Message in a Mandolin Bottle- The Journey of The People’s Mandolin

        As a kid I was fascinated with the idea of messages and far-away lands. I was just a country kid who loved to read books and had a big imagination. In reality, my odds of a Tahiti tour were about as good as Jimmy Stewarts’ character George Bailey in “A Wonderful Life,” but it didn’t stop me from being a dreamer at times.  I always wanted to put a message in a bottle, toss it in the ocean and see where it would wind up.

        As an adult I haven’t changed much. The life I chose was the right one for me, but it kept me close to home.  I was good with books and people and a country doc was just the right career. I loved music but didn’t have the talent or the temperament for the road. But at times I still dream. My wife and I plan to see some of the country before we get too old to go, and we hope my book will be our tour ticket to find all the right people.

        The other day I came up with an idea I want to run by my readers.  Even though I’m an old man, deep inside I’m a kid who still wants to float that message out to far-flung places I’ve never seen. I decided for me it had to be a message in a mandolin bottle.

        I’m sure you must wonder what I mean. Who ever heard of a message in a mandolin bottle? I guess it would take a fellow who wrote a book called “The Mandolin Case” to dream it up. Here’s how I’m gonna send it out there.

        I have an old Kentucky ‘A’ style mandolin I’ve had for many years. Sometime back a luthier friend dressed out the frets and replaced a broken bridge. The pick guard was lost years ago. It is not any kind of investment grade mandolin but it is very playable. I decided this mandolin was the perfect vehicle to float out my message. It is the people’s mandolin.

        The people’s mandolin will begin its journey at MerleFest, 2010. There I’m gonna turn it over to some picker who lives far away and ask them to kick off the journey.  After they play it and sign it, I want them to pass it on the someone else.

        There are only a few prerequisites to participation in the message. I ask that no one keep it more than one month. I want each person who plays it to sign the mandolin before they pass it on to the next person. You may pass it on to anyone you wish, but I hope you will try to choose true bluegrassers. You know who they are.

         I would like for folks to put on a case sticker to promo their geographic area or favorite band. Also, I want you to log onto the “Journey of the People’s Mandolin” page and leave me a note and picture of your neck of the woods so I can post it on my blog to document the mandolin’s travels. If my mandolin shows up at your favorite festival maybe a picture of you holding it beside a banner to promo your event would help your cause. My blog now has readers all over the world, so it can’t hurt.

        When you find it, leave me a post as to its whereabouts. I’ll plug it into one of those maps with the dots to show where it is and we can watch it criss-cross the country. Who knows, maybe I can convince one of my favorite bands to take it abroad when they tour Europe or destinations even farther removed.

         I hope at times it might serve to introduce kids to the instrument. If your grandchild were to borrow my little mandolin and learn “You are My Sunshine” off my double stop lesson of April 14, 2010, that would be very cool. I would want to hear about anything like that, and would love to post links to You-tube videos of this kind of thing.

        It is hope that my mandolin message in a bottle will find me new bluegrass friends and serve as a scout of sorts to show me and my wife the path to festivals and bluegrass events around the country.

        As the mandolin makes it journey if you are uncertain of its authenticity, you can take it to the record table of festival performers to be sure it is the right one. Mandolin pickers like Darin Aldridge, Wayne Benson, Alan Bibey, Mike Marshall, Darren Nicholson, and many others will verify that I am real and the little Kentucky is indeed my mandolin. Buy a CD from them, the road is hard and they make great music. Ask them to slap on one of their case stickers when you see them.

        Pass it on. I would like to get the mandolin back in five years or when I wind up in the nursing home, whichever comes first. But don’t forget, it belongs to the people.  After I get it back I want to donate it to some music museum if anyone will have it. They should, because anyone with any sense should know this music belongs to the people. If we all stick together, no one can take it away from us.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: favorite instruments, Journey of The People's Mandolin, Mandolin Players I Know, memorable gigs, The Monday Morning Post, The tour, Writing


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15 Comments on “Message in a Mandolin Bottle- The Journey of The People’s Mandolin”

  1. drtombibey Says:

    Irene Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Hi Dr. B, I would love to get that mandolin. I even have a thought for the next recipient. We go to a festival in Preston CT that has a kid’s camp. One of those students would be a terrific person to receive it and keep it going. What do you think? Maybe we’ll run into you at Merlefest.


  2. drtombibey Says:


    This comment got on the last post, but I liked it so much I pasted it here.

