This first-timer’s overview of the 2013 Joe Val festival is a contribution from Tara Linhardt, noted mandolinist, instructor, filmmaker and Guinness World Record holder. Tara also took the many photos which accompany this piece.
I decided to broaden my horizons and try some new festivals this year, so I headed up north to Framingham, MA and the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. On arriving in the parking lot, I was already having fun. The festival is in a hotel, and we have loads of festival like that in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee (my normal festival haunts), but this one is held in a castle…
I stopped and took a photo of a fella walking out to his car wearing a kilt in front of the castle on my way in, and was thinking that was a pretty fun start. After entering the building, I discovered that the castle was built by an Irishman and was called “The Sheraton Tara.” I know that sounds like something that I might make up, but I swear it is true.
I went on inside and things looked as one would expect with folks jammin’ in the hallways, the big signs, and the get your wrist band area, etc. I did notice on the program that they have more workshops than maybe any festival I have attended to date. There were 58 workshops on the schedule, on a wide variety of topics.
They also showed a documentary film so folks could learn some cool stuff about music history. I like that idea of having a bluegrass or old-time music related film at fests. Gives us pickers something to do where we can sit down and rest our poor bodies, learn something, and be entertained.
I would say all these organized workshops puts them ranked pretty high for folks looking to go to a festival and be able to be sure to have the opportunity to ask questions and have someone explain a bunch of things about using one’s axe, history of the music, etc. They also have the Kid’s Academy headed up by Ira Gitlin, which is such a great way for young folks to learn and get involved in the music, and get bit by the fun of getting on stage in front of screaming fans.
Something that I do not often see at other festivals was the massage area. What a great idea. It was $15 for a ten minute massage and available right in the bottom hallway. A great idea festival promoters, hint hint. After a few hours of standing and pickin’ a quick little on-site massage could be quite the thing. Oh ya…
There was the expected room full of various instruments and what-nots that one could try out and possibly buy. The one I had not seen before was the washtub bass made with tuner and note letters written on the fret board, with a built in stand to get it up off the ground. Pretty ding-dang fancy for a washtub. And I saw a guy happily walking down the hallway with this new purchase, getting ready to play it too.
Then, of course, there were plenty of professional musicianers on the stage, as well as roaming the hotel talking, jammin’ and carrying on in the regular festival manner. New England has its own music pioneers and legends, too, that I got to learn about and meet, like Al Hawkes who had plenty of great stories to tell.
Phil Ledbetter and Steve Gully took some time to tell me a few great stories too. What great guys, great musicians, and bluegrass historians. They were really kickin’ it in their performance with Dale Ann Bradley.
I won’t list here the whole line up of the festival, but there were loads of great bands and bands having a lot of fun sitting in with each other on the stage as well as off stage. Folks can always check out the website for the official details if they want.
As I heard many folks say at Joe Val, just as they do at other festivals, bluegrass is like a big family of sorts. Traveling is more fun when the place you are going is a festival. The folks I met when I was jammin’ and roaming are like new bluegrass cousins I met at the extended family reunion. We generally at least know some of the same folks, and loads of the same songs.
This time I got to play them in the castle called The Sheraton Tara.
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