The Western Maryland region is very fortunate to be located in an area where there are many bluegrass festivals on tap in the coming months as we head into spring and summer. Most of these festivals are just a short drive and each one is a ticket to a fascin-ating day-trip filled with great music, cool activities, good food and family fun.
The Mid-Atlantic region is a major hotbed for bluegrass festivals, says Dan Hayes, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), a professional trade association dedicated to promoting and expanding the success of bluegrass music. The states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, all host multiple bluegrass festivals that have earned great reputations as well-run shows.
Dan notes that there are more than 500 festivals hosted around the country every year and he says there are two things that are inherent in any festival you attend. First, theres the level of talent of the musicians that people will enjoy being presented, from the nationally known talent to the very talented regional and local artists. It is very impressive, he said. Second, the atmosphere at these festivals gives them a unique flavor. In addition to having more than one stage and more than any one act playing at a time, there are workshops, youth activities, craft shows or other types of community celebrations taking place in conjunction with the festival.
Local musician John Arnold is a veteran of many bluegrass festivals held in the area. His group, Lonesome Highway, is based in Romney, West Virginia, and they specialize in playing contemporary and traditional bluegrass. According to John, the festivals are very family friendly and it is a good time out for people of all ages. The festivals really are a family oriented event and a great value in family entertainment. You see lots of kids in the audience and many even performing on stage. All of them having a lot of fun with their parents, grandparents and other relatives, he said. Bluegrass festivals are also pretty wholesome. There is absolutely no alcohol or drugs allowed and the crowds are always orderly and very well behaved.
The popularity of bluegrass music has soared in the last few years with many mainstream country artists returning to their bluegrass roots like Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Marty Stewart, Patty Loveless and even Dolly Parton. Each of these artists has recently produced a CD of bluegrass music and they feature it prominently in their live shows. Another factor has been the highly successful, multi-platinum soundtrack from the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. The collection of bluegrass material won five Grammy Awards this year and brought national attention to the bluegrass art form.
According to Dan Hayes from IBMA, bluegrass music is very lucky to still have many of the pioneers of the music performing on a regular basis. The people who helped create bluegrass music are still out there playing at festivals and they are still headliners in most cases, said Dan, of bluegrass legends Ralph Stanley, Earle Scruggs, Doc Watson and J.D. Crow. They are still very viable but you also have a new generation of talent that has come along like an Alison Kraus, Del McCoury, Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out or a Rhonda Vincent. Those kinds of people are opening doors to a whole new generation of fans.
As a working member of a bluegrass band, John Arnold says the festivals provide a great atmosphere and opportunity for people to share the music with each other. Everyone has a good attitude about sharing the music and promoting the music as much as we can. I guess were all ambassadors of bluegrass music.
Dan Hayes agrees with John, pointing to the fellowship, the camaraderie and the kind of community spirit between the fans at bluegrass festivals. The whole fellow-ship surrounding the festivals is something that everyone enjoys and its what I think is rather unique, says Dan. Its most evident at many of these festivals in what we call the parking lot jam sessions or parking lot picking. Rarely do you go to a concert and, after its over, all of the fans head to the parking lot to get out their instruments and play with one another and make music, he said. Bluegrass music will be the centerpiece but what you find are people that are very welcoming and very inclusive. It is a family atmosphere and people want to make music with each other and actually get to know each other better.
So pack up your family, bring your lawn chairs, your appetite for food and fun, and expect to hear some first-rate live music at a bluegrass festival near you. There are plenty to choose from and most are just a short drive away from where you are right now.
Fiddle Contests in this Area
Friendsville, Maryland 3rd Saturday in July at the park
Cumberland, Maryland, Mid Atlantic Region Championships 4th Saturday in October at Washington Middle School
Burlington, West Virginia, Burlington Apple Harvest Festival Fiddle Contest October 6, 2002 at 1:00 p.m. at the Apple Butter pavilion, Burlington Childrens Home Campus. For information call: Vicki Ginn 304-788-2342 Ext. 235
Oakland, Maryland, Maryland State Fiddle & Banjo Championship October 11th & 12th 2002 at Southern High School.
For information call: Heather Hanline at The Dove Center 301-334-6255
Nearby Bluegrass Festivals
April 25-27, Arcadia, Reisterstown (410) 374-2895
July 13-14, Westminster (410) 857-2771
July 19-21 , Puzzly Run Folk Life Center, Grantsville (301) 746-7040
August 8-11, Leonardtown (301) 475-8191
September 19-21, Arcadia, Reisterstown (410) 374-2895
September 20-21, Berlin (410) 641-4151
September 21, Deale (410) 867-2400
May 16-19, Gettysburg (717) 642-8749
May 23-26, Reinholds, Denver (717) 445-9496
August 3, Lancaster (717) 299-8217
August 22-24, Gettysburg (717) 642-8749
September 1-2, Berlin (814) 267-3097
May 5, Winchester (540) 662-3863
May 24-25, Culpeper (540) 399-1173
June 15, Mouth of Wilson (540) 579-7092
September 14, Norton, Wise (540) 328-6018
June 23-29, Snowshoe, Marlinton (304) 799-7121
June 27-30, Summersville (304) 872-3145
August 9-11, Elkins (304) 637-1209