BLUEGRASS EMERGES VICTORIOUS IN UPPER MIDWEST
Story by Bob Phillips, Public Relations Director, National Traditional Music Assn., Inc.
LeMars, Iowa…..”When we started our festival of old-time acoustic music 37 years ago,” Bob Everhart the President of the National Traditional Music Association, says, “we had no idea where we were going with it. We wanted to be sure we could play a role in preserving America’s old time rural music. That became a rather large umbrella, including folk music, mountain music, cowboy music, ragtime music, western music, traditional music, classic country music, and what appears to be the winner in so far as ‘style’ is concerned, bluegrass music.”
It must be remembered that bluegrass music, the brainchild of Kentuckian Bill Monroe, was in Iowa at the beginning of Monroe’s career in music. As a matter of fact, Bill and his brother Charley came to Iowa in 1934, to take their very first job performing music for pay at radio station KFNF, in Shenandoah. Monroe married an Iowa girl, and went on to become one of the first of the mountain musicians to take his music to the national and international stage.
“We still honor Monroe,” Everhart added, “his 100th birthday has not slipped by us, and this year we will be adding another stage to the ten we already have, dedicated to bluegrass music.”
The “stages” Everhart is referring to, are no less than ten ‘sound stages’ that are set up for the seven-day celebration of old-time acoustic music in LeMars, Iowa. The festival takes place at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds, with dates this year being August 27-September 2nd. The main stage, where celebrities perform, is air conditioned. Bill Anderson and Patti Page showed up on that stage in 2010. Last year Little Roy Lewis and Jim Ed Brown commanded. Everhart is quick to point out, “Dr. Ralph Stanley was to be with us in 2011, but he got stranded in NYC because of the hurricane there. He is going to try to make this up by being in LeMars this year.”
According to past indications, there will be a lot of pickers, players, performers, and of course vocalists at this year’s event. Everhart says, “We’ve had lots of great artists. Some of them get inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame and some of them are recipients of the Rural Roots Music Commission’s “CD of the Year” awards, but mostly they are there to ‘share’ the music. That’s why bluegrass ‘wins’ in 2012. We are going to open up another building and add a ‘jam’ only stage. We’re going to do jams in two-hour sessions four times a day on all seven days. One jam is called the Texas Jam, where the players gather together as one group, and the ‘subjects’ come up one at a time. Another jam is a ‘circle jam’ where all the players sit in a circle and a microphone is passed around to each player. A third jam is called ‘Toast & Jam’ where anyone can take the ‘lead’ until someone else insists on taking it, much like a guitar pull. And a fourth jam is a ‘bluegrass’ jam utilizing the instruments used to play bluegrass music.”
One of the ten original stages is dedicated to workshops and contests. “We have our participants share their knowledge and ability with whoever is wanting to learn,” Everhart boasted. “Some of the workshops that go from 9am to midnight every day, are very well attended. Whether you want to learn how to play the banjo, or how to play the bones, we have excellent teachers all day for five of the seven days. On the weekend the workshop building becomes our contest forum. There’s about 25 contests from bands to single vocalists, from single instrumentalists to over-50 only singers. It’s great fun, and when you add showcases for aspiring bands and individuals, it makes a lot of sense because we have a tremendous number of talent buyers coming to this event.”
There’s plenty of other activities at this seven-day festival, free food among them. “There’s a huge 80-gallon iron pot of free soup at our tipi rendezvous village,” Everhart added, “and we have free watermelon, free pot-lucks, and since LeMars is the ice-cream capital of the world, free ice cream. We’re also very proud of our 350 electric hook-ups for RV’s, and a grocery store is only three blocks away, so it’s an ideal way to spend seven days…..in the country. We don’t allow illicit drugs or alcohol.“
More information about bluegrass participation at LeMars is available at their website at www.ntcma.net