Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bluegrass -- Joe Val festival; my American experience

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I did indeed manage to spend part of last weekend at the Joe Val bluegrass festival in Framingham, near Boston. It was, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my first American bluegrass festival experience -- after attending quite a few festivals in Czech Republic, Germany, France and elsewhere. Lot of fun, great music, nice people. I've been trying to gauge what the differences are between this American festival and those in Europe. It's hard to say. There are many similarities, but -- if this means anything -- in Framington I knew I was in the U.S., and in La Roche, or Caslav or Bratislava, I knew I was most definitely not. It wasn't just the language and the "look." I'll have to think on it...

Meanwhile, here are a few pix and notes.

The festival, organized by the Boston Bluegrass Union, took place in the gigantic Sheraton hotel. The main stage, for the big acts, was a huge ballroom hung with crystal chandeliers.

The Grascals play on the main stage, last show of the festival. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

There was also a smaller stage, downstairs -- where there were rooms for workshops. I attended some of these -- a banjo workshop given by Tony Trischka and then a workshop on the history of the banjo, which featured unfinished footage from the Banjo Project documentary currently under production -- you can see some clips on the web site.

I also went to the Yodeling workshop, which was a little weird. I like yodeling but have never been able to do it. One thing I learned at the workshop is that women yodel more easily in different keys than men do -- but I still haven't yet managed to find the "break" in my voice to do it.

Another big room housed exhibitors and vendors (mainly of musical instruments).

Fiddles on display. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In the corridors, lobbies and even phone booths, attendees joined up with others to jam.

Pickin. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The demographic seemed skewed toward middle-aged - though there were young people and even families, with some extremely accomplished kids. This could have been because of the venue and season (hotel not outdoors; Boston not Appalachia; winter not summer) or the price -- a day-ticket on Saturday was $55 for non-BBU members.

Tony Trischka plays with a young banjoist. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

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