49th Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival

June 13–20, 2015

by Mark Blackwell
photos by Cindy Steele

I reckon that I am, to some degree, a born traditionalist. I still keep a paper calendar (what younger folks call a hard copy) hangin’ on the kitchen wall. It helps me keep track of where my life is goin’ and where it’s been. I like the idea of having four seasons to the year. I like celebratin’ birthdays and Christmas and the 4th of July. It gives me a sense of the continuity of things when another annual event rolls around. One of my favorites is comin’ right up—the world famous Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass festival
that takes place June 13 through June 20, 2015.

Every year, I look forward to spendin’ a few days with old friends and makin’ new friends in a place that is as familiar and invitin’ as my own back porch. I have been in attendance at more festivals out at the Bill Monroe Music Park than I have missed. And I can’t think of a better way to welcome summer than with a Bluegrass soundtrack.
This year looks to be another outstanding eight days of music. The line-up for the festival is a virtual survey of the history and different styles of Bluegrass. For starters, we’ve got one of the pioneers of the music, Dr. Ralph Stanley. Then there are the fellers that got their start back in the 1960s and 70s, like Bobby Osborne, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Paul Williams, and Raymond Fairchild. And there is a ton of groups that are taking Bluegrass into the future, such as The Grascals, Blue Highway, and Wildfire.

Larry Sparks and Lonesome Ramblers
Larry Sparks and Lonesome Ramblers

One of my favorite events at the festival is the Youth Bluegrass Boot Camp. This is a series of small group workshops taught by professional instructors to help the next generation of Bluegrassers get a head start. The Boot Camp covers topics such as basic instrument care and handling, vocals and harmony singing, stage presence, song writing, and more. Of course, there are also workshops covering all levels of proficiency on banjo, guitar, fiddle, bass, and mandolin. All of it is aimed at youngsters six to eighteen years old. At the end of the Boot Camp all the participants get to come up on stage and show off their hard work. It is a good thing to see these young folks as they develop into the Bluegrass stars of tomorrow. The only catch is that the Boot Camp is so popular that it is limited to the first fifty applicants and you need to register early. It is too late this year but if you have an up-and-coming Bluegrass picker in your family keep it in mind for next year.

There are also workshops, for adults to hone their skills on all the traditional instruments, given by some of the performers.

When the musicians are not on stage they can often be found up at the shelter at the top of the hill signin’ autographs and just jawin’ with their fans. There isn’t a big wall of separation between the stars and the audience. There is a “we’re all just folks attitude.”

If this is your first time at the festival I expect that you will be plum amazed at how comfortable and commodious the park is. Whether you prefer camping in a pup tent or you cruise over in a land yacht there is clean water, toilets, hot showers, and electrical hookups. I really enjoy the campground experience just for the instant communities that spring up. It doesn’t matter who you pitch your tent next to or who pulls their camper in next to you because you already have Bluegrass in common. So, your new neighbors are just good friends you haven’t met yet.

I know what it is like to get ready for the big festival camp out. You make out your lists of essentials and run around gatherin’ stuff in piles in the living room and you try your best not to forget anything. If you’re like me, you wind up hauling enough “necessaries” to get you through a month in the barren wilderness but then forget the toilet paper. Luckily, the park has a camp store right on the premises with about anything you might need.

You don’t need to pack much food because of all the vendors. I can’t resist the fried green tomatoes, Northern Pike fillet sandwiches, roastin’ ears, barbecued ribs, kettle corn ,and more. I think maybe this year I should try a little dietin’ before the festival. I can’t say enough about the good vittles and friendliness of the concessionaires. I think if those folks just got together and threw a food festival I’d be at the head of the ticket line.

So, with mouth-waterin’ food, great accommodations, friendly folks, top of the list entertainers, and a family friendly attitude, a visit to the Bill Monroe Memorial Bluegrass Festival is a perfect get away. Whether you come for a day or spend the whole week, a trip to Bean Blossom is a unique and unforgettable experience.

Tickets for the festival can be purchased in advance for a discounted rate until June 1. You can buy tickets by the day or get three-day and eight-day combo passes.

Youngsters 13 to 16 years old get a $5 discount per day and kids 12 and under get in free if accompanied by an adult. Camping is extra. Sites are available with electric hookups or you can camp primitive. Tickets are available by calling (800) 414-4677 or (812) 988-6422 or online at <www.beanblossom.us>.