The 20 Best Bluegrass Bands Of All Time
Bluegrass is one of those genres that has the ability to transport you to a different place. The vocal harmonies, all-string instruments, and fast tempo come together to make something uniquely beautiful. It reels you in as few other sounds can.
The sound of Bluegrass has a long, rich history, rooted in the Appalachian mountains as well as the Great Brittain. So many talented artists have graced the stage, solo, and in groups. But today, I’ll focus on my top 20 Bluegrass bands of all time.
- 1. Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys
- 2. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
- 3. The Del McCoury Band
- 4. Alison Krauss & Union Station
- 5. Osborne Brothers
- 6. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
- 7. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
- 8. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- 9. JD Crowe and The New South
- 10. The New Grass Revival
- 11. Trampled by Turtles
- 12. The Seldom Scene
- 13. The Country Gentlemen
- 14. Blue Highway
- 15. The Lonesome River Band
- 16. The SteelDrivers
- 17. Hot Rize
- 18. Yonder Mountain String Band
- 19. The Dillards
- 20. The Grascals
1. Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys
I think it’s fair to put the band, who is responsible for the name of the genre, on top of the list. Bill Monroe, often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Bluegrass,’ created the Blue Grass Boys in 1945 and became a star in country music.
Bill Monroe was the heart, soul, and brains behind the Blue Grass Boys, playing with over 150 musicians throughout his 60-year-long career. He, along with his fellow band members has left a lasting legacy, influencing almost every musician who played the genre.
He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of only five people to be featured in all three.
2. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
After leaving Bill Monroe’s the Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs went on to form Foggy Mountain Boys in 1948. The duo, along with other musicians recorded until 1969, and became a pioneering figure in Bluegrass during that period.
Thanks to Flat’s traditionalist tendencies and Scruggs’ progressive ones, bluegrass became accessible to a much wider, national audience at the peak of the Foggy Mountain Boys. The duo inspired countless young musicians and swayed many more fans.
For this, the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. They are also featured on CMT’s 40 Greatest Men of Country Music list.
3. The Del McCoury Band
Another alumnus of the Blue Grass Boys, Del McCoury is a vocalist and guitarist who formed the Del McCoury Band in 1967. Originally called Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals, the band got its present name much later in 1998.
After solidifying its name and lineup, the Del McCoury Band went on to release 16 albums, receiving one Grammy. Apart from that, Del McCoury is considered a pivotal figure in the Bluegrass genre.
His efforts like performing on late-night talk shows and DelFest brought Bluegrass to a new audience.
4. Alison Krauss & Union Station
Alison Krauss was discovered as a talented Bluegrass singer at just 16. Soon, she joined Union Station with the rest of the band backing her up.
The band released its debut album, Two Highways, in 1989 to a positive reaction among fans and critics alike. Since then, the band has been a well-respected staple among the Bluegrass charts, releasing six albums and winning multiple Grammys.
Union Station is still together, releasing music to this day.
5. Osborne Brothers
In an era filled with bluegrass traditionalists, the Osborne Brothers managed to steal the spotlight, becoming a highly innovative and experimental bluegrass duo. They were the first ones to use percussions and electronics in their sound. And sure, they got some flak for it from the purists, but the love they received was significantly more.
After playing back up for many prominent musicians, the Osborne Brothers came together in 1953. They went on to perform with many other artists, recording 23 albums. Some of their timeless hits include “Rocky Top”, “Ruby Are You Mad”, and “Tennesse Hound Dog”.
6. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Kentucky Thunder is an American Bluegrass and Country band formed around the legendary Bluegrass musician, Ricky Skaggs. What makes the group great is the fact that the rest of the members are all notable musicians in their own right, having won several Grammys.
Kentucky Thunder has been active since 1997, releasing nine albums. Many of its songs are featured on US Grass and Country charts.
7. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Doyle Lawson is a mandolin player and vocalist who is considered an icon of Bluegrass music. In 1979, Lawson went on to form his own group, a 6-man-band called Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.
The band quickly became a highly-respected act in the Bluegrass community, having won multiple prestigious awards. It is now considered a pioneering group for modern country music.
8. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of the few Bluegrass artists that don’t have their roots in the Appalachian region. The band was formed in 1966 in California. And despite having undergone several lineup changes, it has managed to capture a lot of audiences.
Considered instrumental in making country and roots music mainstream, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band achieved success from the get-go, touring with massive bands like The Doors and Jack Benny. The band has a massive discography, spanning such a long career. It has also won multiple awards.
9. JD Crowe and The New South
The world of Bluegrass got elevated to a new level when JD Crowe, a genre legend, formed The New South in 1971. The banjo player acted as the mastermind and the band leader of the group until his passing in 2021.
