Guest Author - Chris Curtis
What a weekend! This festival runs like a well oiled machine. Even the hitches that are bound to happen in a production of this magnitude passed without a hiccup. Gerry Katz and Stan Zdonik of Boston Bluegrass Union deserve recognition for pulling off another extraordinary event. Of course, they have years of experience in organizing, managing and delivering bluegrass events in the Boston area.
MCing for the event were the colorful Bill Knowlton, Stan Zdonik and Kim Cyr, who traded off responsibilities throughout this 28 hour long event. Each added their own touch to promoting the numerous activities happening at the festival as well as adding humor and elegance to each of the band introductions. Particularly funny was Ron Thomason comic interruptions as Kim Cyr seriously tried to read a list of adjectives used by the press to describe the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Sunday, Bill in his argyle style print pants came out ringing his string of cowbells. You couldn't miss him. Stan Zdonik was eloquent as always and wrapped up the festival with a thank you to all.
The line up for the weekend was replete with award winning artists from the emerging new band Grascals who are collecting awards left and right; to Claire Lynch, IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year" in 1997, who is returning to the stage after an extended break; to Missy Raines, queen of Bass and four-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year; to Adam Steffi IBMA Mando player of the year; to James King, 2007 SPBGMA Male Vocalist of the year; to Mountain Heart, Emerging Artist of the Year in 1999; and including the lovely, young new comers, the Lovell Sisters with NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor” National Talent Competition in Feb, 2005 and 4th placement in SPBGMA's International Band contest 2006. Rebecca Lovell, at the young age of 15, is recognized for her virtuosity on the mandolin having placed in both the 2005 Merlefest and Winfield Mandolin Competitions. Throughout the weekend there was no question about the showcase of talent on that stage.
Our accommodations at the Marriott Resident Inn were quite nice and a great value with a two room efficiency complete with a kitchen and complementary breakfast all for the festival price. Friday nite, we stayed at the Sheraton until about 2:00am listening to the jamming going on in the halls and lobby area. Musicians were mixing it up and wandering around from jam to jam. Many festival attendees come just to jam which is a major draw for this festival event each year. There were many talented musicians both on stage and off.
In addition to the main stage, the festival offered a film festival including outtakes of interviews with Tim O'Brien, Del McCoury, and Ronnie McCoury; Masters Film Festival featuring Jimmy Martin, Lilly Brothers and Tex Logan; and Joe Val on Television. Also shown was one segment of BBC's Destination Music which focused on the Grey Fox Festival 2005 in NY. Grey Fox was the only North American festival chosen to be featured by the BBC. The Joe Val Festival was pleased to be able to premier the show segment in the USA.
In keeping with their mission to educate, the Boston Bluegrass Union offered more than 40 workshops through out the weekend which were quite popular. A trek down to the lower level revealed a clog of people coming from and going to the workshops. The Kids Academy offered budding artists an opportunity to learn to play and to perform, It was so cute to see the little ones with their tiny instruments perform on Sunday afternoon. Programs like this and the Bluegrass in Schools program are what will perpetuate the music and reveal new virtuosos who will go on to make their name in the bluegrass world as they grow and mature in their musical accomplishments.
It's over now for another year and if you missed it, shame on you. But the good news is plan to go for 2007 because this is the best value for a weekend of sights, sounds and feeling good during mid-winter in Boston.