Best Bluegrass Bands: Top 5 Folk Groups According To Music Experts

Since the early 1900s, bluegrass music has grown increasingly popular. Referred to as “stringed”, “folk”, and even “hillbilly”, the bluegrass genre has given rise to some of the best musicians of all time. From the award-winning Tony Rice to newer artists like Billy Strings, bluegrass is one genre that truly encapsulates the art and talent of music. Since the “newgrass” era of progressive bluegrass, there are many more amazing bands to consider. However, when it comes to the best bluegrass bands of all time, there are only a few that make the list!

Listening to music has many benefits — from reducing stress to increasing concentration and mood. Similarly, having the ability to play an instrument can boost creativity levels and even grades! According to one study performed at the University of British Columbia, high schoolers that were enrolled in at least one musical course scored significantly higher than their non-musical peers on english, math, and science exams. The study of more than 112,000 high school students found that those who participated in musical courses had higher test scores across all subjects, and these associations were even higher among those who played and studied instrumental music.

Another study of more than 1,000 middle school students revealed that there is indeed a statistically significant relationship between musical achievement and math and reading ability. Study researchers say this association exists at both the individual and school-district levels. Not musically gifted? According to a recent study, simply listening to music can boost GPA and productivity on the job! The survey of 2,000 Americans looked at the tie between music and study habits and found those who play music were likelier to have a GPA above 3.2 than those studying in silence (84% vs. 78%). The study also showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans listen to music while working, 89 percent of which feel more productive when doing so. Respondents who listen to music while studying or working claim that instrumental music is often the go-to genre for better focus and relaxation

Today, many of the best bluegrass bands carry on the traditional sounds of the past while also exploring new musical possibilities. Whether you’re a fan of classic bluegrass or a lover of progressive bluegrass, there’s a band for everyone! Let’s start with the top five best bluegrass bands of all time. StudyFinds consulted expert music sites, taking into consideration the location of each musical group and how many times each band was listed. Your favorite didn’t make this list? Let us know in the comments below!

Statue of Bill Monroe outside of The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville
Statue of Bill Monroe outside of The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (Photo by Josiah True on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Bluegrass Bands Most Recommended by Music Fans

1. Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys

Bluegrass wouldn’t be the genre it’s become without Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys. Considered the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe revolutionized the genre with his unique blend of traditional Appalachian music, jazz, and blues. The Blue Grass Boys, which included legendary musicians such as Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, helped Monroe create a sound that was both innovative and deeply rooted in tradition. 

Flavorwire writes, “The undisputed father of the genre, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys blended the sounds of country and blues with string band music and infused it with the improvisational elements of jazz to create a sound all their own. When Flatt & Scruggs left the band, people didn’t know what to call their style of music and the term ‘bluegrass’ was born. Uncle Pen recounts the driving fiddle playing of Bill’s uncle Penn Vandiver, solidifying the instrument as a staple of the genre.”

Their tight harmonies and virtuosic instrumental skills set the standard for bluegrass bands that followed. Songs like “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Uncle Pen” have become bluegrass classics and are still beloved by fans today. 

Bluegrass Journey adds, “Established in 1938 in Kentucky, the band stayed for over 60 years. They also went through many changes in its members throughout the decades.” Hello Music Theory explains: “Monroe, a Kentucky native, is credited with inventing bluegrass, so it makes sense that his band would occupy the top slot. It is a strain of country music with fast tempos, tight harmonies, and chops. If you aren’t a real musician, bluegrass wouldn’t be for you, as you can’t fake it. Monroe played live on the radio and at dance halls for years. Elvis Presley even recorded a song of his. The national revival of interest in folk music in the ‘60s revived Monroe’s popularity, and anyone who was anyone in bluegrass wanted to play with him. Without Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, there would not be such a thing as bluegrass.”

“One cannot proceed without giving due credit to the founders of bluegrass music festivals – Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys,” says The Upcoming. “Bill Monroe was considered the core, heart, and soul, and brain behind the Blue Grass Boys. He played with more than 150 great musicians throughout his six-decade-long career. Monroe, along with his fellow band members, has left a permanent legacy, influencing almost every artist who played the genre. This bluegrass legend is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is one of only five to be featured in all three.”

Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys’ influence on the genre cannot be overstated, and their legacy continues to inspire new generations of bluegrass musicians. For anyone looking to explore the best bluegrass bands, starting with Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys is a must.

2. Alison Krauss & Union Station

When it comes to bluegrass music, Alison Krauss & Union Station are a must-listen. This band has been a staple in the bluegrass scene for over three decades, and their music continues to captivate audiences all over the world. Acoustic World writes, “Alison Maria Krauss is an American bluegrass-country singer and musician. She entered the music industry at an early age, winning local contests by the age of 10 and recording for the first time at 14. She signed with Rounder Records in 1985 and released her first solo album in 1987. She was invited to join the band with which she still performs, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and later released her first album with them as a group in 1989. Krauss has released fourteen albums, appeared on numerous soundtracks, and sparked a renewed interest in bluegrass music in the United States.”

