DURHAM — Blue skies and bluegrass were the order of the day in Oak Hill on all four days of the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, delivering great music and warm memories for the thousands of attendees on hand.
Touring the grounds mid-afternoon with public relations spokeswoman Mary Burdette, the festival stretched like a bluegrass village off into its camping area, with the five performance tents strategically placed in a separate zone, where the sounds from each could be enjoyed, but with no conflict between their use.
The list of groups and players contained names that are well recognized in the bluegrass world, and performances were scheduled to run on into the late, late night with top draws.
But the festival is more than just a great opportunity to hear groups like the Sam Bush Band or to swing dance to Louisiana’s Red Stick Ramblers.
It is, in a manner of speaking, one huge bluegrass musician network session.
It is, said Burdette, about coming together for the music, playing the music, sharing the music, loving the music.
Burdette said many times musicians who come through and who perform for one day end up staying additional days because there is so much opportunity to interact with and jam with fellow musicians.
It is, in short, a picker’s dream.
Dance stage performers John Kirk and his wife Trish Miller both attested to the great feeling they and everyone have for the festival.
“I just love it,” said Kirk. “It’s world class talent, and it’s all ages coming together.”
“We have everything from five-year-olds to eighty-year-olds listening and dancing,” he said.
Kirk also praised the festival for its “incredible organization” in having everything run smoothly and all needs met.
“It just gets better and better and better,” Kirk said.
“My wife and I are celebrating our 25th year of playing together,” he said, “so it’s really a neat year for us to be here.”
“Everywhere we turn,” he said, “there’s something incredible,” specifically noting that the young students at the bluegrass academy were especially amazing.
Burdette agreed, adding that all the weekend-long workshops, for both adults and children, were an integral part of the festival.
“They learn from excellent musicians and excellent teachers,” she said.
Grey Fox also raffles off top-of-the-line instruments donated by major manufacturers, including Martin, Stelling, Collings, Beard, Eastman, and Deering, with the revenue going to the Grey Fox Educational Fund.
“We have a wonderful relationship with Berklee College of Music,” Burdette said. “Berklee sends student bands to showcase at the festival and faculty members to run workshops. Our Grey Fox scholarships are given to deserving college students, some of whom will be attending Berklee in the fall.”
Film director Ruth Oxenberg, who with her husband Rob Schumer made the highly praised film “Bluegrass Journey”, a documentary of the contemporary bluegrass scene, said they chose Grey Fox for the bulk of the film’s material because it is the best one.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Oxenberg.
“A beautiful setting, and incredible management from the top down, with that care and concern for detail that just trickles down to every single person, and the participants feel it.”
“It’s a magical getaway for a few days,” she said, “based around music.”
Washington, DC-based Voice of America program host Joan Kornblith also praised the event.
“It’s a fantastic place to come with a family or by yourself,” said Kornblith.
“The music is stellar,” she said.
“There’s nothing that compares to it (Grey Fox) in the East Coast, bluegrass-wise,” Kornblith said.
“There’s virtuoso performers and activities for everybody,” she said.
Like Kirk, she noted the excellence of the children’s workshop programs.
She explained that when children arrive, some may not be able to play a complete song, but by Sunday they can, with all 85 child musicians performing together on the Main Stage in front of the entire audience.
Out in the vendors’ areas, there was everything imaginable, from batik clothing and leather goods to even having an on-site hairdresser where you could get your hair cut if you wanted.
“And we have a local farmers’ market,” said Burdette, “with honeys, and jams, and maple syrup, and milk products, and local meats.”
“Our campers really like that,” she said, “because they cook at their camps and they come here and get their ingredients.”
“We also sell New York State wines from the Finger Lakes,” she noted.
So, besides all the great music, fun, and skill improvement, what does the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival mean to the outside world?
The basics that every local economy needs — a revenue stream.
Bringing thousands of people from all over the nation and globe to Greene County for four days every year is no small gift, and businesses along the festival’s travel corridors are aware of it.
At The Milk Run, just up the street a country mile on Route 145, Hope at the deli counter took a moment in the flurry of customers Saturday afternoon to confirm that.
“It’s been very busy,” she said. “We’re doing great.”
So although by late Sunday afternoon the strains of fiddle and mandolin had settled into memory at the Walsh Farm for the next 52 weeks, they’ll spring into life again next year, ready to transport you once again to — what was that sweet home? — a land of blue skies and bluegrass.
By Jim Planck, The Daily Mail