We're All Here, Even If We're Not All There

It was different being home this year when we should've been at Bean. The wise call was made to postpone due to pandemic. Fest family came to the rescue with videos and photos and stories and well wishes. But man, the last nine festivals- they all just go by so darned fast! Sort of like baking the perfect cake and inviting friends over to help you eat it. It’s gone before you know it. We plan all year round to make this festival happen. Our rag-tag team, consisting of and assembled by our festy creator/promoter John Hotze and co-promoter Tom Burkhart, and the rest of us, labor and parlay, each bringing something unique to the table and pass it around to be sampled, flavored, spiced, cut up or whatever it takes to become a presentable part of our big little party in memory of John Hartford. Then we happily serve the results, laid back, piping hot and fresh, to you, our fest family.
The John Hartford Memorial Festival, "The Most Laid Back Festival in America", is just right. Each year it gets a little bigger, but not too big- just right. The weather overall has been perfect! The mood is what each of us had hoped for and preached about, “Laid Back”. The entertainment is feeling it too, in the groove with each performance. Jams evolve and revolve around the clock. Familiar faces greet; many of whom only see each other once a year at this reunion of happy, kindred, music loving folks. Unfamiliar faces become familiar. It is easy to see that everyone checks their politics, religions, attitudes and worries at the gate, exchanged for wristbands that transform each recipient into a testimony of living, breathing, laid back musical vessels. Whether we dance, sing, pick, bow, clap, nod, toe-tap or rock our little ones, “Laid Back” happens for four endless, way too short days and nights! How does it go by so quickly, or is it just me?

Looking back at previous festivals, I see I missed so many acts and activities that I’d hoped to partake in. You can”t be everywhere at once. One previous Songwriting Contest finalist,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 do I ever soak up the spirit! The early-bird, Wednesday evening Main Stage shows  amplified and mixed just right, sets 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.
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, one year, on a Saturday evening, I sat about ten rows back from the dance area at the Hartford 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 our dancing fest family, 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 New Grass, John Hartford, happening on ‘The Old Home Place’ of the Father of Blue Grass, Bill Monroe.  Going on 10 years in the making, this 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. 

Thanks for dropping in. Have a look around and enjoy the music and photos, archived blogs and explore our official youtube channel as well as our social media pages. Send us your comments, stories and photos, along with your suggestions.

“Will we make it happen again?” We are one big family now, and you are this family, because it couldn’t happen without You. Mark your calendars for Septemer 30th - October 3rd. We’ll be tickled to death to have you help us celebrate life with music, at the 10th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival and please, Bring Someone You Love!

Ernie Hill

Welcome Back, Whipstitch Sallies!

Welcome back Whipstitch Sallies!

Whipstitch- Proper noun- a shallow overcasting stitch indicative of superior quality and craftsmanship.

Sallie- Proper noun- a diminutive of the female given name Sarah.

Shortly after JHMF1, Patti and I came onboard the JHMF Sternwheel Steamboat to help out wherever we could. As an emcee for year 2 back in 2012, I was assigned the Boogie Stage. At that time, the stage was simply a 10x20 pole canopy, powered by John Hotze’s Boze tower sound system. The very first band I brought on was a group of very friendly, earthy and honest but elegant, ladies who called themselves the Whipstitch Sallies. This was their first year to perform at the John Hartford Memorial Festival. We became good friends and even shared some stage time together!

The Whipstitch Sallies were central Indiana’s “bluegrass rockers with panache” (The Indianapolis paper NUVO) with electrifying presence, traditional instruments, and tight harmonies.

The Whipstitch Sallies are:

Allie Lee, (now playing full time with Frank and Allie Lee, and The Freight Hoppers) clawhammer banjo virtuoso, guitar, harp and vocals.

Sam Herrin (now playing with Silver Sparrow and Bluegill in the Slaw), picking out blistering mandolin licks and vocals.

Katie Burk (now playing with The Half Step Sisters) bowing out spirited fiddle leads and vocals.

Kat Erikson (taking a break from performing full-time) driving the rhythm on stand-up bass and vocals.

The Whipstitch Sallies are all very good songwriters, with Allie and Katie having made our John Hartford Songwriter’s Challenge showcase, (Allie twice!)