Alison Krauss’s angelic voice, combined with the incredible musicianship of Union Station, creates a sound that is both traditional and modern. Their ability to blend genres and experiment with new sounds has earned them numerous awards and accolades, including 14 Grammy Awards. According to The Upcoming, “although all the members of the group are great musicians, Krauss often overshadows the outfit as the frontwoman. She is popular for her ethereal voice and fiddle playing. Krauss has won 27 Grammys amongst many other achievements. Until recently, Krauss was the most decorated female in the history of those awards (dislodged from the top by Beyoncé who now has 28 Grammys).”

“At the age of 21, she was the youngest cast member at the time, and the first bluegrass artist to join the Opry in twenty-nine years,” adds Flavorwire. “Bringing country influences into bluegrass, her angelic voice has been credited with bringing a new wave of listeners to the music in the 80s and 90s. A staple on the Grammy Awards stage, Krauss has worked with numerous artists in various capacities throughout her amazing career and has broadened the market with one of the few female voices. Her standout performances on the O’Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack helped launch the album to the top of the charts going platinum eight times over and ushered in a revival for the old-time and bluegrass genres.”

Krauss’s fiddle playing is particularly noteworthy, and her solos are always a highlight of their live shows. Union Station’s tight harmonies and expert instrumentation make for a truly unforgettable musical experience. 

3. The Osborne Brothers

This iconic band has been around since the 1950s and has left an undeniable mark on the genre. With their tight harmonies, impressive instrumentation, and unique sound, The Osborne Brothers have become one of the best bluegrass bands of all time. 

“Vocal harmony has always been an important component of bluegrass, and it would seem that brother duos do it best,” writes Flavorwire. “Whether it’s the way their voices blend perfectly, or their innate ability to follow the other’s lead, the Osborne Brothers took the ‘high lonesome’ sound to another level. Driving from gig to gig one day, Bobby started singing the lead part of ‘Once More’ higher and higher until they found themselves with and inverted vocal stack and what became known as the ‘high lead’ style.”

“The Osborne Brothers is a bluegrass band formed by the two brothers, Sonny Osborne and Bobby Osborne. The band is famous for its song ‘Rocky Top’ and considered one of the most influential bluegrass bands in the 60s and 70s,” says Bluegrass Journey. As one of the most classic bluegrass bands, they’ve won numerous awards, including induction into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and have influenced countless musicians over the years. 

Musician Wave says, “In an era filled with bluegrass traditionalists, the Osborne Brothers managed to steal the spotlight, becoming a highly innovative and experimental bluegrass duo. They were the first ones to use percussion and electronics in their sound. And sure, they got some flak for it from the purists, but the love they received was significantly more. After playing back up for many prominent musicians, the Osborne Brothers came together in 1953.”

So, if you’re looking for a band that embodies the spirit of bluegrass while pushing the boundaries of the genre, then look no further than The Osborne Brothers.

4. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

If you’re a fan of bluegrass music, then you’ve probably heard of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. This band has been around for over 20 years and has become one of the most respected and beloved bluegrass bands in the world. With their incredible musicianship and tight harmonies, it’s no wonder that they’ve won multiple Grammy Awards and have been inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. 

“Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder have two Grammys to their name. They have managed to become the imminent heirs to Bill Monroe’s legacy,” says The Upcoming. “Skaggs is responsible for the vocals and plays the mandolin. His name is on the marquee, but the rest of the band are accomplished players too. It should be remembered that Skaggs began his music career playing more mainstream country with Emmylou Harris. However, he transitioned in the 1980s to a solo career that moved towards bluegrass. This gave rise to the Kentucky Thunder in 1997. Kentucky Thunder went ahead amidst personnel shuffling to continue pressing on, winning seven Grammys and numerous Instrumental Group of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.”

What sets Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder apart from other bluegrass bands is their ability to blend traditional bluegrass with other genres like country, rock, and even classical music. They’re not afraid to experiment with new sounds and styles, which has helped them stay relevant and fresh over the years. Musician Wave writes, “What makes the group great is the fact that the rest of the members are all notable musicians in their own right, having won several Grammys. Kentucky Thunder has been active since 1997, releasing nine albums. Many of its songs are featured on US Grass and Country charts.”