    I think this is a great idea. I esp like the notion some child might get interested in music because of the people’s mandolin.

    Look for me at MerleFest. I’m the old doc with gray hair, a straw hat, and sunglasses. I have one green and one blue eye. Can’t miss me.

    Dr. B

  3. Rekx Says:

    What a great idea doc! This is going to be really fun. Sign me up.

  4. Jerry Watson Says:

    Hi Dr.
    This post is very interesting. When I was a kid my family lived on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. While playing in the surf one day, my brother and I found a bottle with a message inside. The bottle was thrown into the St. Lawrence Seaway by a young Canadian boy our own age. He asked if anyone finding the bottle would write to him so we did. We wound up corresponding with him for quite some time. And finally, my family has always been big into music, especially old time music, bluegrass, etc. My dad, who is gone home now, loved to play mandolins and had an old style one he called a “beetle” because of its shape. So, when I was overseas (SEA) many years ago, I missed my banjo and found a cheap mandolin that kept me company and I brought it back home. My son now has that mandolin and has taught himself to play it. One of the first songs I played on the banjo and then the mandolin was “You are my Sunshine”. So your post brings back memories. Thanks.

  5. Billy Says:

    Darn good idea — What about putting the cover of the book on the outside of the case? I wouldn’t mind bringing it from one location to another if I could ever catch up with it. I don’t know the first thing about playing a mandolin — I can barely keep my foot tapping in time, much less my right hand also, but I would love to learn at least one song on it.

  6. newt221 Says:

    You always seem to come up with the neatest most imaginative things to do. I am sure this will be a wonderful adventure for the mandolin and for you living vicariously (my word for the day) through it!

  7. drtombibey Says:


    Thanks so much for each of these comments. I am going to transfer them over to the official “Journey of The People’s Mandolin” page and respond in more detail later this PM.

    Dr. B

  8. That is such a beautiful idea! I think this is lovely, and I can’t wait to see the Mandolin’s Journey. That could be a book all by itself as well!

    • drtombibey Says:


      Keep a watch out for. Lord knows I’d love to see your name on it someday.

      I’ve talked to Gabrielle Gray at the International Bluegrass Music Museum by e-mail. She said when it makes it’s five year journey they’d like to put it in the museum as an exhibit.

      I’m going to save all the comments and documentation of it’s travels on my blog. I think it would make a nice spot in the Museum because it would document the efforts of everyday people all over the country who love bluegrass music and what it stands for.

      I told Ms. Gray some folks who are not true bluegrass have already scoffed at the idea, and say it will be lost or stolen. I’m betting on my people. They will understand the symbolism and protect it as it goes.

      Ms. Gray also has faith the mandolin will see the journey through.

      Dr. B

  9. Smitty Neuse River President of Mississippi fan Club Says:

    Doc,sounds like a great idea.I hope it makes it Mississippi, I’ll add a little grease from some chicken and dap a little chocolate cobbler on it.

    ‘You are My Sunshine” lesson alot of fun. It is enjoyed by many people.Enjoy MerleFest. Talked to Mrs. T today,she is a hoot!

    • drtombibey Says:


      If that mandolin saw to it that your mama’s chicken and chocolate cobbler had a mention in the Bluegrass Museum that would be very special and quite fitting.

      Dr. B

  10. AC Says:


    This sounds like a wonderful idea! I can see me weaving this into lessons for my students that will incorporate technology, music, and so much more! My brain is churning on how to do that, and I can’t wait for the mandolin to begin its journey! Maybe I will see it embark at MerleFest. Though I’m not a bluegrass musician, I love the music and the music makers, and I know what it does for people. In my little way, I’m doing what I can to pass along my love for bluegrass music and the people who share it with us. Thank you so much for all you do to pass it along and keep it going!

  11. drtombibey Says:


    The thought this whole project might help teachers and kids makes my day. I was a bit of an ADD type young’un and learned a lot the hard way. If somehow all that makes it easier for someone else that is very special to me.

    Dr. B

  12. Carmen Claypool Says:

    Hi there! Thanks for emailing me the link to these posts. I’m behind on my facebooking – is that a word? Mama has been ill and lots going on at work.

    I love your idea. Would love to see it come my way!

    Still looking forward to the book.


    • drtombibey Says:


      Hope you mom is okay. Should have an announcement on the book very soon.

      Keep a watch out for my little “scout” mandolin. We hope it will blaze the trail for us so we will know where to travel.

      Dr. B

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