It has been ten years since we last attended the Podunk Bluegrass Festival, and boy how it has changed. This summer, we finally returned to enjoy Podunk’s 22nd annual fest and are glad that we did. Through its 22-year evolution, with changes in leadership and location, the organizers and the festival’s one hundred plus volunteers have honed their ability to throw a bluegrass party. The entire weekend of music, workshops, vendors, camping, and jamming was enjoyable first to last. This was due in part to an excellent musical line up on both the main and showcase stages, but even more to the unified, well-organized veteran crew who clearly love putting on their festival.
When we entered the gate to The Hebron Fairgrounds Wednesday, we were surprised by the level of service everyone got as they began their weekend at the festival. Rich James, the festival’s jack of all trades, welcomed us with a smile and a golf cart tour of our camping options. That Podunk greeting set a positive and relaxed tone for the rest of the weekend. There was no feeling of being rushed and harried as we settled into our campsite, and the fairgrounds steadily filled in with campers over the next three days.
Podunk committee members Rich James and Shawn Szirbik, their wives and most of their volunteers, have been attending festivals much all their adult (loosely used term) life. They measure time by comparing past and present using older festivals they’ve attended. Like “since Grey Fox was Winter Hawk and Winter Hawk was the Berkshire Mountains Music Festival.” James attributes the success of this year’s festival in large part to a group of new and old volunteers who know how they like to be treated, and showed the same respect and kindness to others while they did their jobs. They all stepped up when faced with unexpected challenges. Between Kevin Lynch booking the bands from his home in Holland to Thirsty Lizard’s Malin Zergiebel’s willingness to devote extra time and energy to the website, James is thankful that everyone’s hearts were in the game. A lot of thought and planning went into Podunk’s festival and it showed.
Some highlights were Tim O’Brien‘s mandolin workshop which overflowed with people, Kristy Cox and Jerry Salley’s song writing workshop, Neil Rossi’s fiddle workshop, and Dale Ann Bradley and Flatt Lonesome’s workshops, which also had great attendance.
The first year of the Showcase stage was a big success. James says that for next year the organizers have already decided to expand the budget for the Showcase stage as well as the size of the tent.
The Honey Dewdrops, Flatt Lonesome, Balsam Range, Flashback and newly emerging Beg, Steal or Borrow were all crowd pleasers, and despite the threat of rain on Saturday night, Tim O’Brien’s hour and a half closer pulled in just about everyone in the campground.
Most importantly for us, the day time and late-night jamming included all kinds of energy and talent, and we got the chance to play with old friends and new acquaintances. By late Thursday night everyone knew where the hot pickin’ parties were. Up on the hill above the shower and restrooms, the Zolla’s, the grillbillies, and over by the choo choo train. We knew that we could play or listen to excellent jams till the wee hours.
The Podunk crew has figured out the formula for putting on a successful bluegrass festival and if they stick with it, the 23rd annual is sure to be a success.