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The best thing about an outdoor music festival may not be the music.

July 24, 2005

After spending a weekend at Magnolia Fest Midwest, the first ever venture north from Florida for the Magnolia folks, I came to a different realization as to why I keep coming to Bluegrass festivals. The music is always better than expected. Young bands are thrilled to play on Bill Monroe’s stage and show their stuff to the audience and the bluegrass gods who surely must be watching. But there’s a whole different reason why these events are special, and music is just the start.

It’s more like a going to a big outdoor party, yet you don’t go home for three days. You come with friends, and you leave with more. You can walk up to Bela Fleck and say thanks. You can play frisbee with someone across the field who you’ve never met. You don’t have to drive at the end of the night and strangers give you hugs. A stage is a place where music begins and daylight at a campsite is a place where it finally ends – for a few hours anyway.

What’s the best thing about going to a weekend music festival? The music? Sure, that’s part of it, but after you’ve been to one you come to this realization:

The music is what convinces you to go to a festival, but it’s the utopia atmosphere that you walk away with, as you realize you can’t stop smiling. If all the evil despots of the world would just come to Bean Blossom just think how things could change. They would see Peter Rowan jump up and play with all the young bands as the hippie twirlers pranced through the grass under the moonlight. I’d nudge them to make sure they notice the smiles on the young faces of the Hot Buttered Rum Band realizing they are playing with their hero and a legend. I’d remind them how special this moment is and how agendas are suddenly irrelevant. Then on the way to an all night jam, I’d buy each one a mircrobrew or some ice cream. Their choice. Are you in?

You’ve heard from me. Now, tell me what you like about festivals

Posted by Jim Blum at July 24, 2005 2:28 PM


Rose Kennedy said, "Birds sing after a storm, why shouldn't we?" To me, this speaks to the heart of what song -- all music but particularly, song, I think -- does for us as individuals and collectively. For song is a form of prayer -- it's how we reach up and out and to each other in a common voice, in a common language, in a common feeling -- we turn to song first (at least I do) to renew our hope and our spirit after the worst storms. Song saved me after my parents died, while I was treated for cancer, and during my divorce. And who can ever discount the impact of "We Shall Overcome," for example, on the sprit of the civil rights marchers. So festivals, to me, are the ulimate realization of the power of song and music in the context of community, which strengthens and empowers all who attend, listeners and performers alike. Festivals renew and restore, festivals lighten the load we carry in this competitive world, festivals build courage and creativity and inspiration, festivals build energy, festivals are how this old agnostic connects with the existential.

Posted by: Penny Stanton at July 24, 2005 5:44 PM

I have wondered for some time where the musical muse had fled. As far as I am concerned, it left the commercial domain sometime in the late 80's...some may say sooner. I am delighted to have found the ageless muse inspiring today's folk music, especially as it is being presented on Folk Alley. What a relief, I was about to despair that all of the current music scene was a train wreck. I am trying my best to get the word out. Thanks for the revelation and for all that you do through this venue. I listen to it for hours each day.

Posted by: William Dumas at July 24, 2005 10:32 PM

Amen! ;)

Posted by: Shannon McDaniel at July 25, 2005 12:22 AM

I like the dreamlike quality of festivals, and the opportunity to listen to musicians who don't look and act like grifters.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at July 25, 2005 7:58 AM

Magnolia was a blast. Festivals such as these remind me why I love this music. But like Jim says, the music is really only a small reason why Magnolia was so great. Most of all, it was the people and fans we spoke with throughout the weekend and I for one was amazed at how many people knew all about Folk Alley. Maybe we’re onto something after all. :)

We spoke with legends Bela Fleck and Peter Rowan—along with the young talent of Hot Buttered Rum, Uncle Earl, and The Duhks. (Audio coming soon). If one thing's for certain, this music and festival vibe crosses generations and suddenly, the generation gap disappears for a few days. Now that's music to my ears.

Posted by: Chris Boros at July 25, 2005 2:16 PM

You are right on target about music festivals in general and Magnolia Midwest in particular. We heard a lot of very good, young musicians that we otherwise would never know.

My friends and I enjoyed meeting and talking with you guys Saturday. If you get lonesome to come to Indiana again, note that Beanblossom will host Uncle Pen Days September 21-24 and even better on the same weekend Bloomington will host Lotus Fest world music festival.

I'm sure it will help if you spread the word about Magnolia. The crowd was good for a first outing but still relatively light. We want to make sure they come back.