The Whipstitch Sallies musical proficiency and sibling-like harmonies, along with mighty fine songwriting, which combined, stirs the term “Old Time Punk”, quickly earned them the love of our fest family to the point that they were booked consecutively through JHMF 6, which was their last fest as band. Life deals and we play. The Sallies went different directions with their individual lives, but have remained close friends. Enter Randy Kilper. Randy is  our JHMF co-promoter, artists relations manager, do-it-all and do-it-now, JHMF team member since day 1. Last year Randy approached the girls and asked about coming together for a JHMF year 10 special reunion. The ladies got together and worked it out and are we ever pumped up to have the Whipstitch Sallies reunion take place at JHMF10! I contacted Kat Erikson and gleaned a little more info.

EH- Where did you come up with the name Whipstitch Sallies?

Kat- Oh yes! That’s actually a great story. Allie and I met in a college poetry class. We’ve always loved playing with words, and we wrote a little together back then, mostly goofy poems.
When it came time to name our band, we sat in a diner for hours and wrote down a bunch of words we thought sounded fun. Whipstitch came up. It sounded folky and rootsy and we honestly just liked it. Sallies came up because we’re all ladies. It might have been Annie’s or Jane’s, but Sallies just fit.
An old friend of ours used to jokingly refer to us as The Patchwork Annies, which we got a kick out of.

EH- How did the reunion come about? Did you approach the fest or did they approach you?

Kat- Randy approached us asking about the possibility of a reunion last year. We live far apart now and it didn’t seem very feasible, but we all realized we miss playing together. We talked about it and when we realized we were all on board, we couldn’t pass it up. I guess we can thank JHMF for bringing us back together!

EH- Should we expect classic Sallies or all new stuff? or both?

Kat- We’ll be pulling our favorites from old set lists, like “Got Me a Letter”, “Oh, Mercy”, “Endless in the Lowlands”, and “Piney Flats”.

EH-Will there be Sallies gigs leading up to this, and beyond?

Kat- We do have one pre-JHMF show lined up at Duke’s in Indy on Tuesday, May 26th. That will be a ticketed show, and we’ll be posting details on our Facebook page as the date draws nearer.

EH- What have The Sallies been up to lately?

Kat- Katie’s band, “The Half Step Sisters” has a new EP “Bookends” out now. Check it out on Spotify. Allie plays with her husband Frank Lee in several projects right now. They have a new album “Treat a Stranger Right” set to drop in February. You can catch them with their full band, “The Freight Hoppers” at the Indiana Fiddler’s Gathering in 2020 and JHMF10!. Keep an eye out for Sam playing with “Silver Sparrow” around Brown County and Bloomington! If you’re lucky, you might even see her slappin’ bass with “Bluegill in the Slaw”.

The Whipstitch Sallies were annual crowd favorites at the John Hartford Memorial Festival. Always handy with a smile and greeting, The Whipstitch Sallies have a natural way about them, of stirring up the  spirit in one’s soul. As a matter of fact, it is way too easy, at any festival, to become so acclimated to the constant music coming from the stages that one can easily miss an act while visiting with an old friend. I recall such a visit coming to a sudden halt as the air filled with spine tingling harmonies, as an cappella intro to “Long Hot Summer Day” caught everyone's attention. I looked to the Hartford Stage and the Whipstitch Sallies were opening with that song. If you see them before their sets, shout it out! Their version is one of the tightest and most stirring I have ever heard!

Ernie Hill


John Hartford's Mammoth Fiddle Tune Collection

Stuffworks Press is tickled to announce the release of 176, mostly never heard or played, original John Hartford Fiddle tunes, compiled by Katie Harford Hogue, Greg Reish and Matt Combs! Read all about  John Hartford's Mammoth Fiddle Tune Collection here!


"All About Story Songs with Ernie"

Story Songs with Ernie is a concept performance, panel discussion amongst Story Telling Songwriters. We're going on 5 years of presenting this unique and enlightening workshop. It is not a "hands on " workshop but by the end of the set, we promise you will have a better understanding about the creative process of each songwriter, and maybe where your own creative spark lies. Story Songs with Ernie welcomed to JHMF9, Andrew Morris and Julie Bates(The Matchsellers), Alaina Hawf (Whispering Willows) and Bill Poss! Click Here to read All About Story Songs with Ernie.


Ernie Hill is a musician-singer/songwriter, freelance journalist from Figure Five, AR and a member of our John Hartford Memorial Festival Team. Connect with Ernie on Facebook or click the pic to go to his website.

Ernie Hill is a musician-singer/songwriter, freelance journalist from Figure Five, AR and a member of our John Hartford Memorial Festival Team. Connect with Ernie on Facebook or click the pic to go to his website.