For Bonnie Eyler of the Carroll County Ramblers and Jay Mosley of Iron Ridge, bluegrass is more than just a style of music, it's a family tradition.
Saturday, both groups will perform at the Carroll Arts Center's Bluegrass Bonanza. Carroll County Arts Council director Sandy Oxx said bluegrass is always popular here in Carroll.
"I've gotten so many requests from people in the community to have bands play bluegrass at the Arts Center," Oxx said. "Obviously, we can't have bluegrass here every week, so I thought it would be nice to have two bands play on the same night."
Eyler's parents Dotty and Leroy began the Carroll County Ramblers in 1961. Eyler said she and her brother Dale were brought into the bluegrass fold while they were still young. Today, Bonnie and Dale have taken over the group along with performers Steve Waldon and Dave Dulaney. Eyler said she was attracted to bluegrass from the very beginning.
"The excitement really builds in some of the faster songs. You just want to get up and dance and tap your toes and stuff like that," Eyler said. "A lot of the songs are true to life. They're history, and they describe some of the parts of life that people go through."
Iron Ridge was formed in 2001 by bluegrass artists who enjoyed jamming together. That year, they won first place at the Fiddlers' Convention held at Westminster's Common Ground on the Hill.
Mosley said he began playing the banjo when he was 12, influenced by his bluegrass musician grandfather.
"When I was a small boy, I just had an interest," Mosley said. "It's not what you would think of for a teenager, but it was just something that caught my interest."
Now carrying on the bluegrass tradition is Jay's son Joe, who has joined his father in Iron Ridge for several years.
"Two of my sons are actually interested in bluegrass music," Mosley said. "It feels great that they have the same passion for the music."
Oxx said traditional music like bluegrass has a long history in this area.
"There's still a rural flavor to this county, and a lot of people really respond to this style of music," Oxx said. "It's easy to listen to, and the melodies have a pleasant predictable style. Something like jazz can challenge the listener, but with bluegrass, people can sing along by the third verse."
Mosley said that because bluegrass goes back to an oral tradition, it's up to musicians to keep the genre alive. Eyler said there are many misconceptions about bluegrass, and it's up to individual bands to reach out to the community.
"When it comes to bluegrass, people either love it or hate it," Eyler said. "I think a lot of it comes down to not knowing the music that well. If they understood where it came from, I think it would grow on them."
Eyler said the Carroll County Ramblers, with their 50-year history, keep a strong focus on history.
"The idea is to preserve the tradition of the music and keep it going strong," Eyler said. "It's American music, you know, and it's just really important to us to keep it going and to educate people about it."
Oxx said she chose the Carroll County Ramblers and Iron Ridge because the two bands' styles complement each other without becoming repetitive.
"Carroll County Ramblers is a family band, and when you listen to them, you get the real feeling of sitting in on a family hootenanny," Oxx said. "With Iron Ridge, I watch them play and am astonished by the lightning speed of the fingertips of some of these gents."
Oxx said Bluegrass Bonanza is a way to showcase these artists.
"You can see a lot of musicians for free around at the local fireman carnivals and the like, but it's not like seeing it in a theater," Oxx said. "You can't beat seeing a band with good sound in a comfortable setting and professional lighting and production."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: Bluegrass Bonanza
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster
Cost: $20 adults; $17 Arts Council members, children 18 and younger and seniors 60 and older.
For more information: Call 410-848-7272 or visit http://www.carrollartscenter.org