Posted by: John Doughty at July 25, 2005 2:27 PM

Well said Jim B. The essence of what I experienced at MagnoliaFest will forever be alive inside me. It was living poetry in motion surounded by music that brought nothing but smiles to my mind and body. The whole asmosphere was laid back, friendly and everyone shared openly including themselves thru their music.

"Sloppy Joe's" brought me to a whole new level of music appreciation and fun. Standing next to musicians form different bands or from no band at all, and hearing them simply blend together as one, was truly mind opening. And not simply for the music which was awesome, but for the simple comradery that took place amongst people from different walks of life.

The whole world would be at peace if it could be one giant Blue Grass Festival! Thanks to Folk Alley for keeping me informed about these events!

Posted by: Bob Falkowski at July 25, 2005 5:00 PM

I discovered your service today, when my usual Web folk station ( was unavailable. You have a great mix of music...

However, the Tracy Chapman song is titled All You Have to Lose is Your Soul (not Smile)...


Posted by: Greg Hellyer at July 25, 2005 8:12 PM

Greg, I am also a listner to wumb 91.9 out of umass boston. I have been a suporting member of theirs for over 10 years. But for all day online listening I think here at folk alley the variety is much better.

But with that said, outdoor music fetivals are what the sumer is made for. I will be in New York this weekend at Camp Creek
I have been going to this festival for 15 years now and it gets bigger and better every year. Oh how do I love the summers

Posted by: Scott Powell at July 27, 2005 10:36 AM

This is off the subject, but I saw The Waifs last night in downtown Manhattan playing a free concert. They were EXCELLENT!! Everyone was moving and swaying, I don't know how many of those people knew about them before the show, but I know a lot of them were picking up CDs on the way out.
Vikki and Donna are both pregnant and due on the same day-- I thought that too fun of a fact not to share. It was their last show in the States for at least a year as they've got babies to have. But if you get a chance to see them in concert... DO IT!

Posted by: Ann Barnes at July 27, 2005 11:00 AM

i did not get to go to magnolia, but just a month and a half ago a music festival topped off our honeymoon perfectly, attended with some good friends as our yearly tradition. the thing i love about music festivals is the chance to feel free to be wholly myself, with a group of people who are on the same wavelength---of being themselves, at least. i never figured out why folks in the outside world thought i was so strange until i got a chance to spend a weekend in a venue with folks who did not find me strange at all. that gave me the strength to continue to be that inner self more in other life contexts, which i hope can inspire others to do the same.

Posted by: Jwilly Di Digennaro at July 27, 2005 2:05 PM

I remember my first Bluegrass Festival: Ashville Folk Festival, Sept. 1966. For me the most fun is the parking lot pickin' and the new friends you meet there. We were invited to a local's home (a plumber by trade) and played bluegrass all night! I remember playing one song, going to sleep and waking up playing another! I can't wait till the Ashville Festival this year!

Posted by: Tom Love at July 27, 2005 2:39 PM

My first festival was Union Grove 1974 - WOW. Never been the same since.

Out here in Arizona our big festival seasons are Spring and Fall, but it is only a short hop up to Telluride when things get too warm down on the cactus flats.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at July 27, 2005 4:14 PM

Lester Flat & Earl Scruggs said it best
Ya All Come Back Now
Ya Hear

Posted by: Lester Ticknor at July 28, 2005 4:31 PM

Jim struck a note with me on this one... It brought back many GOOD memories of Bluegrass festivals I attended across the Midwest, from the Missouri Ozarks to the cornfields of Iowa, in the 70's. I was first introduced to Bluegrass music (Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe) in 1970 by a friend and classmate
I had grown up with since grade school. It led to my playing the upright bass (because they needed one for their new Bluegrass band) and I had just finished 4 years of high school playing the electric guitar and music of Cream, Hendrix, and others.

1970 was a transitional musical summer for me! I not only found Bluegrass music, but many new (and now life-long) friends along the way. I can still remember driving home on a Sunday afternoon from a BG festival in the Ozark hills and not being able to get the sound of the banjo out of my head! It lasted for a couple of days, as I remember, until the next weekend! Ah, the sights, sounds and smells of a good Bluegrass festival.... I'm almost back there now...

Posted by: John Nell at July 29, 2005 10:53 AM

I recall driving down a long, lonely stretch of road with my buddy Rand in 1976 or so, playing a duet on harmonica while he steered with his knees.

