Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival Preview
By: Jed Metzger
When you think of summer and music festivals for pure enjoyment, there is no festival better than the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. This is not just idle praise, The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival was voted with the 2009 IBMA Award for best festival, a category they have been a finalist for on five separate occasions. In my mind with the organization and the lineup set for 2012 there is no better small music festival in this country. The festival runs July 19th through the 22nd on the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill, deemed a “who’s who” of the music scene. In fact I do not see another similar festival anywhere this summer that can match this line-up in terms of super stars and the diversity in the larger world of bluegrass.
The festival is set on a high country Catskill New York region farm. Located in such a stunning location, the physical beauty of the farm gets transformed by the tent and camp city that springs up every year. All festivals have a vibe, at Grey Fox the vibe is outwardly friendly, I believe you will find a sense throughout the weekend, that you are just where you ought to be- good music and good people all connected to the earth.
What makes the festival work is the organization. Grey Fox is produced by Mary Tyler Doub along with her able assistant, Mary Burdette and a crew who are self-less in their commitment to make the Grey Fox a good time for everyone. The layout is easy with tenting spots nicely marked off around “streets” named after the greats of the bluegrass world. The entrance into the festival is always a snap. Once there everything is easily accessible, need ice? Well the ice truck calling out “iiiiiiccceeeeeee” is right around the corner. If it rains hay bales will appear in an instant (not a drop fell in 2011). Best of all is that this is a participatory festival, the festival encourages folks to bring along an instrument, take a class or just meet folks and pick together. The headliners join right in, there will not be a performer that will not meet and greet and talk to folks to share the common love of fine music. In most festivals when the professional music stops the night would be over, not at Grey Fox, now the party begins and everyone heads down to the campground and gets out an instrument and finds group to sit and play with. The atmosphere invites you, no matter what your skill level to sit down with strangers and play and guess what, you ain’t strangers by morning.
In terms of the professional music, one of the great things about the festival is the multiple stages. The dance tent is always humming, the main stage perfectly set, but perhaps the gem is the Master tent, where the biggest names come and sit and talk and joke and play in a very up close and relaxed manner. All this and we have not even talked about the performers, and this year every day is loaded with the best in bluegrass.
As always the festival is hosted by the Dry Branch Fire Squad and they will open the festivities with their special blend of humor and straight ahead bluegrass. It is hard to say who I am most excited to see because there are so many people to talk about. That said, that Jessie McReynolds is coming with his friends to play the music of the Grateful Dead is at the top of my list. If you don’t have the disc they put out last year, you are missing something, as the master of the mandolin does really understand the music. Running a close second is Hot Rize, who have gathered together to play only a few dates, Tim O’Brien is just one of those people who have taken the music, kept the tradition but pushed it out to keep it fresh. Since we are talking mandolin, there is this fellow David Grisman who will be here, yea he can play. Then there is otherworldly player, Chris Thile who will play with both the Punch Brothers and with fellow nut Michael Daves (how they did not win the Emmy this year I don’t know). Punch Brothers banjo picker Noam Pikelny will also be doing double duty. The annual tradition of the Del McCoury Band will again grace us; a more talented group there just is not. As mentioned before, Grey Fox has wise ears, so David Bromberg is back this year; a friend to bluegrass is how he put it a couple years back. My sweetheart, the Claire Lynch Band is back again, thankfully. Two of the top mainstays of current bluegrass; the Infamous Stringdusters and the Lonesome River band will excite us. New York will be represented by the Gibson Brothers keeping the long, brothers in bluegrass tradition, very much alive and we will be treated to the banjo wizardry of Tony Trischka and Territory. There are also a host of names that may not be as well known but are exceptional musicians, the Dixie Bee Liners or the hip old time musician Frank Fairfield come to the front of my mind. I am also a huge fan of fiddler Darol Anger and he brings his Old-Tyme Kozmik Trio. Again this is just the short list, tons more. The point is that the Grey Fox is the place to be, a better time you will never have.