Many musicians may be students of the genre of the music they play, but few have the paperwork to back it up.
Genre-specific musicians learn on the fly, learning rockabilly, jazz, cosmic-country or “insert favorite genre here” in garages, basements and bars worldwide. Same goes for bluegrass, as bluegrass boot camp happens in clubs, festival stages, campgrounds or wherever people choose to bust out their acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos and fiddles. Multi-instrumentalist Becky Buller is one of those students, having played in her parent’s bluegrass band since she was a kid; but she’s also a traditionally schooled student of the genre, studying bluegrass music in college.
Buller will perform a virtual show Saturday as part of the Sidecar Online Concert Series, performing with The Songs From the Road Band and Barbaro.
“I went to bluegrass school,” Buller said. “East Tennessee State University has the oldest bluegrass, old-time and country music program anywhere in the world. You can now get a degree in bluegrass music, and they also have a master’s degree programs in Appalachian studies, which is the umbrella the bluegrass department is under. They have got so much great stuff going on there.”
No stranger to Durango’s bluegrass scene, Buller played fiddle in Rebecca Frasier’s band at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown in 2015, then returned in 2018 to headline with her own band. She’s also already played most bluegrass festival stages in Colorado and beyond, and as a forever student of the genre as both teacher and pupil, she participates in bluegrass in the schools programs whenever she can.
Bluegrass music is one of the few genres where songs have been passed on through generations; it’s at times as much a study in anthropology as it is music.
“I have had so many great people that passed the music down to me, I’m trying to do the same for others,” she said.
It’s all par for the course and the natural stepping stones in her career that’s part of a life that has been steeped in a genre of music created by Bill Monroe in the 1940s.
“I can’t remember a time in my life where bluegrass music wasn’t a big part of who I am and what I do,” Buller said.
She has five solo releases under her belt, the latest being “Distance and Time” that dropped in October. It’s a traditional bluegrass offering, that at times strays into acoustic swing or bluesy folk.
She’s also an International Bluegrass Music Award winner, winning fiddle player of the year in 2016. That award landed her in the supergroup The First Ladies of Bluegrass, alongside Alison Brown, Sierra Hull, Missy Raines and Molly Tuttle.
“We’re all the first women to win in our respected instrument categories at the IBMA awards,” Buller said. “It’s just a tremendous honor to get to work with these ladies because they are all tops of their craft and I admire each and every one of them. It’s an honor to represent bluegrass music with the First Ladies.”
That supergroup has gone on to headline at some of the most prestigious music festivals nationwide, including the 2019 Newport Folk Festival.
It all comes with the territory of being a major player in a genre of music where very few barriers exist between musician and fan. If Buller’s not on stage making music with other major players in the genre, she’s digging on some of the other up and comers, and that includes the hosts of tomorrow’s online show, local band Stillhouse Junkies.
“I am such a fangirl, it gets in my way at times,” Buller said.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at [email protected]