Monday, July 2, 2007

More on the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

This is for Donna and others who might be considering Grey Fox this year.

The photo above is from the Grey Fox web site. It shows a young, all-woman string band, Uncle Earl. Abigail Washburn, who sings/plays banjo in Uncle Earl, also plays in the Sparrow Quartet, which includes a cellist, Ben Sollee, as well as Bela Fleck on banjo. They will also perform this year.

My interest in bluegrass music is fairly recent and directly related to my attendance at Grey Fox. I have been aware of bluegrass music for a long time--my brother plays bluegrass banjo by ear and has always been a fan. I became interested when I started playing the fiddle 3 or 4 years ago.

So, two years ago, when there was a need for someone to bring instruments to Grey Fox for an "instrument petting zoo," I volunteered. My brother had talked about this festival, and I thought it might be fun to go, especially since he and his business partner and my good friend Doris (a fiddler) were going. My husband and daughter came with me that first year, though my husband has declined to come last year and this year. I understand: enduring the sometimes oppressive heat, the gentle or not-so-gentle rain, sleeping on a hill, even a slight hill, is not for everyone, and watching bluegrass day and night for four days straight can be a little overwhelming. My daughter continues to enjoy the event with me though, and I can't wait to see Doris there.

Because of Grey Fox, bluegrass music is much more meaningful to me now, having heard the groups at the main tent and seeing them up-close-and-personal in the smaller masters tent, and having a chance to talk to them directly after a performance and buy their CDs. It is wonderful having the musicians so accessible and learning a little more about them as people.

In addition to the performances, there's also a dance tent, a family activities tent, and workshops where you can learn fiddle techniques from the experts. You can jam with other musicians, and there are lots of them. The play all night long (except in quiet camping).

And, of course, it is fun for me to do the petting zoo, to introduce kids to cellos, violas, and violins. Other people bring banjos, dobros, guitars, and other instruments. Brian Wicklund, who wrote the American Fiddle Method books, runs the camp. I had the opportunity to talk to him about the cello version, suggesting more use of 4th position, maybe in a "more advanced" second volume. He said they might to that in a second volume, if people buy the first one. So, buy it. :-) It is a good intro to cello fiddling, especially if, like me, you are playing with fiddlers who use the fiddle version.

Grey Fox is a huge bluegrass festival, constructed for a week or so in mid-July in the middle of a parched cornfield in the hills of upstate New York. I don't know for sure how many people come, but the figure I have heard is 16,000. There are 4,000 campsites, tents smack up against each other sometimes, to cram more people in. Campsites is too formal a term. There are roads marked off to provide basic structure, but campsites are basically wherever you can put a tent, along with a canopy for jamming, a table, a cookstove, maybe a shower tent. There are no hookups, but there is a shower facility (long lines) and plenty of porta-potties. There are lots of vendors selling food, clothing, crafts, jewelry, CDs, and instruments.

For more information, see the Grey Fox site, or read the press release for this year's event. I am partial to the "new generation" string bands, mentioned in the press release, particularly Crooked Still, with Rushad Eggleston on cello (playing here with Casey Driessen on fiddle):

The Kruger Brothers, an "older" group playing banjo, guitar, and bass guitar, will be there this year. They are an outstanding group, melding bluegrass, classical, jazz, and contemporary music. I will write more on about the music later.


cellodonna said...

Thanks for all the info. It looks like a really fun time.

I will probably email you soon with more about my plans. Right now my head it sort of spinning with wedding plans and also our patriotic concert tomorrow night. In fact, right now I really should be "running the program" and making sure my system for page turns and keeping the music from blowing away are all set.

Maricello said...

Hi Donna, You've got your hands full right now! Have fun at the concert tomorrow night. Hope all goes smoothly at your daughter's wedding so everyone can relax and enjoy!

My patriotic contribution will be to march in a neighborhood parade with my flute. No rehearsals, no program orders, just thumbing through little music books on lyres attached to the wrist that slip off as one's wrist gets sweaty. I do think it might be fun to try marching with a cello sometime, a la Woody Allen.