Folk, Bluegrass Fests In Full Flower Across U.S.

Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby, Jesse Winchester among artists slated for shows on summer festival circuit.

With Memorial Day weekend comes the beginning of the summer festival season.

Folk and bluegrass fans far and wide have the opportunity to spend some time enjoying the work of a batch of top-notch musicians while relaxing in a bucolic setting, be it California’s Yosemite Park, the Colorado Rockies, the Appalachian Mountains or points in between.

(Click herefor dates, locations and rosters of selected summer festivals.)

Already under way is the Kerrville Folk Festival, which runs for 18 days in the Texas hill country. Nearly 100 musicians are set to perform at this gathering, which has become known as a premier event for singer/songwriters in the folk-music scene.

Besides the prestigious competition that has helped launch the careers of such diverse songwriters as Tish Hinojosa, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett, there’ll be performances by the likes of Stacey Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tommy Sands and Hinojosa.

But as Carolyn Hester, one of the founders of the event, explains, it’s not the big names that make Kerrville an institution: “There’s the Ballad Tree, where everyone who wants gathers at a certain spot. It’s hosted by a name musician, but what you quickly discover when you do that is that you are the least-important element. It’s about people — professional singers and nonprofessionals alike — sharing songs they have written, songs from their hearts.”

June 2–3, the action’s in the Appalachian Mountains, where Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Blue Highway, J.D. Crowe and the New South and Rhonda Vincent headline Traditions — A Kentucky Music Celebration. This festival takes place at the Laurel County Fairgrounds in London, Ky. For those who can’t make it to the site, portions of the music will be webcast on a pay-per-view basis by acousticboxoffice.com.

Longest-Running Annual Festival

Headliners including Jimmy Martin, Tom T. Hall, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Jim & Jesse, the Osborne Brothers, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and IIIrd Tyme Out will honor the father of bluegrass at the 34th annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. Monroe himself founded the festival in 1965 to bring together the best traditional and progressive musicians of the genre. Bean Blossom is believed to be the longest-running annual bluegrass festival in the world, and it takes place this summer, June 13–18, at Bill Monroe Music Park in Bean Blossom, Ind.

The festival trail wends west to Colorado June 15–18 with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. One of the premiere acoustic music festivals in the world, Telluride is known as a place that performers and fans love to return to year after year. Sam Bush Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Bruce Hornsby, the David Grisman Quintet, Longview, Peter Rowan, the Seldom Scene, Jesse Winchester and Susan Tedeschi are just a few of the not exactly standard bluegrass musicians who will appear on this year’s bill.

“It’s such a beautiful place to play,” said guitarist Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident. Nershi credits the Telluride fest with launching the band’s national career. “They have it in a box canyon in the mountains, and looking out from the stage, the view up into the Rockies is just incredible.”

The Dry Branch Fire Squad, the John Hartford Band, the Del McCoury Band, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice and Peter Rowan, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals, Chris Thile and Nickel Creek, Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group and Claire Lynch & Front Porch String Band take the stage at the festival formerly known as Winterhawk, now known as Grey Fox, at Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, N.Y., on July 13–16. Children’s programs, dance instruction and a parking lot picking contest are highlights of the event.

Partners Split, Music Multiplies

A new festival, known as Winterhawk 2000 — Bluegrass and Beyond, will feature Boozoo Chavis, Cheryl Wheeler, Chesapeake, Chris Hillman, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Eileen Ivers, Erica Wheeler, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at Long Hill Farm just outside Hillsdale, N.Y., on July 28–30. These two festivals resulted from the dissolution of a business partnership between the promoters of the original Winterhawk event. Both wanted to stay in the festival business, and two festivals resulted from their decision to part ways.

The week before the new Winterhawk, the same site will host the 2000 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival on July 21–23. Performers will include Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, Eddie From Ohio, Moxy Fruvous, the Nields, John Gorka and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. A Friday Night Summer’s Eve Song Swap will feature Janis Ian, Gorka, Patty Larkin and Nerissa & Katryna Nields.

Holly Near, Cosy Sheridan, Eric Garrison, Steve Seskin, Sloan Wainwright, Julie Adams, Kim and Reggie Harris, Kate Campbell and Diane Zeigler will be the instructors in the intimate setting of the Swannanoa Gathering Contemporary Folk Week from July 30 to Aug. 5 in Asheville, N.C. on the campus of Warren Wilson College.

Come Aug. 4–6, it’s one of the granddaddies of the genre, the Newport Folk Festival, at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I.

In the 1950s, as jazz listeners increasingly turned to the sounds of the folk music revival, the Newport Festival was born, and over the years it has been the site of Joan Baez‘s rise to national prominence, the Freedom Singers holding hands with white singers in a circle that brought the civil rights movement to the attention of people in the North and Bob Dylan going electric and electrifying (and dividing) the folk world.

This year, Willie Nelson, Shawn Colvin, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Toshi Reagon, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, Natalie MacMaster, Slaid Cleaves, Stacey Earle, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Cliff Eberhardt and Lucy Kaplansky carry the torch of musical and social change associated with the Rhode Island gathering.

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, the Strawberry Fall Music Festival brings Guy Clark, Rosalie Sorrels, Robert Earl Keene, John Hiatt, Jesse Winchester, Laurie Lewis and Tim O’Brien to Camp Mather, seven miles from the entrance to California’s Yosemite Park.

On Sept. 2–3, Santa Fe, N.M., hosts the second annual Thirsty Ear Festival. Last year’s event was hailed as a unique convergence of the best roots music has to offer, with Guy Clark, Corey Harris, James McMurtry and Paul Wine Jones. Hoping to build on that beginning, this year’s musicians include Alvin Youngblood Hart, Joe Ely and Corey Harris.