Musical experiences come in all moods and models.
There’s solitary, mindful listening. Therapeutic listening. Joyous listening. Then, there’s the music festival experience.
Sharing your favorite music outdoors with several thousand people is a whole different ball game. The communal joy is a great distraction from the weather –intense heat or pouring rain- and there’s something so infectious about enthusiasm. Kids dancing. Parents and old hippies swaying to the music, hands waving in the air. Hello Woodstock, 1969!
This was my flashback last weekend at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, held annually in Oak Hill, NY. Some of you may think of hay bales and the Beverly Hillbillies when you think of bluegrass, but think again. The genre has changed – a LOT.
The highlight of my weekend experience was seeing the Hillbenders perform “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry” on the High Meadow Stage of the Grey Fox Festival. My photos from backstage were blurry because I couldn’t stop moving to the music, but this YouTube video captures it pretty well. Be sure to check the end of the video – the rain was pouring down in sheets, but the crowd just WOULDN’T leave! It was epic. Be sure to watch at about 11:30 when the rain begins:
Oh, the rain! Fans held fast in front of the stage, chanting, “Tom-my, Tom-my, Tom-my”, while the band stood at the back of the stage to escape the sheets of rain blown in by the wind. The sound crew finally pulled the plug to prevent a disaster. No point in electrocuting a band that sounds SO good!
Here’s a little bit of the rain storm – as the camera pans around, you can see the Hillbenders huddled in the rear of the stage:
The ‘Benders finished their bluegrass opry performance later that night under the dance tent. I was so impressed by the Hillbenders – partly because of what they went through to get to Grey Fox. They endured a harrowing flight – including an emergency landing – and car trouble… and still arrived at the gig on time! Here’s mandolin/lead singer Nolan Lawrence’s story about the trip to Grey Fox:
Just as the rainstorm ended, the annual Grey Fox parade began. It’s a semi-impromptu promenade through the campground area of the festival. This year’s parade began with a Charlie and The Chocolate Factory theme, followed by several characters, including my colleague in radio, WCNY’s Bill Knowlton (dressed as Professor Bluegrass), appearing at about 2:45 into this video. The site was still quite muddy from the rainstorm, illustrated quite well at 5:45. Luckily, folks were happy to help. Jesus was in the parade, along with pirates, a Chinese dragon, a zombie response team, and the now-famous flying Grey Fox Pig. Enjoy!
On a more serious note, the musicianship is unparalleled here.
Here’s fiddler Darol Anger, performing with banjo legend Tony Trischka (L) and Joe Craven (R):
Here’s a shot of Della Mae. They left on their Europe tour right after their evening set at Grey Fox:
The festival also runs a Bluegrass Academy For Kids, a free program that teaches bluegrass music to youngsters. The Academy has graduated such notables as Chris Thile, Rushad Eggleston, Becky Buller, and Joe Walsh.
Here is the Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy Class of 2015 – over 125 kids!
The academy is funded by instrument raffles, which are provided by festival sponsors. These aren’t your basic starter instruments – they’re gorgeous, custom-inlaid works of art:
Beard Guitars donated this beautiful resophonic guitar (Dobro).
This Northfield mandolin is inlaid with the Grey Fox logo on the pick guard.
There’s something for everyone. Yoga, kids’ crafts, storytelling, jamming; even bluegrass karaoke! Kitsy Kuykendall (whose husband Pete edits Bluegrass Unlimited magazine) is our host. She told me how this whole karaoke idea got started:
While Kitsy is busy with Bluegrass Karaoke, John Rossbach is up the hill, managing the main stage. It’s a BIG job, and he’s been doing it for a long time. Here’s John’s synopsis of it:
Here’s I Draw Slow – the band from Ireland that John mentioned – getting ready to go onstage:
Katy Daley is our MC at the main stage this afternoon. She’s a former IBMA Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year, and a morning host for WAMU in Washington, DC:
Next stop: lunch at the meal tent. I am one of many MCs at Grey Fox, and treated just like every other employee, volunteer, and performer. All of our meals are provided by the food crew. It’s a huge convenience, since most of us are staying on-site for the weekend (i.e., camping). This is where I sat down with members of The Lonely Heartstring Band, and I figured, why not turn on the recorder? Here’s our conversation (with lunch included):
… and here’s the band, later on the Grey Fox main stage:
Let’s take a little stroll around the grounds. There is a Vendors’ Row, where you can buy everything from ice cream to instruments to wall hangings:
A walk through the performer parking lot reveals how a lot of bands really travel. It’s not as glamorous as it appears onstage:
I can tell Bill Knowlton is in the house!
As performers warm up for their stage set, they can relax and socialize in this impromptu green room, complete with couches, wine and beer bar, and evening hors d’oeuvres:
Back down the hill, Balsam Range is playing on the Catskill Stage. What fantastic songwriters! You can tell what time of day it is; the schedule is posted right on the stage!
A lot of ‘merch’ gets moved at a festival like this. There is a small staff dedicated to merchandise sales at Grey Fox. This is the merch table at the Catskill stage, setting up for the next band:
I try to bring home a T shirt every year, proof that I went somewhere this summer, and as a reminder of what a good time I had.
Maybe it’s time you took a little road trip to a festival. You don’t have to go very far to discover great music and new friends. If you want to try the Grey Fox Festival next year, click here for a link to their website that includes hundreds of photos from this year. There are smaller festivals close to home, too. Listen to String Fever to learn more about them as they approach.
There’s nothing like live music! I hope you can get out and enjoy some soon. Until then, see you on the radio!