Bumper Crop of Bluegrass

In Owensboro, Ky.

By Berk Bryant

The Country Gentleman

The last week in September brought us the Owensboro International Bluegrass Music Association's Fan Fest. Saturday was a great day for me. So much to see and hear, so many friends to visit and much news and gossip to catch up on. With a small exception -- the minor inconvenience of a few intermittent light showers late in the day -- the weather was very nice.

Soon after I arrived, I heard from Charlie Chase, record vendor, that Wade Mainer was there. I immediately went in search of my friend. I found out that Wade was there to receive a merit award from IBMA earlier in the week. The award is given for lifetime achievement and dedication to the music, and Wade unquestionably deserves it. Among other outstanding milestones in his career, this legendary gentleman once performed by invitation for President Roosevelt, a number of times at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and was the first to record "Maple On the Hill."

When the word got out that Wade was there in the park, he and his wife Julia were asked to perform on Saturday. I had the privilege of introducing my friend to a large audience of bluegrass fans of mixed ages and interests. I felt proud of and for him and Julia when the crowd gave them a spontaneous standing ovation and was pleading for more. Next year, folks, I'm sure Wade and Julia will be back. It will still be difficult to convince the fans there and everywhere that Wade, who performs with the strength and energy of many much younger than he, is now 83 years old.

John Hartford had the pleasure (?) -- how about task -- of leading the world's largest bluegrass band. I must say, John, you did a superb job, maestro. To be a part of the world's largest bluegrass band, all the pickers signed up on a form that was turned in to the Guinness Book of Records. I asked John how many there were: Three hundred nine. And, as far as he knew, it made the record book. This was not the end, but certainly one of the highlights, of another successful week of bluegrass meetings, showcases, awards and fan fest concerts by many of the best the business has to offer.

And in East Tennessee

What is it that will bring 45,000 -- plus or minus a few -- to a relatively small piece of real estate, yet sufficiently large to accommodate all comfortably, known as the Museum of Appalachia in East Tennessee? It is all the things we described in the last issue -- and more. It's the music, it's the crafts, it's the reputation, it's the demonstrations, it's the atmosphere, and, perhaps as important as any of the others, it's the reunion of friends met and made there as well as other places. Because of its uniqueness, it provides an opportunity to meet performers, entertainers, craft people and celebrities not often seen other places. Here, it is an opportunity to enjoy the music -- music that is not grossly blaring to the level of self-destruction, but rather at a sensible level that is both loud enough and clear enough.

It's a place to take a family and relax with them. A family of all sizes and ages and interests. My wife enjoyed this trip even more than usual, or so it seemed to me, because she was able to spend a lot of time visiting with the crafters, exchanging ideas and learning from them. It seemed to her that they were more willing to offer ideas, methods, know-how, and "secrets" than many others she has talked with.

The weather was perfect autumn type, the scenery was picture-book, the people are warm and outgoing, and there were about 45,000 throughout the weekend without the slightest incident or hint of any kind of problem. This is my kind of place. Thank you, John Rice Irwin. Make that about two days, maybe three, for next year.