Here’s one from Christopher Bowhay:

As is the case for so many, I blame actor/comedian/banjo player Ed Helms for my crippling addiction to bluegrass covers of rock songs and, by extension, for an intensive existential exploration.

It all started in June of 2015, when, accompanying my teenage daughter to her second Bonnaroo festival, we passed by the “That” tent (as opposed to the helpfully named “This” and “The Other” tents and the “Which” and “What” stages). The soulful strums of mandolins, string basses, and guitars that drew us to what we discovered was the “Ed Helm’s Bluegrass Situation Superjam.” Having attended only one Bonnaroo the year before (I hasten to add that I am the least hip person you know—I began attending this 15-odd year-old event because my infinitely cooler daughter wanted to go, and, being ordained, and therefore a horrible father, I sought any opportunity I could to spend quantity, quality, and creative time with the teenager in my care). I had no idea that this Bluegrass Superjam has been one of the festival’s signature happenings since 2012.

The tent was filled to overflow, with hundreds of people spilling onto the grass outside. I learned later that we had already missed Shakey Graves and Hurray for the Riff Raff, but were not too late to hear Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, accompanied by the stunning Rhiannon Giddens (lead singer for the Americana band Carolina Chocolate Drops but introduced to the world by T Bone Burnett through his production of the New Basement Tapes, which featured excavated and unrecorded Bob Dylan songs performed by Elvis Costello, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and Mumford and Sons’ Marcus Mumford, along with a cameo guitar appearance by Johnny Depp). Fleck, Washburn, and Giddons presented an array of their joint work, but I was overwhelmed by their cover of the 80’s classic so-bad-that-it’s-good “The Final Countdown” (see bottom).

Before long, the Punch Brothers unveiled their cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” only to be joined later by Trampled by Turtles to offer a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” Later, Washburn and Giddons returned to the stage with the incomparable Sarah Jarosz (whose cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” had already been one of my pre-Bonnaroo research favorites), to unearth The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” triggering a roaring accompanying sing-along by the entire crowd. And when Shakey Graves returned to offer an old-but-new version of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” I was sold. There were many other great songs performed that night, but the covers were what spoke to me. I had never really been exposed to Bluegrass before, but through this experience of “Nu-grass,” I felt entire chapters of my past experience of music re-open, scramble, and come to new life.

Since then, I’ve become surprisingly vulnerable to bluegrass reinterpretations of songs that that were in some way a part of my past life, as well as to other contemporary songs. Thanks to the wonder of Facebook logrhythms, I’ve learned about Iron Horse, whose versions of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” are truly wondrous. I have learned about Greensky’s covers of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Pink Floyd’s “Time/Reprise,” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” which are equally exhilarating. And then there’s this link to this “Metal Head’s Guide to Loving Bluegrass in Nine Riot-Worthy Tunes.” And have I mentioned A.V. Club’s “A.V. Undercover Series,” which unveils dozens of amazing covers, including the Punch Brothers’ incredible version of the Strokes’ “Reptilia”? Oh, and you simply have to see an amazing young man perform Ozzy Ozzbourne’s “Crazy Train” in five parts by himself. It goes on and on…

Naturally, I wonder why, in my late forties, I’ve become so enamored with this particular style of music. Perhaps it has to do with what Paul Zahl has said about the power of music, namely, that our Spotify and iTunes playlists reveal the contours of our soul’s shaping by love, yearning, and loss over time. I firmly agree that music, especially the music of our most fruitful past memories, trigger abreactive and cathartic emotional events that help us “feel into order to heal.” But what does it mean when new interpretations of past songs speak to us with special power? We are no longer dealing with the sizeable power of nostalgic yearning to reconnect with past wounds and joy; we are dealing with a reframing of those past events in new and unexpected ways.

At the close of Dante Alighieri’s Purgatory, after the Pilgrim has passed through and been purged of the Seven Deadly Sins, he enters The Earthly Paradise as a preparation for the final third of his journey toward Heaven. He learns that he will pass through two rivers which have distinct but important powers and benefits: First, he will cross the river Styx, which cleanses him of past memories of his sin–which have been forgiven. Clearly, there are some things that, having been dealt with by grace, no longer need to be remembered. And then he will cross the river Lethe, which will strengthen his memories of the good things which, through grace, he was able to offer in his earthly pilgrimage.

According to Dante, after our desires are re-ordered, we experience a re-ordering of memory, which means the re-ordering of the emotions that our memories color and control. As the Pilgrim prepares for Paradise, and for the Resurrection that will follow, his bodily and time-bound experience of life is given a new and eternal framework through which he can re-interpret his identity and prepare for his reinterpretation by God through his redemption and ultimate resurrection.

Like a metal song that is recast by bluegrass artists, all of the Pilgrim’s old stories and songs are about to be remade, rebooted, and “covered” by God’s renewal. This is neither a denial nor a destruction of the source material, but a reconfiguration–one which honors its origin but changes its trajectory. This is what grace does. As Cardinal Newman said, recasting what St. Thomas Aquinas had said centuries before, “Grace perfects nature but does not destroy it.” While our baptism incorporates us into the death of Christ (which encompasses the death of the old Adam and therefore the death of our old selves), our baptism also restores our identity, our stories, and our songs into the original self that God intended when He first sanctioned creation. The death of self is actually the birth of the true self, which was made in the image and likeness of God, and which was restored and “covered” by the saving and transformational death and resurrection of Christ.

Perhaps, then, my attraction to these bluegrass covers mirrors a yearning for my memories of the past and my current identity to be covered and transformed by the eternally new song of grace. After all, my iTunes playlist is dear to me, but it can become wearying through relentless repetition. As T.S. Eliot concludes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”:

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”

I know my past songs. I am acutely aware of the joy and pain that they summon within and mean for me. I have listened to them for years. What I want is both an escape from my personality—that amalgam of memory and desire—and a deliverance from it into a more true awareness of how God sees me, and in seeing me leads me to both Him and to myself. I want God to sing in me a new song through which He makes clear His saving works in my past and His restoration and resurrection of the self that He first shaped in my mother’s womb, claimed and purged on the Cross, and then re-shaped as He rose from the tomb.