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Artist of the Month: Dawg in December

Dec 4, 2023

Artist of the Month: Dawg in December

Earlier this year, David “Dawg” Grisman was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at IBMA’s annual awards show in Raleigh, North Carolina. Grisman was unable to attend, but gave remarks via a pre-recorded video; his acceptance speech was striking. Dawg poured forth unmetered gratitude, listing so many artists, bands, peers, and forebears who gave him a shot, hired him, got him started, stuck with him, and contributed to his success.

It was a laundry list of names, some enormous in his creative life – Jerry Garcia, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Roland and Clarence White, Ralph Rinzler – and others with much more granular and specific impacts. Though his speech was barely four minutes long, Grisman gave a remarkably holistic overview of his broad and varied career, pinpointing respective “dominos” in his musical life that each tipped over into the next, leading to the decades-long, groundbreaking musical output for which we all know, respect, and adore the Dawg.

He even remembered the very moment he heard bluegrass music for the first time, beginning his self-taped video mentioning the Mike Seeger-produced vinyl compilation, Mountain Music Bluegrass Style, and Earl Taylor & the Stoney Mountain Boys’ rendition of “White House Blues,” his first pivotal taste of the music that would define his life – and that he would re-define, time and time again, over the course of his career. He thanked Doc Watson, a frequent collaborator and recording partner, for being “the first professional musician to ever invite this mandolin picker on stage, when I was 17 years old.”

But Dawg’s musical pedigree – unassailable as it is – wasn’t the focal point of his Hall of Fame acceptance. Instead, Grisman positioned his lengthy and name-drop-heavy resumé not as proof of his own bona fides or validation of his music and impact, but as evidence of his own gratitude. Gratitude at the honor of being inducted into the Hall, yes, but more importantly, gratitude at having been given the opportunity to find, become, and be himself, unapologetically and with mandolin in hand.

Whether in duet with Tony Rice, Del McCoury, Jerry Garcia, Tommy Emmanuel, or Andy Statman, or in groups like Old & In the Way and the David Grisman Quintet (or Trio or Sextet), Dawg has routinely and effortlessly pushed every musical envelope he’s inhabited. He, his friends, bandmates, and collaborators invented new genres and sub-genres, brought bluegrass to hundreds of thousands of new fans, and folded in virtuosos (often unknown to bluegrass) from across the roots music landscape and around the globe. No matter how “out there” or fringe Dawg’s music became, it was and continues to be indelibly rooted in a reverence and love for the traditional, vernacular roots of bluegrass and old-time – as genres, yes, but as communities and folkways, primarily.

It’s why his catalog includes music made for and with folks like Stephane Grappelli, Frank Vignola, Jerry Garcia, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor, but in his acceptance speech he went out of his way to thank and spotlight bluegrassers like Frank Wakefield, Curly Seckler, Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osborne, and Herschel Sizemore instead. It’s also why, despite building a career and identity out of coloring outside the bluegrass lines, Dawg is still proudly claimed by the bluegrass hard liners and “that ain’t bluegrass” sorts – as well as the wooks, hippies, jamgrassers, and chambergrass acolytes.

From the highest-selling bluegrass album of its time, Old & In The Way, to The Pizza Tapes; from “E.M.D.” to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty; from Tone Poems to “Dawggy Mountain Breakdown” playing at the beginning of each and every episode and rerun of NPR’s quintessential hit, “Car Talk;” David Grisman’s legacy is resplendent, exhaustive, and one-of-a-kind. But it’s not just a resumé to Dawg – or just a history, benign and objective. To David Grisman, the most important thing about making music is people – the ones who make it, the ones who hear it, and the ones who love it.

All month long we’ll be celebrating Dawg in December. Enjoy Artist of the Month content like our Essentials Playlist (below), plus we’ll be chatting with friends of Dawg about what it’s really like to know him and make music with him, we’ll dip back into the BGS Archives for our favorite Grisman content, we’ll feature his son’s new band, the Sam Grisman Project, and much more. So join us as we celebrate Dawg’s induction into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and his entire groundbreaking career for Dawg in December.


Photo courtesy of Acoustic Disc

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Artist of the Month: Dawg in December
Artist of the Month: Dawg in December