If you devote such a large part of your life to country and bluegrass music that it becomes part of your identity – as a performer, collector, dealer, and general enthusiast – it may be difficult to explain why. Still, as Lynn Russwurm prepares for another year of his Elmira Showcase Concert series, he entertains the question: “why country and bluegrass?”
“I’ve been in country all my life – I’ve been performing for all my life,” says Russwurm in his Floradale home, a place bursting with CDs, LPs, books, and assorted knickknacks from the past century of popular culture. “Bluegrass is part of country music. Originally there wasn’t a distinction.”
He continues, “It’s an honest music, and bluegrass musicians are some of the greatest musicians who don’t have any training, but they’ve got natural skill. It’s a natural kind of a music – very basic, and complex, too.”
Now in his eighties, Russwurm still recalls falling in love with the sound. “My dad had a pile of 78s and a record player, and I’d play them, and I loved those records.”
Does he still have any of them?
“I’ve probably got a few of them. I’ve expanded my collection – I’ve got about 8,000 records.” The collection covers both floors of his house, plus his barn and a storage unit.
“Country music has been with me all my life. That’s the only kind of music I really liked. I’ve played other kinds of music, but country is what I listen to.”
Spreading his love of country was a chief motivation for launching the Elmira Showcase Concerts, which highlight performers both local and far-flung. Now entering its fourth year, the series has seen its Sunday night crowds swell from 200 to an average of 600, and its schedule expand from two to three months. As the series’ profile has grown, so has the roster of talent available: local acts alternate with well-regarded performers from across Ontario and beyond.
“These are some of the top bluegrass bands in Ontario,” says Russwurm. “Randy Morrison has been the top fiddle and bluegrass player for the last two or three years. Rhyme ‘N’ Reason has been a top band for a number of years.
“There are a lot of bluegrass festivals on weekends, and after, a lot of people will hurry here to come take in a Sunday night concert.”
This year’s series will be a mix of returning favourites and new discoveries. Groups that are new to the series include Rural Appetite, Rescue Junction the Muir Family, as well as Two Plus Who – a bluegrass partnership that Russwurm formed with dobro guitar player Bob Tremblay.
We’ve heard of country music evolving over the decades – 1940s superstar Elton Britt, a favourite of Russwurm’s, was hardly the same as, say, Chris Daughtry. How does Russwurm feel about this shift?
“Well, I don’t listen to the radio – I don’t really know what’s out there today,” he says. “It’s very rock-oriented. There’s some good stuff coming out, but… if I listen to music, I listen to old records or tapes or CDs.”
He adds, “A lot of the dealers look at what’s coming out of Nashville as garbage. The old music is the music, as far as us old-timers are concerned.”
The Elmira Showcase Concert series takes place every Sunday night in June, July, and August at the Gore Park bandstand, 7-9 p.m. Bluegrass Edition will take the stage on June 2 to open the season.