We're lucky to have survived, but it sure is fun to look back on.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at July 29, 2005 11:07 AM

We spent last weekend at the wonderful Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in NYS. I think the best thing (besides ths music, of course) is the sense of community we feel as soon as we drive onto the property. I love festivals because they give me a chance to discover new artists. Plus, the food was great, the view from our campsite was spectacular and nothing topped the annual Sunday-morning "gospel wake-up call" that is led each year by Eddie from Ohio. (P.S.: I spotted at least one Folk Alley T-shirt!)

Posted by: Cori Meloney at July 29, 2005 11:41 AM

Hi, I just discovered this radio station but will definitely add it to my list of favorites. I just returned from a festival held in my hometown (Burgeo, Newfoundland, Canada, The Sand and Sea Festival) and I know what you mean, it was a weekend of meet and greet and hugs all around. Thank God for Festivals.

Posted by: Jill Benoit at July 31, 2005 9:36 PM

Hi - I've just been to my first ever festival, at cambridge in the Uk and would love to come over the water to the US or Canada at some stage to a festival, as most of our favourite bands seemed to come from over there ! We also figured that it would be a great way to get a feel for the country and the people. Can anyone recommend a list of good sites, or any fab festivals?

Posted by: Clare Calder at August 3, 2005 5:31 AM

Folk Festivals are best when experienced raw! Dive right in and participate with those that camp and play their instruments all night long. The Philadelphia Folk Festival every August is volunteer organized and run. The sense of community shared at these festivals allows one to learn music stylings from all over the spectrum. The sharing of tunes, food, drink, and purpose bring me back every year.

Posted by: George Ehrgott at August 3, 2005 9:39 AM

Me? I LOVE jamming with people carrying instrument cases after I motion them over to join me and whoever else is around! You never know whatcha might learn except one thing- you just made a new friend!

So you play Battle of New Orleans in E, hunh?.....

Posted by: Scot Witt at August 4, 2005 2:38 PM

I am at Edmonton festival and have just discovered Shooglenifty and an awesome mandolist Luke Plumb. Does anyne know anything about this band. Theyre from Scotland and are totally out of this world music, musicianship, stage presence..I could go on

Posted by: Lynda Hansson at August 6, 2005 6:16 AM

I have a music festival that I attend every July- this was my forth year. Every year I have enjoyed the experience that I was capable of… and assumed my experience was no different than what others were having. Each year, the festival seemed to reflect the milestones of the past year. This year was very different. I walked barefoot for three days and flew a kite 2000 feet in the air! I sat for an entire hour looking at the Milky Way and was surprised by a shooting star. I even made a wish. Priceless! Trying to explain this to my friends who have not seen music outside of a concert hall trying to describe childbirth. You just can’t. I too was overwhelmed with the desire to have all the world know what beautiful people we all are. With all that love, there would not be family members coming home dead from these wars. I understood the source of the strength of music. I did not want to leave!

Posted by: Shanon McDaniel at August 6, 2005 10:13 PM

... what they all said!!!

Falcon Ridge this year was awesome... as was StrangeCreek. I won't be at Camp Creek this year, or The Gathering of the Vibes... And I missed the Woody Guthrie Fest in Okemah OK.... that's one to get to, if you can!!! (If my wishes came true, I'd follow festivals all year round, and the heck with a 'real' job!)

I'm relatively new to all this, having participated for only about five years or so... but I enjoy all my new friends and 'families' as long-lost sisters and brothers who I am finally getting to know!

Posted by: Carolyn Madsen at August 7, 2005 11:08 AM

You should really try to get to Okemah sometime, Carolyn. Even if there isn't a Woody Guthrie festival. You would like it anyway.

Posted by: Thomas at August 13, 2005 11:19 PM

We are getting ready for our yearly music festival, Wheatland (, and I couldn't possibly add to your assessment of enjoyment of music festivals. Your posting almost made me cry (with anticipation of September). I've been going for 26 years and each year on the way home, I am planning next year.

Posted by: Donna Watson at August 17, 2005 12:25 PM

I've been to WoodyFest in Okemah twice... loved it... This year it didn't work out for me...
See you there next July, Thomas!!!

Posted by: Carolyn Madsen at August 30, 2005 10:34 PM

John Prime is the best musician ever!
Hellbender -

Posted by: Steve Otto at September 13, 2005 10:17 PM

If I can ever get the photos copied to disk so that I can link them, I'll post the blog I wrote about Kerrville's Folk Festival of blazing heat, just in time for mid-winter.

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at January 12, 2007 11:12 PM

Please send more info 'bout the 2009 Bean Blossom Event I would LOVE to attend !! W/ my children.

Posted by: Mary Cantu at September 6, 2009 1:16 AM

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