Havre Daily News
It's a little bit of Appalachian flavor on the Hi-Line, a trip through bluegrass country.
On most Tuesday nights, Havre radio listeners can hear KNMC-FM's Tim Hodges play bluegrass music, the melodic fusion of string instruments and storytelling, and perhaps catch a local musician playing live in the studio.
A Great Falls native who spent a decade in the East before returning to Montana, Hodges brought his love of bluegrass with him and jumped at a chance to put it on the radio.
For Havre listeners, Hodges' show is unlike most else they'll find on the local radio dial. Bluegrass is popular in other parts of the state but hasn't taken root here.
For Hodges, the show is about sharing his love of a genre he calls the “continuation of real country music.”
“I enjoy it because of the heritage,” Hodges said. “A lot of the themes in the songs are about the American heritage. They're about settling and farming and labor and the Civil War.”
Other songs tell of jailhouse stays, raucous nights, train wrecks, murder, mayhem and salvation. Oftentimes the music has a touch of morality to it, Hodges said.
Hodges, who works as an electrical engineer with Triangle Telephone Cooperative, fell in love with bluegrass when he met his wife, Kathleen, while living in the Washington, D.C., area. She played in a bluegrass band, and the pair teamed up, playing the music at county fairs, nursing homes and strawberry festivals.
The nation's capital is a hotbed of bluegrass music, Hodges said, and it's not far from the genre's roots.
Bluegrass developed in the Ohio River Valley during World War II. Bill and Charlie Monroe were playing “hillbilly music” in the late 1930s when they split up over creative differences, Hodges said.
Bill Monroe went on to form the Blue Grass Boys, which featured banjo player Earl Scruggs using a definitive three-finger roll style now named in his honor. The band is credited with starting the movement, which spread south and east, Hodges said.
Bluegrass enjoyed a boom that lasted until Elvis and then the Beatles came on the American scene, he added. The music has been revived several times since, and is still popular in some parts of the country.
Hodges said the music is an extension of traditional country music and is quite different from the Top 40 music played on country stations today.
Bluegrass is mainly an acoustic form, with the major instruments including guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and bass.
“In pure bluegrass, you'll never find a drum and you'll very rarely find electric instruments,” Hodges said. “Bluegrass, I think, is defined by the rhythm, driven by the banjo and the mandolin.”
In bluegrass, like jazz, the basic song will set an outline within which the players work, but the musicians each take turns with solos that vary the basic sound, he said.
Bluegrass is popular in different parts of the state, particularly western Montana. Hamilton and Great Falls host annual festivals.
“I think what ends up happening is that culture moves with the migration of people,” Hodges said. “This area was not heavily settled by people out of the bluegrass tradition.”
Bluegrass came to Montana with people who moved from northern California and Colorado, Hodges said.
Some Montana musicians are creating music that has its roots in bluegrass and cowboy music, with Native American rhythmic influences, he said.
Hodges occasionally features local acoustic musicians on his show, and is a member of Blue Paw Beargrass, a local band that plays at his house and performs at a handful of events each year.
Many of the older folks he plays music with grew up in a farmhouse tradition, where entertainment wasn't readily available and everybody in the family played an instrument, he said.
Hodges said he's heard from some listeners who are “really pleased and sort of surprised, because it is quite a different kind of music than what gets played on KNMC a lot of the time.”
Hodges' show runs from 8 to 10 p.m. most Tuesdays on KNMC-FM 90.1.