The John Hartford Memorial Festival

by Jeff Tryon
photo by Cindy Steele

Local favorites The White Lightning Boys, The Whipstitch Sallies, and New Old Calvary will join national touring artists such as Peter Rowan, Pokey LaFarge, Jamie Hartford and Friends, Pert Near Sandstone, and Betse Ellis, at “The Most Laid-Back Festival In America,” the fourth annual John Hartford Memorial Festival May 29 through 31, 2014 at Bill Monroe’s Music Park and Campground in Bean Blossom.

The Festival is on a mission to preserve and continue the legacy, music, and ideals of John Hartford, one of America’s most beloved songwriters, performers, and musicians.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of honoring John’s memory and to bring life back into the songs he crafted,” said Mike Compton, a Grammy and IBMA award-winning recording artist and one of the modern masters of bluegrass mandolin.

“I think John’s passion for sound and lyrics has been felt for decades, and has altered the path of string band music,” Compton said. “He’s sort of the granddaddy of this Jamgrass scene. There’s an awful lot of his repertoire in the bedrock of the scene, from before the Aereo-Plain album to the present.

Compton had played with John Hartford, recording a half-dozen records and touring extensively with him until John’s death in 2001.

The Hartford Festival’s unique genre-busting line-up has a list of performers whose music is varied, different, fresh and original, rooted in the Spirit of John Hartford.

Joining Compton, who will play Saturday at 2:30, are a host of regional and national players including Danny Barnes, Larry and Jenny Keel, The HillBenders, Leroy Troy, Bawn in the Mash, Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many more—50 bands in all.

New to the festival will be Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, The Haunted Windchimes, Scenic Roots, Julia Belle Swain Band, Old Salt Union, The Crunchy Western Boys, Sloppy Joe, The Downtown County Band, and Maria Carrelli.

John’s friends will share their memories and stories with the audience during “John Hartford Storytelling” and the singer-songwriter will be memorialized with a “John Hartford Song Writing Contest.”

There will also be a Chompdown pitch-in breakfast for all with live music on Friday, May 30 from 10 a.m. until noon, and a Children’s Tent with planned activities. Pickers and players are encouraged to participate in the Old-Time Fiddling Contest.

The park offers cabin rentals, shaded camping, electric hook ups for RVs, hot showers, a fishing pond, playground, golf cart rentals, and more. Campground and campfire acoustic pickin’ is encouraged and a usual sighting around the festival.

For festival detials visit their website: <>.

John Hartford was a ground-breaking trendsetter who started a movement opened up the landscape of bluegrass music, giving it the name “Newgrass”.

Hartford was many things in life: steamboat captain, fiddle and banjo player, songwriter, author, folklorist, and father.
A descendant of Patrick Henry and cousin of Tennessee Williams, Hartford was born John Cowan Harford in 1937, in New York City. The Grammy-winning artist grew up in St. Louis, Missouri with a love for two things: the Mississippi River and music, especially old-time music and bluegrass.

He added the “t” to his given name at the request of producer-guitar legend Chet Atkins, and credited the music of banjo player Earl Scruggs, a bluegrass legend, as changing his life forever.

Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” won two Grammy awards in the same year, 1968, and is one of the most re-recorded songs in music. For Hartford, the song’s far-reaching commercial success gave him personal and financial freedom, affording him the opportunity to explore his musical artistry and other pursuits of the heart, including earning his steamboat pilot’s license.
Hartford went to California in 1968, where played on the Byrds’ classic album, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and worked as a scriptwriter/performer on CBS’s Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

He devoted two prime-time seasons to Hollywood before returning to Nashville in 1971 to record his groundbreaking acoustic album, Aereo-Plain.
In 1976, Hartford’s lifelong love of the Mississippi River led him to record an album of river-oriented songs, Mark Twang.

From there, Hartford dedicated the rest of his career into further researching old-time music and its history, including working on a biography about Ed Haley, a West Virginia fiddler, and cutting a number of Haley’s songs.
In what would be the final year of his life, Hartford received a Grammy for his contributions to the soundtrack of the hit movie “O’ Brother Where Art Thou.”

A mentor for a generation of bluegrass players, Hartford died June 4, 2001, at 63 after a two-decade battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.