This year’s Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, one of the country’s most well-known and well-respected bluegrass festivals, will be taking place from July 17-20 on the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill, NY, a quaint hamlet nestled in the Catskill Mountains. This event consistently draws both national and international fans by the thousands, including from as far away as New Zealand, Japan, and the Czech Republic! Located about two and a half hours from New York City, it is definitely worth winding your way up the mountain to check out the transcendental experience that is the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (formerly known as the Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival), where the line between artists and fans seems to disappear, and where folks can truly jam with and learn from the musicians performing throughout the weekend, as well as one another.
In its impressive 38th year, having landed the #2 spot on USA Today’s “10 great places to go to bluegrass festivals”, Grey Fox features an amazingly impressive collection of musicians that is hard to beat, this year’s line-up to include award-winning musicians Del McCoury’s 75th Birthday “Delebration”, The Gibson Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Claire Lynch Band, and Della Mae, to name just a few. To top that all off, Nickel Creek, who have not toured together for quite some time, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary at Grey Fox on the opening night of the festival. In addition to the “regulars” who appear, and who are definitely appreciated, year after year, the producer of the festival Mary Tyler Doub likes to introduce new talent to the scene. Her knowledge of what the fans are looking for shines through in that many of Mary’s discoveries have gone on to become regulars at not just Grey Fox, but festivals throughout the country, so be sure not to skip seeing a band just because you don’t recognize their name, as they will be sure to delight. As has been the tradition since 1983, the Dry Branch Fire Squad will be the musical hosts of Grey Fox, kicking off the festival with a “welcome” set on the Thursday afternoon of the event, and ending with a Sunday morning gospel set that gets fans motivated for that one last trip over to the High Meadow (Main) Stage before heading back to pack up camp.
While Grey Fox is obviously well-known for the extraordinary caliber of musicians it tends to attract, it can also be thought of as a place to further your bluegrass schooling, with workshops and “directed slow jams” taking place throughout the event. Even though the music taking place on the High Meadow Stage is sure to be unbelievable, it is crucial that you check out the other stages scattered around the festival site, each offering its own distinctive fun and educational experiences. The Creekside Stage is the place to go if you are looking for some of your favorite artists who will be conducting instrumental and vocal workshops on a more intimate scale, jamming out with each other, and answering questions you’ve been dying to ask your musical idols. The Catskill Stage can also be called the “dance stage”, as that is where you will find folks boogying down to high energy “almost acoustic” bands until the wee hours. And for those early risers, a yoga class is offered each morning on the Catskill Stage, with live acoustic music provided in the background. For those who arrive on Wednesday, there will be an Open Mic Night on the Catskill Stage from 7:00-10:00PM, followed by a screening of the documentary How to Grow a Band, featuring the Punch Brothers. The Grass Roots Learning Tent is an open forum for musicians of all abilities who want to hone their skills. Hands-on sessions on a variety of topics, last year’s topics ranging from the banjo to improvisation to harmony, are taught by top musicians and teachers in their fields.
And finally, the Slow Jam Tent is where jamming for beginners is encouraged and fostered by Paul Dube, who patiently guides new players through familiar bluegrass tunes chord by chord, and gives a few helpful pointers along the way, so you can feel inspired to join in the impromptu jams that take place in the camping areas throughout the event.
Grey Fox is an extremely family friendly event. Many of the families who come to Grey Fox together treat it as their yearly family vacation – to note, kids 12 and under are admitted free to Grey Fox with a ticketed parent or guardian. Grey Fox sure is equipped for it, with a Family Tent providing a constant array of activities from when the festival gates open, straight through until Sunday afternoon. Activities range from crafts and games, to clowns and magicians, with some musical headliners making appearances at the Family Tent as well. Movies are shown after dark, and this year, the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association will be on hand to present their star-gazing equipment and answer any astronomy-related questions. None of these activities are meant be treated as babysitting services, and parents are encouraged to interact and participate alongside their children.
For some fans, rather than listening to the music taking place on the main stage, they are there simply to connect with old friends (some of whom you may only see once a year at Grey Fox), meet new friendly folks, and do some good old-fashioned picking. It is truly amazing to walk through “Pickers Paradise” just one of the many camping options at Grey Fox, and just listen to what is happening around you: traditional bluegrass fans truly appreciating the music they hold so dear, so much so that most people in attendance at the festival play at least one instrument and aren’t afraid to take part in a jam and learn new things from fellow festival-goers. Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is unique in that you may hear music that is just as good in the campground as the music happening on the main stage. On a side note, there is generally no need to feel unsafe about leaving your instruments out in the open at your campsite; one typically does not hear about people having things stolen from their campsites at this festival.
