Foundation board member Sam Blumenthal, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is featured in our donor spotlight this month.
Q: How did you get involved with bluegrass music?
A. I have always been a music person. I always loved the Beatles (who I believe were a “once in a century” kind of thing), and then fell in love with rock as it continued to develop in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I saw Jimi Hendrix in 1969 when I was 13, instantly became a hippie, and then lived through the unbelievable years of 1969-1973 when the explosion of creativity and complexity in rock ‘n’ roll was impossible to describe. It pretty much died abruptly by 1974, never to be the same again. I enjoyed jazz after it became progressive, with people like Al Jarreau, David Sanborne, and Spyro Gyra, but something was missing. I became a Christian in 2000 and listened to contemporary Christian music for the next decade, but it had its limits.
Then a very good friend started inviting me to MerleFest around 2012. Wilkesboro is just under two hours away from Charlotte. I used to go to the Fiddler’s Convention in Union Grove as a teenager (but not to listen to the music!). I enjoyed MerleFest the first couple of times but only went for one day. And then I was there in 2015 and saw Scythian in the dance tent. I can’t really describe what happened; it was almost other-worldly. I have listened to bluegrass, literally, every day since. Not that Scythian plays traditional bluegrass most of the time, because they do not. But somehow after that night, I fell in love with all of it. That is the only way I know to explain it.
Although I will say this: it is a love that will never end. I listen to it every day, but I don’t feel like I must. It isn’t something addictive or pressured in any way, I just want to. And I can tell I will never tire of it; it is just that natural, that deep, that spiritual. Other people have voiced this much better than me, but I very much believe it is true. There’s something about the old country, the mountains, the spirituality of the first people who created and played it, and all the people who have played it ever since. Strings and voices are just so natural. Bluegrass runs down deep in the well of our souls. I am convinced that is why it is so powerful to those who love it.
Q. Why do you choose to support the IBMA Foundation, and why should others consider doing so?
A. I choose to support the IBMA Foundation because it will help to guarantee the future of bluegrass music. I don’t know, but I would guess there may not be another smaller genre of music that has the fans bluegrass does that have become so involved in the perpetuation of the industry itself…the connection of the musicians, agents and promoters with each other and the connection of the musicians and their particular fans. It seems as if everyone knows just how rare and precious bluegrass is; the enormous treasure it is; and that the over-all audience is small enough that if many people are not doing many things to perpetuate it, it may just fade away into nothingness. What other smaller movement of any type has its own leadership program? Leadership Bluegrass is one of those things that has incredibly contributed to the networking within the industry.
The IBMA Foundation focuses a good deal of its energy on youth, on after-school and summer camps, on lessons, instrument loan programs, college scholarships, etc. This will be our future. And to be completely honest, sometimes I want to be involved in a bluegrass activity just because I’m more likely to have a better seat!