I WORKED AS a card-carrying Boy Scout for a summer (yes, girls can be Boy Scouts), and some of my favorite memories of that time are sitting next to a campfire and listening to pickin’ and pluckin’ bluegrass tunes.
Bill Monroe, a pioneer of the genre, described bluegrass music as, “Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.”
Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival
When: June 9-12
Where: Wind Gap, Pennsylvania
The Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival is held in Mountain View Park in eastern Pennsylvania. The “jam tent” is open to any group that wants to play, and there are ongoing workshops. For a break from the music, there are screenings of bluegrass related movies on Wednesday and Thursday.
Romp 2011: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival
When: June 23-25
Where: Owensboro, Kentucky
Over 50 bands are playing at this year’s Romp. Presented by the International Bluegrass Music Museum, headliners include Steve Martin with Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Trampled by Turtles, and Emmylou Harris.
Camping is free in Yellow Creek Park from June 16 through June 26 if you have a three-day pass. Before the festival is Pete Wernick’s Jam Camp where for $225 you can learn to be part of a bluegrass jam.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
When: June 16-19
Where: Telluride, Colorado
The 38th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival is held just prior to the summer solstice.
Behind the festival stage is a trail to Bear Creek Falls. In the past, the festival has hosted a Hula Hoop area; this year should be no different.
Several camping areas are available, with shuttle buses to and from those farthest from the festival and a handful of hotels.
NightGrass shows are indoor and smaller, but it’s the daytime lineup that’s the biggest draw. Some artists this year include Sarah McLachlan, Yonder Mountain String Band, Emmylou Harris, and Robert Plant and Band of Joy.
Sadly, tickets recently sold out, though there is a resale section that is updated every Tuesday at noon, Mountain Time.
Tottenham Bluegrass Festival
When: June 17-19
Where: Tottenham, Ontario
Tottenham Bluegrass Festival has workshops on Saturday divided by instrument (banjo, mandolin, etc.), a talent competition for kids, and a lineup of award-winning artists. The 28th annual event is held in the Tottenham Conservation Area in a natural amphitheater. Camping is free for weekend pass holders.
According to their website, it is “Ontario’s Top Family Festival” (children 16 & under are free with a responsible adult). Though there’s also “adult” fun — this is the first year for the separate beer tent.
When: July 15-17
Where: Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver
At the 34th annual festival, over 60 artists will be performing with a mix of musicians: there’s Emmanuel Jal (a former child soldier in the Sudan) and Grammy winner Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash. And, like many of the festivals, some great music can be heard at the campsites.
Tickets give access to all seven stages. No camping is allowed, though some hotels nearby have special rates for festival-goers.
Canadian brewer Big Rock Brewery is the beer sponsor; in past years, the festival had been dry.
Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival
When: July 29-31
Where: Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada
Held in Heritage Park in Stony Plain, Blueberry Bluegrass is in its 26th year. Camping is available all weekend, and along with the music both on stage and the jam sessions by festival guests, there are vendors selling crafts, instruments, and food.
When: July 29-31
Where: Lyons, Colorado
The 39th annual RockyGrass festival is held at the Planet Bluegrass Ranch in the quarry town of Lyons, near the banks of the St. Vrain River. It’s Colorado’s longest running bluegrass festival; it beat out Telluride by one year. Known as a “picker’s festival,” some great music can be heard at night at the festival campgrounds.
There’s a specially designated family/kids area, workshops and contests are held, and when it’s warm the river fills with people taking a dip. A contest for the cleanest and greenest campsite and a band competition take place on Saturday.
Targhee Bluegrass Festival
When: August 12-14
Where: Targhee, Wyoming
In its 24th year, the Targhee Bluegrass Festival is held at the Grand Targhee Resort in the Grand Tetons. It’s touted on the website as the “grandfather of Bluegrass Festivals in the northern Rockies.” Before the festival, from August 9-12, the Targhee Bluegrass Camp holds classes, workshops, and jam sessions.
Three-day passes that include campground fees are available.
Santa Fe Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival
When: August 26-28
Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Santa Fe Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival is in its 38th year. Held on fairgrounds with free camping, the festival also includes contests, workshops, and scheduled (and impromptu) jam sessions.
Walnut Valley Festival and Flat Picking Championships
When: September 14-18
Where: Winfield, Kansas
One of the highlights of the Walnut Valley Festival is the contests. The festival hosts national championships for mountain dulcimer, mandolin, bluegrass banjo, and hammer dulcimer. The international championships include autoharp and finger-style guitar categories. In the past, now-big-name artists like Alison Krauss and Chris Thile have won.
“Landrush” is what it’s called when the fairgrounds are opened to festival-goers, and it’s an accurate description. People will start camping days in advance, and if you want a spot, you’ll need to get there early.