Yet another distinctive feature of the Grey Fox Festival is the Bluegrass Academy for Kids (BGA). BGA is a free learning program that takes place throughout the four days of the festival, and is open to children between the ages of 8 and 17. The program teaches participants how to play, sing, and perform bluegrass music, and consists of both sectional practices based on what instrument the child plays, and ensemble practices as an entire group. BGA also features guest appearances by several of the professional musicians playing at Grey Fox. Approximately 100-120 children take part in BGA each year, and for those lucky enough to participate in this FREE learning opportunity, the entire class performs a “Graduation Gig” on the High Meadow Stage. It is truly inspirational to end the festival on this note, demonstrating that bluegrass is still going strong, and will be for a long time, being that children are continuing to show an interest in the genre. An additional worthy activity to take part in while at Grey Fox is, believe it or not, the raffle! Thanks to the generous sponsors of the festival, including Stelling, Collings, Martin, Eastman, and Deering (which should all ring a bell for all you musicians out there), fans have the chance to win custom-built, top of the line acoustic instruments from each of these sponsors! Be sure to purchase a ticket, as you may be lucky enough to take everything you learned music-wise over the course of the festival and use it on a beautiful new instrument. Plus, by purchasing a ticket, you will be supporting companies that donate funds to the Grey Fox Scholarship, which is awarded on an annual basis to promising bluegrass students who demonstrate the need for financial assistance.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of camping options to suit your fancy. High Meadow Camping is available for tent camping without cars, and is primly located behind the seating area for the main stage. For those who choose to bring their RVs along for the ride, there is a whole section of the festival site known as Generatorville. For the families attending Grey Fox, there are a few designated quiet/family camping areas scattered throughout the site, so be sure to seek out those spots if you are hoping to get some peace and quiet, because the majority of folks tend to gravitate toward Pickers Paradise, where it is not uncommon to hear sweet bluegrass tunes coming from every direction at all hours of the day and night. This is the place to camp (or just roam around) if you are looking to soak in, or take part in, all of the amazing jamming going on all around you. Be sure to look around at all the imaginative campsites you will find at Grey Fox; that is because every year, Grey Fox gives out a Best Campsite Award, with the prize being a pair of tickets to next year’s festival, plus the pride you will gain in having your name announced during Saturday night’s show! This year, the award will go to the campsite that is leanest and greenest, taking up the smallest amount of space in the most creative way. Start thinking about those sites now and perhaps you will be the lucky winner.
Camping gates open on Wednesday, July 16, at 7:00AM for those who are eager to secure the ideal camping spot and to get the festivities started early. Some fans actually camp out for the entire week before the festival at nearby campgrounds just to be one of the first to arrive and claim their camping spots for the week. For the past couple of years, Grey Fox has been encouraging folks to drop off their gear, then move their car across the street to the Car Corral, to make more room for campers. If you choose to car camp, you can do that for a $20 fee; which will be refunded if you move to the Car Corral, which also makes you eligible for nifty prizes throughout the four days, including one lucky winner who could take home a free camping ticket to next year’s festival. Even though camping at Grey Fox is “in the rough” meaning no water or electrical hook-ups, there is always plenty of potable water available at several locations throughout the site, and the port-o-johns at Grey Fox are practically a pleasure to use, as they are kept super clean the entire time. Sometimes, you’ll even find a kind person who has left an air freshener in there to make the experience that much nicer. Plus, for those who have never attended Grey Fox, you will quickly become accustomed to hearing “I-I-I-CE” called out via a megaphone throughout the camping areas; that is because there is actually an “ice man” driving a truck around selling ice to keep those coolers chilled during your four days of camping. Man, they really think of everything at Grey Fox!
Tickets are currently available on the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival website, with camping tickets selling fast, so if you’re interested, grab them soon, as they typically sell out. Full festival tickets, which include camping from 7:00AM on Wednesday, July 16, through 7:00PM on Sunday, July 20, cost $195, with an additional $20 parking fee if you are not planning on moving your car across the street to the Car Corral. Single-day tickets are available at $65 per day (except for Sunday, which cost $30). There are very few rules at Grey Fox, which leads to a much more relaxed festival experience. Basically, you are asked not to bring glass or pets, and smoke only in designated areas. You can set up your chair in the concert area and leave it there the entire weekend, but the Grey Fox way is to share your chair until you return. The system seems to work well overall.
If you are a fan of bluegrass music in its truest form, then the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is definitely the place for you. While having the opportunity to see many of your favorite musicians and bands in one place, you can also attend workshops to become masters of your instrument, take part in directed slow jams, or try your hand at picking with fellow fans in the campgrounds. Grey Fox is definitely a festival where you take away way more than you ever expected, whether it’s learning a new chord progression, getting to chat with your favorite musician, or trying your hand at bluegrass karaoke, where a live five-piece band plays behind you. Expect to leave Grey Fox a more enriched person musically, and plan on coming back next year and the year after, as once you start coming to Grey Fox, it’s hard to stop! For some examples of what you can expect to hear at Grey Fox, here are some tunes for your enjoyment! Hope to see you lots of you on the hill [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/42136954″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]