44th Bean Blossom
Bluegrass Festival

by Mark Blackwell

Many years ago Tex Ritter sang a song about goin’ to “Hillbilly Heaven.” While he was there he met a slew of country music stars that had passed over. And he proceeded to name them off as he met them. There was Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, and all the rest. And ever since I heard that song I’ve thought somebody should do one about the Bluegrass here-after.

This year marks the 44th annual “Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival” and since 1969 I haven’t missed many of ’em. I have seen and heard a number of Bluegrass stars who have passed on including Jimmy Martin, Vassar Clements, Lester Flatt, and the greatest of them all, Mr. Bill Monroe. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see and hear these great musicians. And because of the traditions inaugurated by Mr. Bill at Bean Blossom, I have also had many chances to talk with these musicians.

The folks who come to play on stage don’t segregate themselves from their fans. There is a shelter house at the top of the hill opposite the stage and after a set of music the bands usually head on up there to mingle with the fans, sell some CDs and just pass the time. This is a great time to get to know the gentleman or lady behind the stage-persona and maybe even get your picture taken with a Bluegrass legend.

It is great to meet the bluegrass legends but it is also thrilling to see the new bands come along.

It was just a few years ago that I noticed an act on the bill that called themselves “Cherryholmes.” They are a family band that nobody heard of. And it wasn’t long before they were winning awards for best new band, best new banjo picker, and more.

Bean Blossom also acts as an incubator for aspiring Bluegrass musicians.

A special part of the festival is the 3-day “Youth Bluegrass Boot Camp”. It’s open to youngsters age 6 to 18 and offers over 15 hours of professional instruction. They take all levels of proficiency, from beginner to advanced, on banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass. At the end of the “Boot Camp” the participants get to perform on stage—a major highlight of the festival. It’s too late this year to register but if you have an up-and-coming Bluegrasser in your family be sure to get them signed up for next year.

If this is your first time at the festival you will be amazed at how comfortable and commodious the park is. Whether you show up in a land-yacht or a pup tent there’s clean water, toilets, showers, and electricity. The thing I’ve always enjoyed is the instant communities that spring up in the campgrounds. It doesn’t matter who moves in next door because you’ve already got Bluegrass in common. Your new neighbors are just good friends you haven’t met yet.

I know how it is a trial to get ready for a camping trip or a festival—you make lists and run around piling stuff up in the living room and you try not to forget anything. In fact, most of the time, you wind up hauling enough necessities to get you through a month in the wilderness but then forget the toilet paper. If you forget some things there is a camp store right on the premises with everything you might need. And I’ve learned over the years to cut back on the food I take.

Once I get up to the food vendor area I can’t resist the fried green tomatoes, Northern Pike fillet sandwiches, roastin’ ears, barbequed ribs, kettle corn, and on and on. Now that I think about it, this year I may just try a little dietin’ before I go. I cannot say enough about the good food and friendliness of the concessionaires. If those folks showed up for just a food festival, I’d be in line to buy a ticket.

It really is a total experience—friends, food, good music, and a beautiful location.

This year, on Friday June 18, there will be a “Bluegrass Album Band” reunion with J.D. Crow, Tony Rice, and Bobby Hicks. And on Saturday, June 19 there will be a special Jimmy Martin tribute starring his old band members, Doyle Lawson, Paul Williams, and J.D. Crowe.

At Bean Blossom not all the stars shine in the beautiful Brown County sky—a good many of them are on stage, like the aforementioned J.D. Crowe and Tony Rice. Karl Shifflett and the Big Country Show will be there, as well as Cherryholmes, Bobby Osborne, James King, the Grascals and the star of radio, records and the silver screen, the grand old man of Bluegrass, Dr. Ralph Stanley. Oh, yeah…and about forty more bands.

It‘s an event that is truly hard to beat and it’s right here in our back yard. Come on out the weather will be perfect as always. Tickets run between $15 and $30 dollars, depending on the day, or you can get a 3-combo pass for $75, all eight days are a deal at $150 before June 1. After that, the tickets run $20–$35 daily, the 3 day pass bumps up to $90, and it’s $195 for the week. So, make your plans now, call (800) 414-4677 or (812) 988-6422 or you can crank up your compu-tater and get on line at <www.beanblossom.us>. Don’t miss it.