluegrass prominence.

JIMMY MARTIN—Martin joined the Bluegrass Boys in 1949. He harmonized his high voice with Monroe's high tenor, creating the "high-lonesome sound." He struggled with alcohol and a wild temperament, but he never failed to entertain.

DEL MCCOURY—A former Bluegrass Boy, McCoury and his band (which includes two of his sons) continues to put on the best bluegrass show around. Their take on Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" shows they are not afraid to leave behind the bluegrass songbook, either.


MANDOLIN—A small eight-stringed instrument and the foundation of bluegrass. The quintessential model is a 1924 Gibson F-5, priced at $125,000.

BANJO—A five-stringed instrument with roots that stretch past the Blue Ridge to Africa. You would prefer a 1930s Flathead Gibson Mastertone, also priced at $125,000.

GUITAR—A six-string instrument that, in bluegrass, must be acoustic and likely made by the Martin Guitar Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Chatham County Line's Dave Wilson spends most nights dreaming of a 1935 D-28 Martin, priced at $100,000.

FIDDLE—A four-string instrument (left), some say the difference between a fiddle and a violin is that you can spill beer on a fiddle. What really makes a fiddle is the hands playing it. Price varies.

STANDUP BASS—A four-string behemoth that rarely fits into a car, this is also known as the "Doghouse." A 1940s Kay will do the job, with a price of around $3,500.

PICK—The piece of plastic or metal used to strum the instrument.

BOW—A fiddle's pick.

CAPO—A device that clamps on the neck of an instrument and raises the pitch.

MONITOR—The speaker that faces the musician. While you are waiting for the show to start, engineers make these sound perfect. They always sound perfect.

LLOYD LOAR—A builder at the Gibson Guitar factory in the early 1900s whose attention to the intricacies of acoustic design created the blueprint for every mandolin that followed.

TONE—The sweetness of an instrument's sound.

TORTOISESHELL—An illegal item, but guitar pickers praise the tone generated by a pick made from this material.


PICKER—Someone who plays a certain instrument. While playing, they are "picking."

SOLO—No one sings, and one instrument gets pushed to the front, as evidenced by one person's concentration and sweat. Also known as a "break."

LICK—A few impressive notes. If you experience a lick, turn to your buddy and say, "Damn, nice lick."

G-RUN—The low, eight-note phrase that a guitar player puts in most songs (right). Lester Flatt was famous for it, but Jimmy Martin said he invented it.

HARMONY—When more than one person is singing at once. This takes practice.

TENOR—A high harmony, most famously sung by Bill Monroe.

KICK-OFF—A song's start, usually played on a single instrument.

JAM—When a few pickers get together to pick, they are having a jam.

REQUEST—A song title yelled in an attempt to get the band to play that song. In bluegrass, there is no song called "O Brother."


HIPPY CABBAGE—Now legal in several states, this plant is responsible for the '70s bluegrass spin-off "New-Grass."

NEW-GRASS—A novel look at bluegrass that used the same instruments while pushing the sound in a psychedelic direction. Named for "New Grass Revival," whose members included popular mandolin player Sam Bush (left).

BLUEGRASS NAZI—Someone who insists every band sound exactly like Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys in 1946.

THE BONE—Named for the herringbone pattern of the top inlay, this 1935 Martin D-28 was once owned by Clarence White. It now belongs to Tony Rice.

BEAN BLOSSOM—The original bluegrass festival, hosted by Bill Monroe in Bean Blossom, Indiana.

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