Shultz’s Dream

Bluegrass, Old Time

Shultz’s Dream is a project commissioned by PineCone for the 2022 IBMA Bluegrass Live! powered by PNC Festival. Thanks to a grant from the IBMA Foundation’s Shultz Fund, PineCone worked with Dom Flemons to assemble a band that would pay tribute to Arnold Shultz, one of the founders of bluegrass. Dom took the challenge one step further by composing an original song for the occasion.

Dom Flemons’ song “Shultz’s Dream” premiered in Raleigh, NC on 10.01.22.

The band is led by Dom Flemons (The American Songster). He was joined by Dante’ Pope (of Old Crow Medicine Show), Brian Farrow (of Ganstagrass), IBMA Award winning banjo player Tray Wellington and Shultz expert Dr. Richard Brown.

Arnold Shultz was a Black fiddler and guitarist who lived in rural Kentucky from 1886-1931. Shultz’s life story sounds like a tragic bluegrass song. As a young man, Shultz worked as a laborer in coal and on the Mississippi River. He played music on the side and, as legend has it, died after being poisoned by another musician who was rumored to be jealous of his talents.

Shultz lived before bluegrass music was “invented” by Bill Monroe but Monroe frequently cited Arnold Shultz as an influence. “Bill actually played guitar at the time and… emulated Arnold’s style,” says Dr. Richard Brown from the IBMA Foundation Board.  “Arnold hired (Bill Monroe) to play in his band for dances.  He gave (Bill Monroe) his first gig.”

The Arnold Shultz story is one that has been shared in bluegrass circles for decades. As much as bluegrassers love to talk about the Shultz legacy and influence, there is very little documentation of his life and music. There are only two known photos, no tune list and no recordings. “Without recordings of Arnold Shultz we’ll never really know what he sounded like when he picked,” says Dom Flemons.

But Dom is trying to change that. For this project spent time researching tunes for the band that were played during the time when Shultz and Bill Monroe knew each other. “When we think of bluegrass it is grounded in old time string band music as we would imagine it with the early British Isles music, and hoedowns,” says Flemons.  “But there is a special quality that is akin to early jazz that is set within bluegrass where you have musicians breaking off and playing solos.”

Dom says that many believe that Arnold Shultz was one of the first string band musicians to play a guitar lead over a fiddle tune. Just like in jazz and other improvisational music, instrumental leads are a signature part of the bluegrass sound. “What a phenomenal innovation to bring into the music.”

“Bill Monroe told me himself that a lot of his runs and the blues that he puts into his music was one of the reasons he really admired Arnold’s playing,” says Dr. Richard Brown from the IBMA Foundation. “And you could tell that he (Bill Monroe) really meant that. He talked about playing square dances and at times they would end up playing until dawn as people were having such a good time.”

PineCone’s grant from the IBMA Foundation is one of eight projects supported by the Arnold Shultz Fund. Grants were also awarded to organizations and individuals in Alaska, Arizona, California, China, Hawaii and Kenya. The Arnold Shultz Fund was established in 2020 by the IBMA Foundation to encourage participation in bluegrass music by people of color.