A 21st Century Bluegrass View

by Kara M. Bachman

bluegrass standard melody walker
“Movements like Bluegrass Pride have started in the name of more inclusion and representation of different identities that exist within bluegrass,” Walker explained.

“I’m excited about the way things are going,” she added.

Walker tours quite heavily; Front Country — which she describes as an “aggressively progressive and non-traditional string band” — has ten dates slated for January alone. While Walker herself has no children, she feels because the burden of childcare rests primarily on mothers, she sees how much more difficult it is for female musicians to take to the road.

“I definitely think most people — no matter how progressive or conservative — still judge women harshly for their parenting choices, and that is magnified times ten for women on the road,” she explained. “You’re likely damned if you do or damned if you don’t. Leave your kids at home and you’re neglecting them, bring them on the road and it’s child abuse. I don’t envy my female musician friends who have to navigate all that.”

Walker cites a few other issues she’s come across with women musicians, with one being a concern she thinks is overblown.

“I’ve heard numerous times that many male-dominated bands won’t consider hiring a woman as an instrumentalist because it would make their wives jealous. Which is, of course, ridiculous in a professional setting,” she said. “Women are also perceived as more high maintenance, as ‘divas’ or difficult, when I’ve met many male musicians who definitely fit that description better than any woman.”

What’s Walker’s advice for young performers wanting to break into bluegrass?

“The old school advice I’d give to up-and-coming female or otherwise marginalized musicians,” Walker answered, “is to practice and work really hard to be proficient and self-sufficient because you’ll need to be twice as good as the good old boys to prove you belong.”

She also gave what she called “updated 21st Century advice,” including advising young women to make “new paradigms” instead of striving to live up to “old guard” standards that need no longer be relevant. She also suggested that each woman musician find her own individual strengths.

“Know that your difference and even your difficulties can be your strengths if you figure out how to wield them toward the highest good,” she said.

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