The song of the week is Wildwood Flower in the key of G.
This song has lyrics, but more often than not, when it is played at bluegrass jams, it is played as an instrumental.
Guitar players often learn to play Wildwood Flower in the key of C, but when bluegrass banjo and dobro players call this tune at a jam, most often they call it in G. This is not a faux pas on their part, as it would be if they were to call Old Joe Clark in the key of G instead of the key of A, or Soldier's Joy in the key of C instead of the key of D.
From my experience over the years at jams (both bluegrass and old time), and on the basis of the many bluegrass and old time recordings I have listened to of this song, I conclude that one can reasonably expect Wildwood Flower to be called in any of the 8 keys that bluegrass music is most commonly played in (G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, and F).
When it is played as an instrumental, the two most common keys for it to be called in are C and G, though I have occasionally seen some flddlers and mandolin players call it in D.
When Wildwood Flower is sung, then one can expect it to be called in any of the 8 keys mentioned above. Part of the reason for this is because the melody of the song has an unusually wide range for a bluegrass song - the melody spans one and one-third of an octave. (Footprints In The Snow is another example of a song with the same range.) So, for instance, a singer who feels comfortable singing this song in the key of Bb may very well find A to be too low and B to be too high to sing this song in, even though A is only a half-step lower than Bb and even though B is only a half-step higher than Bb.
At a jam, for the sake of the mandolins and fiddles, if you can, for instance, sing this song in C without it being too uncomfortable, even though B feels a bit more comfortable to you, then out of courtesy, it is better to sing the song in C instead of B. For B is a particularly awkward key for a mandolin or fiddle player to play this song in. If B is, for instance, the only key that you feel comfortable singing this song in, then unless you are at a jam where the mandolin and fiddle players are advanced enough to be able to figure out a break for Wildwood Flower in B on the fly even though they may never have tried to play Wildwood Flower in B before, you are best off calling it as an instrumental. Or, if there is someone at the jam that you know sings this song in a less awkward key for the song, you may ask them if they would like to sing it. ...
...and, as always, at a jam, it is better to sing a song that you feel fairly confident that you can remember the lyrics to, rather than one where you are more likely to forget the lyrics. If you find yourself staring at a lyric sheet almost the whole time you are singing (or glancing at it more than just occasionally), then you are not effectively leading the song. If you have difficulty memorizing lyrics, then it is best to choose to sing a song that has relatively few lyrics to memorize (e.g., songs such as 'Worried Man Blues', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'Mama Don't Allow', 'New River Train') in which the same line is repeated within the verse two or three times, and/or in which the verses end the same way as the chorus, or in which the next lyric is for one reason or another highly predictable.
Note: For this reason, when I revise the suggested song list during the Summer, there will be at least one song removed from the list for the very reason that the lyrics are relatively difficult to memorize ('Hard Travelin'), which in this respect makes it not a very beginner friendly song. (It ended up on the list - and even was used as a song of the week - because of multiple requests for it; but it hasn't been called at the jam since, and it is not a bluegrass standard)
As WIldwood Flower has traditionally been played by bluegrass and old time players, it has an unusual form. The first, second, and fourth lines of the progression are 5 measures long, instead of the usual 4 measures.
This allows for a fill-in lick to be played during the 4th measure of each of the 5 measure lines, due to the long 'dead space' in the melody that is created by having an extra measure of the 1 chord at the end of these lines. And, since bluegrassers tend to like having the opportunity to play fillin licks, it is somewhat of a faux pas at a bluegrass jam to shorten the 5 measure lines to 4 measures, as those who have spent more time listening to Woody Guthrie or the Kingston Trio than to the Carter Family, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers are often inclined to do with this song.
In the attachments, I have included two melody sheets, one in the low octave and one in the higher octave. Guitar players who wish to play a Carter-style break (melody interspersed with strums) will want to use the low octave melody sheet; guitar players who venture beyond the first 5 frets of their instrument may wish to work up a break based on the high octave melody sheet.
Some guitar players who play Wildwood Flower in C may wish to capo to the 7th fret in order to play it in G without having to learn a new set of fingerings. While one would not usually capo this high on guitar, it can be effective for Carter-style breaks (helping the break to stand out more clearly relative to other guitars playing rhythm during the break) when other guitar players are playing in G without a capo.
Mandolin players and fiddlers who play Wildwood Flower in C can play it in the higher octave by moving all their fingerings up one string higher. To get the highest note (B) in the melody will require the use of the pinky finger on the 1st string (7th fret on mandolin) since fiddle and mandolin do not have a string higher than the E string.
Mandolin players and fiddle players who play Wildwood Flower in D can play it in the low octave by moving all their fingering down one string lower (lowest note will then be the open G string, and the highest note will be the B on the 2nd string)
For those looking at the sheet music to tab conversion chart, and who might think that there must be some mistake in it, because certainly the banjo has notes that are lower than the lowest notes on fiddle and mandolin, I assure you that there is no mistake. It is simply the case that sheet music for banjo, guitar and dobro is written an octave higher than the actual pitches that are played on the instruments.
It is possible to play a higher octave break on the banjo (i.e., in the same range as the higher octave for the mandolin and the fiddle), but that would involve going all the way up to the 21st fret on the 1st string for the highest note of the melody. That is why I have not provided the option of two different octaves for banjo in the conversion chart.
In the conversion chart, I have marked where notes for the low octave begin and end, and where the notes for the higher octave begin and end. (They overlap each other in the second set of G, A, and B notes, since the melody spans more than a single octave.)
Here are a few youtube links to listen to:
key of G (guitar breaks are played out of C position, capo 7)
solo banjo (in the key of G):
fiddle and clawhammer banjo in the key of G: the timing is a bit loose here, but the notes are very well chosen)
the classic original Carter Family recording: key of Bb (my grandmother had this record, and I remember listening to it and really liking it when I was a very small child. The version of the lyrics on the old record make little sense, but the tune itself sure is catchy.)