Guest Author - Chris Curtis
Mary Doub is a woman powerhouse in the Roots music industry. Her credentials include being a founding member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, founding member of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, producer of Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and producer of Rhythm of Roots Music Festival. Mary took some time out of her very busy schedule at the Rhythm and Roots festival to discuss her perspective on Roots music and what it's like to produce two of the best known and attended festivals in the north east.
Mary began her career managing bands in the late 70s and early 80s. She explained "I realized there was a tremendous amount of good music but there didn't seem to be a lot of venues. Back then there really weren't. I would talk to people who managed festivals and I learned." In 1985 the opportunity to produce Winter Hawk (the predecessor to Grey Fox) presented itself and Mary seized the opportunity. "I buckled down and borrowed more money than I knew and went in and did it. I was scared to death." On this first outing, Mary managed everything from booking the bands, managing the volunteers, booking the vendors – pretty much everything except selling the tickets. After the experience, she realized she needed people who could help her manage certain aspects better than she could. Mary praises her team of Lisa Husted, Mary Burdette and Chuck Wentworth for making these festivals so successful. She says each of them have skills that compliment and supplement each other and her own.
Producing these festivals is a major undertaking. One of her goals is to try to have something for every single age group and to pass on the music to those who want to learn. "One of the things that has been so successful at Grey Fox – and so exciting for us, has been the children's Bluegrass Academy. We liked it so much that we started a Cajun Kids Academy here at Rhythm and Roots directed by Michelle Kaminski. For 2010, we had 33 kids. We started out with the Bluegrass Academy with about 20 kids – this year we had 115. Brian Wickland runs the Bluegrass Academy and he is simply amazing. So it's exciting to pass the music on in this way. The two festivals have that in common. We also have the slow jam stage at Grey Fox with seasoned musicians to teach and it gives people the opportunity to play and sing the music." She credits Mary Burdette for coming up with the original idea for the Bluegrass Kid's academy. The commitment to passing on the music in this way is evident in the annual scholarships awarded by Greyfox.
Another of her goals for these festivals is "to continue making people happy and for people to have fun. That's what music is all about." Mary says its like this line from a song "a song takes away sorrow and pain". She goes on to say, "I think about that a lot. People are just happier around music, especially in these times."
These times are also putting financial strains on the festival industry with fewer sponsorship dollars to support them. Mary spoke to this issue by saying, "To be successful, you have to run the festivals as a business. You learn to cut back. So you slash and burn and cut everything down. When times are good, you tend to really expand and it's really hard to cut back but that is what we are doing, slashing and burning." Yet, these festivals are so well run, the cut backs haven't effected the quality of the events.
The focus of these two festivals is unique unto themselves. Mary compared and contrasted the two in this way. "Grey Fox is a picker's festival with a lot more jamming. It's more about people playing music together. Rhythm & Roots is all about the dancing. Absolutely, people take it really, really seriously and there are a lot of great dancers here. Although, we do have a dance stage at Grey Fox, which I think everyone enjoys, but it's more about playing music. The attendance balances are different too. Grey Fox is a huge community of campers with a smaller influx of day people. At Rhythm and Roots, the camping is limited and usually sells out. The big crowd that comes in are day people."
An amazing amount of work goes into producing these festivals and maintaining the quality of the experience for the people is key. However, Mary sums it up this way. "It's a lot of fun putting these venues together. A lot of fun. We have a good team of people who are dedicated to making these festivals a big success – it's truly like family."