My Big Fat Blue­grass Wed­ding蓝草音乐婚礼

“I hope the bride knows what blue­grass is.”

That's China - - Contents - Text by / Hannah Lund

Now, I’ve tried all kinds of strange com­bos: whipped cream and potato chips? Yep. Waltz­ing to Bon Jovi? Hell yes. You name it, I’ve prob­a­bly tried it. But blue­grass at a Chi­nese wed­ding? Of all the seem­ingly ill con­ceived com­bos, I would have never dreamt that one up.

The Roots of Blue­grass Mu­sic

Blue­grass mu­sic is a form of Amer­i­can roots mu­sic, played on a range of acoustic stringed in­stru­ments in­clud­ing the banjo, fid­dle, gui­tar, and man­dolin. Per­for­mances are char­ac­ter­ized by free im­pro­vi­sa­tion and close high-pitched har­monies. The blue­grass com­mu­nity is vi­brant and re­silient, and sprung from tra­di­tional mu­sic played within the Ap­palachian re­gion of the United States, where many English, Ir­ish and Scot­tish im­mi­grants set­tled dur­ing the 1600s. The Ap­palachia cul­tural re­gion spans from the South­ern Tier of New York to north­ern Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi and Ge­or­gia, and the stories told through the lyrics of blue­grass songs of­ten re­flected the day-to-day hap­pen­ings of life on the farm or in the hills. The mu­sic spread fur­ther afield with the on­set of ra­dio in the early 1900s. Orig­i­nally the style of mu­sic was not called blue­grass, but just old time moun­tain hill­billy mu­sic. In the 1920s and 1930s, The Mon­roe Broth­ers from Ken­tucky were pop­u­lar pi­o­neers of the mu­si­cal tra­di­tion. Char­lie played the gui­tar, while Bill played the man­dolin as they sung in har­mony. Af­ter split­ting up and ven­tur­ing on their own ways, Bill started a new form of “tra­di­tional” coun­try mu­sic with his band la­belled “Bill Mon­roe and the Blue Grass Boys”. Their per­for­mances in­cluded many dis­tinc­tive fea­tures of blue­grass mu­sic, such as break­neck tem­pos, vo­cal har­monies, and so­phis­ti­cated so­los on the man­dolin, banjo and fid­dle. The en­sem­ble be­came known as “The Orig­i­nal Blue­grass Band” which be­came a pro­to­type for groups that fol­lowed, and Bill is com­monly re­ferred to as the “Fa­ther of Blue­grass”. The in­tro­duc­tion of the “blue­grass fes­ti­val” in the 1960s helped to bring the style out of ob­scu­rity, and cre­ate joy­ous com­mu­nity events for the new gen­er­a­tions of blue­grass mu­si­cians to gain in­spi­ra­tion from. Other sub-gen­res that stemmed from the tra­di­tional style, in­clude “pro­gres­sive blue­grass” util­is­ing elec­tric in­stru­ments and con­tain­ing in­flu­ences from rock’n’roll, “blue­grass gospel” us­ing Chris­tian lyrics and soul­ful har­monies, and “neo­tra­di­tional blue­grass” where bands typ­i­cally have more than one lead singer.

Now, I’ve tried all kinds of strange com­bi­na­tions. Whipped cream eaten with potato chips? Yes. Waltz­ing to rock band Bon Jovi? Hell yes. You name it and I’ve prob­a­bly tried it. Per­form­ing blue­grass mu­sic at a Chi­nese wed­ding? Of all the seem­ingly ill-con­ceived com­bos, I would have never dreamt that one up. Talk about po­lar op­po­sites! But that’s the combo I found my­self sam­pling.

Me and my mu­si­cal bud­dies call our­selves “The Bro­ken Bridge Blue­grass Band” be­cause we like to play by the Bro­ken Bridge some­times, and are happy to be known as (prob­a­bly) “Hangzhou’s Only Blue­grass Band”. Also, there’s some­thing to be said about hav­ing a band­name that is re­ally hard to pro­nounce. One after­noon the rain forced us away from our usual haunt and we were in­stead skulk­ing out­side of the Star­bucks by the Cul­ture Cen­ter, as we still wanted to prac­tice de­spite the weather. Our banjo player was fill­ing us in on the de­tails of an up­com­ing wed­ding. We’d been booked to play a blue­grass set right af­ter a Chi­nese wed­ding cer­e­mony. Stan­dard stuff, right? Well, here’s the kind of wed­ding I’m used to: a string quar­tet made up of two vi­olins, a vi­ola and a cello. The group ar­rives, sets up their in­stru­ments, ad­justs some stands, and then hacks away at Pachel­bel and Han­del’s Wa­ter Mu­sic just well enough to be ig­nored. The gen­eral goal of wed­ding mu­sic is to sound good, but not so good that guests can pick out any one spe­cific