Country Music News International adds, “Kentucky Thunder is an out of the box band, and Ricky Skaggs addition makes it so very special. Ricky Skaggs was already into his musical journey before the band, and with the band, these bunch of music lovers are almost unstoppable. Singing old and new tunes together, the band keeps running down the road like ever. With the mandolin in his arms, the latest show in ROMP in the year 2018, was one of the performances you can’t miss. Yess! You cannot miss the light-hearted feeling till they come back again with new music riding down their boots.”

Whether you’re a die-hard bluegrass fan or just getting into the genre, you owe it to yourself to check out Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. They’re one of the best bluegrass bands out there, and their music is sure to leave you tapping your toes and humming along.

5. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs

When it comes to the best bluegrass bands of all time, it’s impossible not to mention Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. These two icons of the genre were instrumental in popularizing bluegrass music and introducing it to a wider audience. Their unique sound, characterized by Flatt’s smooth vocals and Scruggs’ lightning-fast banjo picking, set the standard for bluegrass music and inspired countless musicians in the years since. 

“After leaving Bill Monroe’s the Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs went on to form Foggy Mountain Boys in 1948. The duo, along with other musicians recorded until 1969, and became a pioneering figure in Bluegrass during that period,” explains Musician Wave. “Thanks to Flat’s traditionalist tendencies and Scruggs’ progressive ones, bluegrass became accessible to a much wider, national audience at the peak of the Foggy Mountain Boys.”

Flavorwire says, “The sound of Earl Scruggs playing single-handedly fused the banjo with bluegrass in most people’s minds. The three finger style that he pioneered has become the standard by which all other banjo players are measured. Flatt & Scruggs took bluegrass out of the south and brought it to television, becoming the most commercially successful bluegrass band of their time. With their own show and credits ranging from The Beverly Hillbillies to Bonnie & Clyde, Flatt & Scruggs brought the genre front and center to the American pop psyche.”

Their hits, such as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” are still beloved by fans of bluegrass and country music today. Hello Music Theory adds, “The pair had a backing band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, in which many big names played, and for the 25 years they performed together, they made a huge mark. Most notably, ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ was a hit in 1949, and the instrumental has won two Grammys. Furthermore, the theme song to the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies was a Flatt & Scruggs piece and went to #1 on the country charts.”

“Their distinctive sound was punctuated by Flatt’s drawling, lilting vocals and Scruggs’ three-finger banjo-picking style,” writes American Songwriter. “It was in the 1960s that the band found themselves at a crossroads, stuck somewhere between Scruggs’ experimental song stylings and Flatt’s penchant for the more traditional.”

Beyond their musical talent, Flatt & Scruggs were also pioneers in the industry, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of bluegrass musicians. Their influence can still be heard in the music of contemporary artists like Alison Krauss and The Avett Brothers. 

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  1. Rhonda Vincent and The Rage is the best Bluegrass band. Rhonda Vincent is the Queen of Bluegrass.
    She definitely deserves to be in the top 5.

    1. Rhonda Vincent put together a true Bluegrass super group a few years back (led by Josh Williams and and the best fiddler in the business Hunter Berry). They have both pved on. She is herself the most talented woman in the business but doesn’t play the Nashville game. She blows Alison Krauss off any stage. Like Patty Loveless, the “country” recording business won’t acknowledge the best traditional voices. But, their peers know who’s tops.

  2. Over the last few years, we have attended more bluegrass events than any other. I will see Ricky again in June. I can’t wait. While I do not have any musical ability, I do know good music when I hear it. Other genres musicians have nothing over BG ones.
    Thanks for this informative article.

  3. No Stanley brothers, but Ricky Skaggs makes it. Something wrong here.

    Also no Jim & Jesse. Tough call between them and the Osborne brother.

    1. Yup. Ralph Stanley set a “higher” standard for vocals. Check out he and Patty Loveless live performance of his classic “Pretty Pauly”.Now, that’s Bluegrass!

  4. Tony Rice.

    Bluegrass is a lot like any other music, as time changes you’re going to have generational differences in opinion. However, the great thing about the bluegrass genre & listener is we always pay homage to the roots of the music.

    If you ask festival fans today I think you would find Doyle Lawson, Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band, etc , on the top of a lot of folks favorite bands list.

  5. I assume the author is from a younger generation. You can’t rank 1st generation bands with 2nd or 3rd generation bands. It’s like comparing Mozart and Bach to present day classical composers. Most of the second generation bands derive their sound from both songs written by the originals, and the rhythms/tones generated by these bands. 1st gen = Bill Monroe, Flat and Scruggs, Stanley Bros, Osbornes, Jim and Jesse; 2nd gen = Del and boys, Allison Krause, Rhonda, Ricky, etc. Best of both worlds = The Bluegrass Album Band.

  6. Sounds like this article was created by some Google search, Definitely not by anyone with Bluegrass knowledge.

  7. Tell me you’ve never listened to Billy Stings with out saying it…..

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