June 5, 2012
David Grisman, Bill Keith Pass Actual Torch To Younger GenerationSAN FRANCISCO — As the next generation of acoustic super-pickers matures and enters the professional sphere, several iconic figures are going to great lengths to welcome and celebrate the youthful infusion.
In recent private ceremonies in California, legendary mandolinist David Grisman reportedly commemorated the changing of the musical guard by issuing forth a real flaming torch that he symbolically passed to various budding stars.
“It just seemed like a good time to pass this torch, man,” said Grisman.
Chris Eldridge, an impressive guitarist, described the recent rite of passage.
“I kinda couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything quite that big on fire before,” said Eldridge, who is not from the West Coast.
“There was smoke everywhere. My lungs were burning so bad I wondered if they were actually maybe on fire,” said mandolin prodigy Dominick Leslie, a rising star.
“It was quite an honor,” he added.
Grisman’s glorious grey beard, transcendent aura, and mandolin wizardry have earned him favorable comparisons to Gandalf the Grey. He often appears to be shrouded in smoke when viewed by the naked eye.
Importantly, Grisman was the first musician to achieve mainstream renown for non-bluegrass music played on traditional American instruments, and his success ushered in waves of new acoustic instrumentalists.
“Grisman (affectionately nicknamed “Dawg” by Jerry Garcia) embodies and brings the spirit of soul-jam to his shows, a spirit unique to him and few peers, like Garcia,” wrote High Times Magazine in a recent five-star concert review.
Meanwhile in upstate New York, celebrated banjo innovator Bill Keith (b. 1939) has gone to similar lengths as Grisman, even holding an annual torch-passing ritual in a historical tipi (also called a tepee, or teepee).
Keith’s totally original, groundbreaking musical style forms the basis of modern banjo playing, and he is the most highly emulated banjoist after Earl Scruggs. He is also important for developing special banjo tuning pegs (Keith tuners) and ghostwriting Scruggs’s banjo instructional book.“I f***king love Bill Keith,” said Sam Grisman, a bluegrass historian and the son of David Grisman.
Keith’s tipi is a landmark at numerous bluegrass festivals, most notably the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY, where he tells stories and democratically passes a torch (a real flaming object), giving his blessings to countless aspiring musicians.
“It’s usually at night but very regularly during the day, and often in the morning if weather permits,” said Stash Wyslouch, 24.
“And almost always at twilight, frequently at midday, and generally again around sunset,” added Wyslouch.
“I accept this sacred honor,” said Eric Robertson, a mandolinist and singer.
“I have no idea what any of you are talking about,” remarked Keith, who does not view himself as gifted.