song. You have to blend in. And most im­por­tantly, never – ever - up­stage the bride. Out­door wed­dings are to be avoided (ow­ing to air­borne sheet­mu­sic), as are re­cep­tions (ow­ing to the time I played for 1 and a half hours in full view of a choco­late foun­tain). These are the stan­dard wed­ding pro­ce­dures, and it’s mu­sic that you’d call “nice” and noth­ing more.

So, a blue­grass wed­ding? In China? Hmmm...

Upon ar­rival we were put on a stage (right next to a pre­car­i­ously-stacked tower of cham­pagne glasses. Go fig­ure) and were given mics to did­dle around with. We had no idea when we were sup­posed to start play­ing so we took to wan­der­ing about, edg­ing ever closer to the buf­fet ta­ble and schmooz­ing away un­til the brides­maid/in­ter­preter came over to give us in­struc­tions.

“Hey, the bride is run­ning a lit­tle late. Can you play some­thing… lively?” But of course!

The wed­ding was sup­posed to be­gin at 6:18pm, and the three of us spec­u­lated over the sig­nif­i­cance of this time on our re­spec­tive stools. The gui­tarist main­tained that, since 8 was a spe­cial num­ber, hav­ing at least one in the time was sure to be lucky. I thought it had some­thing to do with the com­bi­na­tion of 9’s, since the Chi­nese pro­nun­ci­a­tion of two 9’s and the word for “for­ever” is the same. At any rate, we started play­ing at 6:21, so sym­bol­ism be damned.

I looked out over the smartly-dressed guests seated at cof­fee ta­bles, at the pic­tures of the bride and groom in tra­di­tional Chi­nese wed­ding out­fits, and then at our in­stru­ments. What the hell, I thought, let’s do this! And at once we launched into our open­ing num­ber “Crip­ple Creek,” which is about as blue­grassy as you can get. The banjo plucked and the gui­tar strummed and, sud­denly, chil­dren were up danc­ing and flop­ping around. Some adults joined them, and the at­mos­phere swelled to one

of pure cel­e­bra­tion. I think that’s a uni­ver­sal qual­ity about wed­dings: no mat­ter where peo­ple are from, ev­ery­one is there to cel­e­brate with the en­thu­si­asm of a fire­cracker.

We tran­si­tioned into a Chi­nese song 《我的姑娘在哪

里》 (“Where Is My Girl?”) which seemed fit­ting as the bride was still run­ning late. Re­gard­less, we kept on play­ing, and peo­ple kept on danc­ing. The Chi­nese guests cheered and sang along, while the for­eign guests snapped pho­tos and laughed at the danc­ing kids. We played faster and faster, and then, when the brides­maid came to tell us that we could stop, we slunk away to watch the pro­ceed­ings.

Of course, Chi­nese wed­dings are dif­fer­ent in many ways from Western wed­dings, but this wed­ding de­fied all tra­di­tions. It was Chi­nese at its core, with enough for­eign el­e­ments to jus­ti­fi­ably call it a fu­sion. Half of the guests were for­eign­ers who had stud­ied with the bride, and the other half were Chi­nese peo­ple who I be­lieve had a good grasp of Western cus­toms. The bride wore a big poofy white dress. The bride and groom cut the cake, poured the cham­pagne, and the em­cee made the cou­ple play games be­fore they could kiss each other.

Then it was re­cep­tion time so we shuf­fled back on stage. De­spite how ran­dom the sit­u­a­tion ap­peared to be, our band and the mu­sic seemed to fit right in; our jeans, our Western in­stru­ments, and our songs all fit in per­fectly. We played “Turkey in the Straw,” and even got a folksy “Canon in D” go­ing (be­cause it wouldn’t be a wed­ding with­out it). The blush­ing bride ven­tured on stage and sang along with us, and when she ran to hug her new hus­band, we played and waltzed away, watch­ing on as the gag­gle of dancers hoe­down-ed in el­e­gant qi­pao dresses.

The night swept by, and soon the bride and groom were say­ing how lucky they were to know us, but truth be told, it was I who felt like the lucky one. In the end it just goes to show: some­times it’s the strangest flavour com­bi­na­tions that taste the best.

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