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The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Festival Life


Direct all correspondence to Robert Owen Gardner, Department of Sociology, 219 Ketchum, 327 UCB, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309–0327; e-mail:


Drawing from six years of ethnographic field research, I examine participants' involvement in bluegrass music and festival culture in the American West. Participants left their community-starved home neighborhoods to cultivate what I refer to as “portable communities”: temporary forms of mobile gemeinschaft community that participants found in multiple settings. Festivalgoers articulated a consistent vocabulary of intimacy, inclusion, and simplicity when describing their continued involvement in this setting. They described their involvement as driven by a quest for intimate community, open and equal social relations, and simple living, elements they found in short supply in their daily lives. Whereas traditional community forms depend on residential stability, these participants intentionally cultivated and supported alternatives that emerged in response to participants' geographic mobility.