4 minute read

Musings: Festival Season

~by Mark Blackwell

Brown County has a mess of seasons. There’s summer, or Outdoor Season; then there is everybody’s favorite, Leaf Lookin’ Season; and of course, there is the Holiday Season. After the holidays comes the Winter Doldrums, and then there’s Mud Season” (which we are just emerging out of). Coming right up is my personal favorite, Festival Season!

Festival Season is that magical time of the year when musicians come out of hibernation and put on displays of their musical finery, in an attempt to woo an audience. These musical courtship rituals often take place outdoors. That’s what makes Brown County a perfect location—it’s got a lot of outdoors. In fact, there exists a sort of sanctuary for the performance of these early summer practices, up at Bean Blossom. It’s the Bill Monroe Music Park and Campground.

Starting Thursday, June 1 and running through Saturday, June 3, the park will host the 2nd Annual Americana Bean Jamboree. This is billed as a celebration of “American roots music from the

Blues to Bluegrass and everything in between.” Leading the celebration is a great mix of national and local performers, a total of 18 acts on two stages.

The headline acts are The Henhouse Prowlers and “new grass” pioneer and mandolinist extraordinaire, Sam Bush.

The Henhouse Prowlers are a Chicago-based, four-piece Bluegrass band which has been playing for 17 years. The band has toured in over 25 counties and averages 175 shows a year.

If you don’t know who Sam Bush is—you ought to! Sam is one of the founding fathers of progressive bluegrass music. The music took its name from the band that Sam anchored, The New Grass Revival, back in 1971. He also backed up Emmylou Harris for five years, has been a sideman for Lyle Lovett, and was a member of Bela Fleck’s band the Flecktones.

The local talent includes The Hammer and the Hatchet, Jason Blankenship and Chuck Wills, Dave Sisson and Sam Love, Caitlin “Spanks” Spangler, Elkins Family, Lowlanders and many more.

The festival starts Thursday with a scheduled open jam. On Friday, the concerts begin at noon on two different stages, and they run through to 10:30 p.m. Saturday follows the same plan, but with a different band line up. There will be plenty of campsite jams—so don’t forget your instruments.

The next festival coming up is Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival, June 14–17. There has been a Bluegrass festival at the park every year, starting with the first one back in 1967. That adds up to 56 years of festivals and musical history.

The concerts get started at noon on Wednesday, June 14, and don’t stop until after 9:00 p.m. That leaves plenty of time for more parking lot and campsite pickin’.

The headliners for this year include: Audie Blaylock and Redline, The Little Roy and Lizzie Show, Ralph Stanley II, and Larry Sparks. Among the other 16 acts are: The Moron Brothers, Special Consensus, Larry Efaw, and a band that, to me, sounds like a super-group, Southern Legend featuring Williams, Rigsby, Vestal, Haynie, and Anglin.

The camping venues include everything from motor homes, RV’s and primitive tent sites and even log cabins. There are potable water, shower, and laundry facilities available. For those who don’t care to cook there are a variety of trucks and other comestible purveyors.

As usual, the festival is a mix of old and new, modern and traditional, both musically and in the park itself. The music park has been in existence since about 1940 and has evolved in a slew of positive ways.

My first festival was quite a ways back. The camping then was in a tent, in a field. There was one or maybe a couple of water spigots but no showers and no laundry. For those sorts of things you had to make your way down to Nashville. Sanitary facilities consisted of pit toilets dotted here and there inconveniently. You wanted to be sure to pitch your tent up wind.

There were no food trucks back then but there was McDonald’s—not the fast food drive-in but McDonald’s IGA store across the highway. You could always get a baloney sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a big dill pickle and bottle of pop.

Things have improved immensely over the last 50-odd years. The music has never been less than top notch but now the whole experience, while not luxury (unless you own one of those big old land yachts), is comfortable and convenient.

Tickets, campsite reservations, and golf cart rental are separate charges, so check out the <billmonroemusicpark.com> website for more info.

When festival season breaks, Brown County can’t be beaten, and Bean Blossom is the place to be. I hope to see you there come June.