Radio.com Inside Out: The Bluegrass Connection in Contemporary Music

Ricky Skaggs, Chris Stapleton and others talk about the influence of bluegrass in modern music.
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Marcus Mumford (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)and Avicii (Jacob Schulman)

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Is bluegrass hip all over again? If you look at the today’s pop-music landscape, apparently so. 

Superstar DJ Avicii fuses EDM and elements of bluegrass in “Wake Me Up,” which has got to be 2013’s most unlikely hit. His bold move left some scratching heads, but it makes more sense when viewed through a wider lens. Within pop music, bluegrass and banjos have become normalized thanks in large part to another non-country source: GRAMMY-winning British folk band Mumford & Sons.

And what contemporary cultural marker has inspired both these artists? It’s soundtrack to the 2000 Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Marcus Mumford and co. have publicly acknowledged the influence of the movie’s music (which was produced by T Bone Burnett), most notably its cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” an old folk songs performed by the film’s fictional band, the Soggy Bottom Boys.

And it was bluegrass great Dan Tyminski — a member of Allison Krauss‘s band who sang lead on “Sorrow” — along with another unlikely collaborator (Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger) who helped Avicii find his inner twang on True, the album featuring “Wake Me Up.”

Related: Incubus’ Mike Einziger On the Making of Avicii’s Chart-Topping ‘Wake Me Up’

All this left us wondering: What does the bluegrass community make of all this, and how does it fit into the genre’s lengthy history?

Ricky Skaggs

Ricky Skaggs (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

With insight from bluegrass and country music legend Ricky Skaggs, Radio.com defined bluegrass and traced its roots, drawing a direct line from Irish Kaylees to the Beverly Hillbillies to The Beatles to vintage country to today’s hits. Chris Stapleton told us how bluegrass is the new rock and roll, and Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire of the Court Yard Hounds (and the Dixie Chicks) told us about being too country for country music when they wanted to incorporate bluegrass elements into their hit single “Wide Open Spaces.” Watch below.

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