Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bluegrass and Environmentalism

On February 23th, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) presented “Frack No! A Bluegrass Response to Fracking in Maryland” at the New Embassy Theater in downtown Cumberland, Maryland. The event featured Grand Ole Ditch, a local bluegrass band, performing traditional and original compositions. Before and during the performance, CCAN staff and volunteers were in the lobby handing out pamphlets and discussing the group’s positions on environmental issues. As with most New Embassy Theater events, soft drinks and snacks were available, as well as beer, wine and cocktails.

CCAN a regional environmental group that is currently gathering signatures for a petition that would prohibit hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state of Maryland until further environmental studies are done that show the practice is safe.  Hydraulic fracturing is a method used by energy companies to extract petroleum and natural gas. The procedure involves pumping large amounts of water, certain chemicals and sometimes sand into targeted rock layers. Proponents of hydraulic fracturing claim that natural gas has become less expensive due to the practice, while opponents are concerned with environmental and public safety issues.  

Currently, there is a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Maryland until August of 2014. The State of Maryland has budgeted 1.5 million to research the environmental impact the practice. “There’s not enough funding for the research,” said Leslie Morrison, CCAN’s Maryland Community Organizer, “We’ve seen problems in Ohio and Pennsylvania and that has concerned us.”

The connection between bluegrass, a traditional music of Appalachia, and environmentalism was obvious to some of the events attendees. Some made cultural comments, like Sam White, a Cumberland native “Bluegrass is a traditional music of rural people," stated White, "and fracking is part of the industrialization of rural America.”  Others made esthetic associations, like Desiree Bullard, a Frostburg State University student and event volunteer. “Bluegrass comes from the beauty of the mountains, and fracking is attack on that beauty,” Bullard said.
Libby Norris

For others, however, the issue of fracking took on a more personal meaning. Libby Norris, of Mount Savage, Maryland, stated “I am concerned about the implications of fracking as my family owns a small farm here and we don't own the mineral rights to the whole property. I don't like the idea of some big corporation coming and tearing up our land and polluting our water supply.”

Not all present identified themselves as environmentalists, or even claimed to have any such leanings. Some were there solely for the music, like one woman who leaned over the balcony, trying to get a better shot of the band with her camera, “I just love these guys. They’re really one of the best.”

Grand Ole Ditch is a Cumberland-based band whose members include Dave Williams (mandolin), Jacob Mathews (upright bass), Ryan Hohing, (guitar) Lucas Mathews (guitars), Craig Miller (banjo) and Jody Mosser (dobro). A selection of the band’s music can be found at

Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s web site is

The New Embassy Theatre is located at 49 Baltimore Street in Downtown Cumberland, and on the web at  







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