Big Family: Documentary Celebrates Bluegrass
Fiddler Magazine|Winter 2019/20
Late last August, Kentucky Educational Televison (KET) brought an in-depth look at bluegrass music to the small screen through many Public Broadcasting Stations throughout the US.
Matt Merta

The program, Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music, not only looks at the genre’s past, but also covers the continuing development through interviews with artists and educators.

Bluegrass fiddlers such as Michael Cleveland, Brittany Haas, Jason Carter, Becky Buller, Kimber Ludiker, and others appear in the documentary, along with over 50 other performers such as Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Alison Brown, and Ricky Skaggs. Matt Grimm and Nick Helton, producers of Big Family, took some time out to discuss what went into the making of the documentary.

Matt Grimm: KET’s bluegrass history dates back to the 1970s when it produced its first bluegrass music specials. In the 1980s, the nationally distributed The Lonesome Pine Specials featured several prominent bluegrass acts. KET’s popular music series, Jubilee, followed in the 1990s and 2000s. Big Family continues this tradition.

Nick Helton: We believe this is the most thorough documentary on the subject – from the music that immigrants brought into the Appalachian region up to the grand opening of the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2018. We tried to cover all the major topics of bluegrass music and the people who shaped its sound.

Helton had previously worked on Jubilee as a director and producer, while Grimm came on board as an expert on documentaries as well as a bluegrass fan. Work started with interviewing a number of artists at the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass Conference in Raleigh, NC, which continued at the same conference in 2017.

MG: Having a “who’s who” of bluegrass music all in one place was an incredible advantage. We were able to speak to a wide breadth of the bluegrass family over the course of the week – from Hall of Fame musicians, journalists, and historians to up-andcoming musicians and so on.

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