Recreating and Deconstructing the Shifting Politics of (Bluegrass) Festivals

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Virginia Tech


Utilizing archival research from Berea College's Appalachian Sound Archives and Appalachian State University's Belk Special Collection, more than 45 survey results, 15 extensive interviews, and participant observations from 15 festival field sites, I examine bluegrass festivals as sites of identity production through feminist methodologies and a participatory ethnographic approach. This requires careful analysis of the nature of the genre's audience and audience members' investments in the process of framing the performance of bluegrass music's history through a shared historical narrative. More broadly, this analysis clarifies the nuanced role of bluegrass festivals in constructing generalizations about place-based identities, race, and gender within the performative space of festivals. In this assessment, the political and economic actions generated as a result of bluegrass performances are explored as temporal and spatial organizers for the (re)production and consumption of generalized ideals which are projected onto both literal and figurative southern stages. I perform this research utilizing the conceptual frameworks of theories of space and place, politics of culture, and feminist methods, combined through critical regionalism. My hypothesis is that bluegrass festivals serve as spaces to perform white patriarchal capitalist desires while relying on marginalized and hidden cultural productions and exchanges.

My findings reveal that in order to gain a fuller understanding of politics culture, the stage must be subverted and the researcher's gaze must go beyond that which is typically traditionally framed to encompass the festival in its entirety. This requires seeking out not merely that which is intentionally framed but also narratives that create the stage or are omitted by dominant ways of interpreting the festival space. Ultimately, I find the significance of temporary physical sites for identity construction and the potential for dynamic social change within these spaces relies on the ability of scholars and participants alike to re-historicize and retell dominant narratives.



Appalachian Studies, Bluegrass Music, Critical Regionalism, Ethnography, Qualitative Methods, Feminist Methodologies, Festivals