The Journey of the People’s Mandolin

       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 this page, “Journey of the People’s Mandolin,” 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


19 Comments on “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.


    drtombibey Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 6:49 am


    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

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Rekx Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 9:06
    What a great idea doc! This is going to be really fun. Sign me up.

    Jerry Watson Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 9:38
    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.

    Billy Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 10:54
    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.

    newt221 Says:

    April 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm
    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!


  3. drtombibey Says:

    I am certain the mandolin will make its way to Dallas.
    And I am gonna get there too.

    A case sticker design is in progress, and I plan to put it on the headstock area of the case. I might have to mail it out to wherever it is by then because MerleFest is in two weeks, and I don’t think it’ll quite be ready by then. Over time it’ll get covered up but I’ll send a new one out to anyone who e-mails me and says it needs to be updated.

    Jerry, That is exactly the kind of momentum I’d love for this little mandolin to pick up.

    Cindy, The good news about my story is the good guys win. So, all us us good guys are gonna vicariously whup the bad guys in the end.

    Dr. B

  4. drtombibey Says:

    slightlyignorant Says:

    April 21, 2010 at 4:55 am

    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:

    April 21, 2010 at 6:17 am


    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

  5. drtombibey Says:

    Smitty Neuse River President of Mississippi fan Club Says:

    April 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    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:

    April 22, 2010 at 3:00 am


    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

  6. drtombibey Says:

    An update of the pre-journey and a couple other pics are posted today, April 24th, 2010. This can be accessed via the archives or under the categories section “Journey of the People’s Mandolin.”

    Dr. B

  7. drtombibey Says:

    AC Says:

    April 24, 2010 at 7:08 am


    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!

    drtombibey Says:

    April 24, 2010 at 7:31 am


    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

  8. drtombibey Says:

    slightlyignorant Says:

    April 24, 2010 at 7:20 am

    I’m so excited for you Dr. B! Your book is sooo close now, I mean, if the page layout is ready already then dang, it’s really going forward! My grin stretches from ear to ear at the moment.

    Also, I still absolutely love the Journey of the People’s Mandolin… I really hope it gets back in five years and that it’ll get that corner in the museum. That little instrument is going to go far, and she’ll see lots of different kinds of folk and lots of different kind of places. She must be excited to get going.

    drtombibey Says:

    April 24, 2010 at 7:28 am


    You know, I’m getting on towards old, but this whole thing is keeping me young. I am excited too.

    I bought this mandolin years ago because my band couldn’t find a mandolin player, and then played a gig with it three weeks later. In so many ways the little mandolin is so symbolic of my own life journey and how much the music has meant to this old Doc.

    Dr. B

  9. drtombibey Says:

    Sam raig says

    April 30, 2010 at 7:16 am e

    It was very nice to meet you at breakfast at Merlefest. It is a small world, somewhat made smaller by the internet. From reading your blog posts to actually meeting you. Small world.

    I am honored that Sallie and I were the first to sign the Traveling Mandolin as it begins its journey. We wish it well, and hope that our signatures will soon be obscured by signatures of multitudes whose lives it reaches.

    Sam Craig

    drtombibey Says:

    April 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm e


    Blugrass is a small world. It it everyone knows everyone for miles and miles around. I’m sure I’ve seen you here at MerleFest before.

    Right after you Joe Walsh, the mandolin player for the Gibson Brothers signed it. After that I picked a few with the Snyder family (Zeb and Samantha) and they signed it, so it is off to a good start.

    I ran into the folks at the GHS booth and when they saw it had GHS strings on it they said they’d talk to corporate about sponsoring the people’s mandolin. (Ie if a string breaks when it is out on tour I think the GHS people at a festival booth would replace it to keep the journey going.)

    Dr. B

  10. drtombibey Says:

    She’s off and on her way to Strawberry Park in Preston CT. There will be a children’s workshop there where the kids will play it. I don’t know where it will go after that. Dr. B

  11. It was great to see you at Merlefest! Thanks for sitting down with the kids at the pickin tents. Zeb would like to do some more twin mandolin sometime. I got some nice pictures of you and the kids with the people’s mandolin. Tell me where to email them if you would like a copy. We are honored to be a part of the tour. Hope to see you soon.

    Laine for the Snyder Family Band

    • drtombibey Says:


      Well it was a lot of fun for old Doc I tell you. The kids are so talented and such delightful human beings. They will go far.

      We are work on a website to post pics to. For now if you will send them to my e-mail at: I’ll archive them and get ready to post soon.

      Dr. B

  12. We passed the People’s Mandolin to a very talented young lady at the Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival in Preston CT at the beginning of June. She’s about to take it to Greyfox. The instrument is on it’s way–it will be fun to see whose hands it passes through!

    • drtombibey Says:

      Tim and Vicki,

      Very cool. Have GreyFox send some pics when the mandolin changes hands and we’ll get them up on the website. I’ll go ahead and post preliminary notice of the change. I do hope Isabelle enjoyed and I am so glad she was a part of the journey.

      I enjoyed your camp at Strawberry Park and look forward to a return visit.

      Dr. B

  13. Isabelle hauge Says:

    I had the honor of having the Peoples Mandolin from June 1st until July 18th.
    I had Sarah Jarosz and Ron Thomason of “Dry Branch Fire Squad” sign it. I was sad to give it away, but I’m glad someone also gets to enjoy it for a month. I want to thank Tim and Vicky for picking me to play this mandolin for a month. I also want to tell Dr. Tom Bibey that this was a really cool idea and thank him for recognizing mandolin players and making them feel extra special. GOOD LUCK ZOEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Isabelle Hauge
    Hinsdale Ma

    • drtombibey Says:


      You are one more cool kid, and I’m so glad you were part of the People’s Mandolin Journey. Way to go on Dry Branch; they are legendary!

      I agree, GOOD LUCK ZOEY!!!!!!!!!! and keep me posted. Send pics if you have ’em.

      Dr. B

  14. […] it? October 3, 2010 By Leave a Comment The Journey of the Peoples Mandolin Visit the blog at This is one very cool doc. He claims to only be an old country doc, but he is a bluegrass music man […]

    • drtombibey Says:

      The mandolin is now on display at the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) in Owensboro, Kentucky. Many thanks to Gabrielle Gray for providing it a proper home.

      Dr. B

  15. […] The Journey of the People’s Mandolin […]

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