While the New South suffered continuous lineup change, the band’s essence remained the same. To create great Bluegrass music, time and again. Throughout its history, JD Crowe and co. released a plethora of albums that pushed the boundaries of the genre.
10. The New Grass Revival
Founded in 1971 in Louisville, Kentucky, New Grass Revival was a progressive bluegrass band. While the group started as your traditional bluegrass band, it soon changed its purpose to expanding the horizons of the sound.
Responsible for hits like Callin’ Baton Rouge and 9 albums, New Grass Revival is undoubtedly a legend of the genre. It’s even been inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
11. Trampled by Turtles
Most would consider Trampled by Turtles an indie folk band. However, the band takes its inspiration from country and bluegrass music, incorporating the sounds heavily into its own.
The band is a staple on bluegrass charts, even taking the number one spot several times. It has performed in many festivals and national television shows, bringing the genre to many more ears. With nine albums under their belt, they sure do have a legacy.
12. The Seldom Scene
Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland, The Seldom Scene is an American bluegrass band that was founded in 1971. The band quickly rose to bluegrass stardom, part of which can be attributed to the traction the genre was gaining in the late 60s and 70s.
But that isn’t to say that The Seldom Scene was in the right place at the right time. The band made great progressive music as it used elements from pop and rock in its sound. As it grew older, it continued to add diverse elements to its sound, making the music more digestible for the mainstream audience.
13. The Country Gentlemen
As with all genres, particularly niche ones, progression is the key to making it popular. Few bands exhibited that like The Country Gentlemen. One of the earliest prog bluegrass groups, the band formed in 1957 in Washington D.C.
Despite playing traditional country instruments like mandoline, banjo, and the guitar, The Country Gentlemen explore pop, among other sounds. Because of this, the band is considered a pioneering act and was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.
14. Blue Highway
An objective way to gauge the greatness of an artist is the awards and critical reception it receives. In the case of Blue Highway, it’s a long list.
The contemporary bluegrass band was formed in 1994 in Tennessee. It dabbled in bluegrass, gospel, folk, and other southern genres, creating fourteen albums. Many of those albums charted highly.
15. The Lonesome River Band
Headed by Sammy Shelor, The Lonesome River Band originated in Virginia in 1982. Since then, the band has become one of the most respected contemporary names in bluegrass.
A reason for its stature is the sheer amount of talent that has played in the band. It features an incredibly long list of past members and guest members. The Lonesome River Band has been a workforce in creating music. To date, they have released 17 albums.
16. The SteelDrivers
Formed in Nashville in 2005, The SteelDrivers is a notable contemporary bluegrass group. While the group has not had a huge discography (five albums), it has consistently been nominated for Grammys.
The band has had a pretty decent career, playing in multiple festivals, and ranking high on Billboard Country charts. Good, high-quality music and staying true to the genre. You can’t ask for much more.
17. Hot Rize
Formed in 1978, Hot Rize is a bluegrass band that is credited with taking the sounds of the Appalachian to many parts of the world. The band has toured extensively across North America, Europe, Australia, and more.
Hot Rize quickly became a prominent name in bluegrass, keeping a stellar four-man lineup for most of its history. With just one album in the 21st century, the band hasn’t released much music lately but still plays live music, and great one at that.
18. Yonder Mountain String Band
I don’t think there’s a more country-sounding name for a band than Yonder Mountain String Band. And just as well because the band is a really good one.
Known for its progressive tendencies, Yonder Mountain String Band is a staple at the zenith of US Grass and Country charts. Further, the band runs its independent record label. Since their origin, they have made twelve albums in 18 years.
19. The Dillards
A member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, The Dillards were a powerhouse of a group, particularly in the 70s and 80s when the genre was transitioning into the mainstream.
Formed in 1963 in Missouri, The Dillard is one of the most influential bluegrass bands of all time. And not just for upcoming country musicians, but also massive artists like The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and Elton John.
20. The Grascals
The Grascals is a contemporary bluegrass band, formed in Nashville in 2004. It’s a six-piece group that has gained a lot of nationwide attention for having played at several festivals and notable venues.
With twelve albums to its name and multiple Grammy nominations, The Grascals is a treat to bluegrass fans no matter when you listen to it.
That’s my list of top 20 Bluegrass bands of all time. But this is just a start for new bluegrass fans. Of course, no best-of list is definite as everyone has different tastes and opinions, however, this list features the pioneers and classic bands that are hard to argue.
Bluegrass has so much more to offer. With a genre that has such a brilliant history, you are bound to find plenty more talented artists to listen to.