John Hartford Memorial Festival 2014 was just right. Bigger than previous years but not too big, just right. The weather was perfect! The mood was what each of us had hoped for and preached about, “Laid Back”. The entertainment was feeling it too, in the groove with each performance. Jams evolved and revolved around the clock. Familiar faces greeted; many of whom only see each other once a year at this reunion of happy, kindred, music loving folks. Unfamiliar faces became familiar. It was easy to see that everyone checked their politics, religions, attitudes and worries at the gate, exchanged for wristbands that transformed each recipient into a testimony of living, breathing, laid back musical vessels. Whether we danced, sang, picked, bowed, clapped, nodded, toe-tapped or rocked our little ones, “Laid Back” happened for three endless, way too short days and nights! How did it go by so quickly, or was it just me?
Looking back at the schedule, I see I missed so many acts and activities that I’d hoped to partake in. You can”t be everywhere at once. Our Songwriting Contest 3rd place winner, Tom Poley, from Tucson, AZ summed it up by saying, “That’s just Festival time!”
I think about all the tunes I’d hoped to jam on and the folks I’d hoped to jam with. I realize, now, I didn’t jam much at all, but man did I ever soak up the spirit! The early-bird, Wednesday evening Main Stage show with Whipstitch Sallies, Avocado Chic and New Old Cavalry, amplified and mixed just right, set the mood for the entire event. There was happiness and excitement coming from the front porch of the “House That Bill Monroe Built”, all in memory of our beloved namesake, John Hartford.
Thursday morning on the Main Stage, with the help of the Crunchy Western Boy’s ace fiddler and really nice guy, Jacob Stern, I fiddled the National Anthem with “Wolves A Howlin”. I think those two songs go really well together. This kicked off the official festival although it wasn’t planned. That’s the cool unique thing about this gathering. It isn’t called “The Most Laid Back Festival in America” for nothing. Guests popped in and out of various band’s stage performances and the finale, on Saturday night was a happening that one would swear took weeks of rehearsal, but no, it just took a group of laid back musicians who felt in sync and in the moment. We all felt like we were a part of something really cool. We were.
You know, in a blog, one gets to express how they feel in the First person. There aren’t really any rules outside of punctuation and spelling, so I feel right at home saying this. You see, Saturday evening, I sat about ten rows back from the dance area at the Main Stage, with my soul mate Patti, and friends, watching Bawn in the Mash work their string band magic, and I achieved that apex of calm I’d been looking for, that adjusted head trippy feeling that tingles from your brain and tells all the rest of your body that things are the way nature intended for them to be, you know, Nirvana maybe? Hillbilly Groove? Escape from the pressures of the working world? Heaven??? You get it. If you were there, I hope you felt this too. If you weren’t there, I hope you like the sound of this and make plans now! Anyway, I looked to my left at the dancing festy folk, silhouetted against the trees in the soft evening dusk, with the stage lights flickering on them like firelight, and I saw a little deeper. I saw folks who were actually able to forget about cares and worries. I saw folks who were able to breathe the music and the mood into their lungs and let it take them to a special spot, free from burden, living in the moment, and I felt that mood all around me. That energy that emanates from all of us, past and present. Magic. Spirit. Fleeting and obscure, but waiting to be tapped and made manifest.
Definition of festival: “a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something.” A celebration for sure. A deliberate gathering of folks getting away, joining the laid back. A hopeful celebration of the musical influence of the Father of NewGrass, John Hartford, happening on ‘The Old Home Place’ of the Father of Blue Grass, Bill Monroe. Four years in the making, this year’s festival is the fruition of the vision of John Hotze, the dream of Tom Burkhart, the culmination of every good soul who ventured forth with these two, whether volunteers or attendees. This year marked the crossover from “Will we make it happen again?” to “Let’s start planning for 2015”. We are one big family now, and You are part of it because it couldn’t happen without You. Mark your calendars for May 28th -30th, 2015! We’ll be tickled to death to have you help us celebrate life with music, at the 5th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival!
A note about the caricature on this page: this little figure who looks like me is the result of the quick mind and hands of our artist, Jon Griffin. When we decided to name this blog page after John Hartford’s “Morning Bugle” album, we first opted to use the album art for our headline. Well, there are more hoops involved in getting the rights to this than there are minutes in the day so I emailed Jon and mentioned our dilemma. In about twenty minutes he sent us the banner above! I emailed back, “Yippee!” and in another twenty minutes he sent back the caricature, and that folks, is the rest of the story! Be watching this page for stories about our entertainers, our mission in action and our festival team members, including Jon Griffin, a real American Treasure, coming soon!
“Ernie Hill is a freelance writer and
JHMF staff writer from the Arkansaw hills.”