Formed by Crockett Ward, the Ballard Branch Bogtrotters are, by their appearances alone, precisely the sort of people a record company of the mid 20th century would market as Bluegrass musicians. They are shown playing stringed instruments, including the emblematic banjo and fiddle, Crockett (front and center) is in a farmer’s coveralls, they are in an ensemble (including family–with Crockett’s brother, Wade, on banjo, and Fields Wade on guitar), and all are white.Yet, when the group is viewed through the speech Rhiannon Giddens gave at the 2017 IBMA conference (linked here), Bluegrass is not comprised merely by these attributes. However, I would like to spend a moment to reflect on the Scots-Irish influences Giddens is–rightfully, mind–pushing back on. While these cultural roots certainly don’t tell the whole story, there may be insights hidden beneath the simplistic veneer of “Bluegrass-as-white” which so frustrates Giddens.1
The Gaelic roots which inform this group are apparent in two places. The surname of three of the members of the band, Ward, has origins in that culture (ancestry.com). Perhaps more interestingly, “bog-trotting” has distinct Irish connotations which add more detail to the study of Bluegrass. Contemporary bands have taken up the name, including the Galax Bogtrotters.
1 Povelones, Robert. 2018. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address – IBMA Business Conference 2017.” International Bluegrass Music Association. https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/
2 2000. “Bog Trotters.” The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/bog-trotters-1.283938