Bluegrass documentary series started at Radford, went worldwide
Bud Bennett has been collecting the music of the mountains in a quiet corner on the fifth floor of McConnell Library.
The Radford University Archives Supervisor is an avowed lover of the bluegrass tradition that got its start in the local region. Since 2010, Bennett, a banjo player himself, has curated Appalachian Music and Culture, a blog that catalogs the history of that music, some of which is contained in the RU collection.
"One of the things I do is give live performances to Appalachian studies classes on campus," Bennett said. "I found if I tell stories about the music, it seemed like people paid more attention. That's how the blog started."
The blog reached new heights recently when Bennett released a 5-part video series, titled "Butch Robins Presents - Blue Grass Music, its Origin and Development as a Unique and Creative Art Form."
The video series has amassed tremendous popularity in the bluegrass world. It has been featured in regional news and has been seen around the world.
Butch Robins has played bluegrass for more than 50 years. As a youngster, the banjo player was present near the beginning of the bluegrass movement when he played with its creator Bill Monroe.
"[Butch] had a personal relationship with most of the first generation of bluegrass players. He could call them all by name. He sat in the bus with them," Bennett said.
In the video series, Robins narrates the story of bluegrass, from its inception to modern times, adding personal touches along the way, including the story of how his father used to take him to any banjo player they could find to teach him the instrument. From there it was a journey through a constantly changing, but always lively bluegrass scene.
"It's interesting times we'll be talking about," Robins says at the top of the series, "…and each new generation rewrites history."
In the videos, Robins, a natural storyteller, offers a wealth of memories and insights into the development of this unique American genre. Bennett, who knew Robins lived locally, saw the opportunity to preserve Robins' knowledge for the future.
Bluegrass has become closely tied to Appalachian culture. It has found a home in Radford University Archives and Special Collections, which maintains a special focus on that culture.
"If you draw a two hour circle around Radford there is an amazing amount of music history," Bennett said. "The number of people who live here and have lived here who are giants in the music is staggering. Everybody was riding up this road. The music gives you a real connection to the landscape and the environment. This was the land it was written in and about. You listen to those songs and look out the window and that's what you see."