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Strike up the banjo: Bluegrass Festival returns
Bluegrass is the music of America.
Bluegrass is the ultimate blending of the traditional folk tunes brought to this country in the 1600s by immigrants from Scotland, Ireland and England — an occurrence only possible in the burgeoning new world; it was the pop music of the Great Depression; it was one of the first musical genres to inspire festival concert events and, in proof of the massive revival of interest in the genre today, the International Bluegrass Music Association now claims members in all 50 states and more than 30 different countries.
This timeless musical style will again take center stage here on the island at the eighth annual Bainbridge Bluegrass Festival Saturday, July 26 at Battle Point Park, continuing a tradition of bluegrass celebration in the Northwest.
Festival transportation and hospitality coordinator Skip Malette, who lived for many years in Kentucky, said he was surprised to find such an appreciation of bluegrass in this region when he relocated here, but understands well the music’s universal appeal.
“It has imbedded in it some old-time community spirit,” he explained. “If you go to just about any large bluegrass festival, or even small ones, people like to jam and there’s almost always kids involved. It’s a very sharing thing,” he said.
Last year’s Bainbridge festival drew approximately 2,400 people, Malette said, many of them visitors from off-island.
“There’s a lot of music lovers over there,” he said of the Seattle side of the water.
Musical acts slated to perform this year include North Country Bluegrass, the Warren G. Hardings, the Crichton Family Band, The 1 Uppers, Water Tower, Me and the Boys as well as Top String.
Also at the festival are numerous food, beverage and craft vendors, including a wine-and-beer garden for the grownups.
Food selections include fare from Bon Fire Ovenworks, Viking Feast Ice Cream, Grillside Mobile Barbeque, Emmy’s Vege House and others.
Especially for the younger crowd, this year’s event features an instrument petting zoo, musical-themed face painting, a craft table to make your own instrument from recycled materials, beanbag toss and trivia games and even a dance tutorial.
Now entering its eighth year, the Bainbridge festival has a rich history on the island and has been quickly added to the list of staple summer events.
The festival originally began after the Foxfire Bluegrass Band from New Mexico played a single concert at the Island Music Guild in 2005. After that show, which was standing room only, a group of music lovers noticed the strong desire for bluegrass music on the island and got together to plan the very first Bainbridge Bluegrass Festival for the following summer.
After many months of work by an all-volunteer committee, local sponsors, and help from the Bainbridge parks district, the first all-day event occurred on July 29, 2006.
The festival has historically drawn a significant amount of off-island visitors, so much so that this year’s event committee has decided to make better use of the free Agate Pass shuttle service. The shuttles, which run from the ferry to the festival and back, will make periodic stops in downtown Winslow this year, thus encouraging visitors to explore more of the island.
“The other thing we’re starting to do is track a little bit more what we give to the island on that day,” Malette said. “We don’t really have solid numbers, we’re going to track it a little bit tighter this year.”
For people who want to drive to the festival, however, free parking is available at Battle Point Park.
Tickets are on sale now at www.bainbridgebluegrassfestival.com. The cost is $20 for each adult, $10 for each child (7 to 18), $40 per family (up to four people, must include at least one child) and $45 for a “Family Plus” ticket which covers more than four immediate family members (also must include at least one child).
Malette said that although this year’s committee had improved event advertisement, the visibility of street signs and clarified the parking areas — all of which were areas identified as in need of improvement last year — that he really defines the success of the festival by one bit of criteria:
“That the audience enjoys the heck out of it,” he said.
“When the audience does, so do the players,” Malette explained. “There is a commonality. You end up having a primary tune, and then the soloist and then every player jumps in. It’s very much like jazz in that regard, some variations include jazz influences.”
Modern bluegrass is sometimes referred to as “Newgrass,” a moniker that aptly reflects this vibrant music scene and it’s promising future.
According to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, “In addition to the classic style born in 1945 that is still performed widely, bluegrass bands today reflect influences from a variety of sources including traditional and fusion jazz, contemporary country music, Celtic music, rock & roll, old-time music and Southern gospel music.”
That’s a mixture worthy of a melting pot the size of America, and an auditory testament to the wonderful possibilities that accompany diversity and collaboration.
For a complete list of festival vendors and band performance schedule, visit www.bainbridgebluegrassfestival.com.
Pickin’ and grinnin’
What: The eighth annual Bainbridge Bluegrass Festival.
When: Saturday, July 26. The music starts at noon.
Where: Battle Point Park (10800 Battle Point Drive NE).
Admission: The cost is $20 for each adult, $10 for each child (7 to 18), $40 per family (up to four people, must include at least one child) and $45 for a “Family Plus” ticket which covers more than four immediate family members (also must include at least one child). Tickets available at www.bainbridgebluegrassfestival.com.