40th to be final year for Salt River Bluegrass festival

George Carr (left) with Jeanne Fitzner and Brian Sweeney backstage at the Salt River Bluegrass Festival

This year’s 40th annual Salt River Bluegrass Festival looks like it will be the last, owing to the failing health of founder and promoter George Carr.

A life-long lover of bluegrass music, Carr had a dream to create a festival near his hometown of Midland, MI. It started as a backyard event at his home, but he quickly realized that he would need a piece of land large enough for camping to realize his vision. After some searching locally, he found 40 acres in nearby Oil City and started working to develop it as a suitable spot.

For months he labored evenings and weekends to clear trees and tame underbrush, eventually building a stage, a shower house, and a covered area to host the music in the event of rain. Friends and family came to help him create an area for campers and RVs, with electricity and water hook ups, plus a kitchen to prepare food for attendees. Once completed, George named it Salt River Acres.

And in 1978, the Salt River Bluegrass Festival was born. Ever since, Carr has held it there in July with a focus on traditional bluegrass music. Because of the time span involved, they were able to present performances from major acts like The Country Gentlemen, plus showcase rising newcomers like Alison Krauss before she became a household name.

But according to his wife, Kris, who married George at about the time the festival began, his time in the world is short, and his dying wish is to attend the 40th annual event next weekend.

She recently shared this loving tribute to her husband, who she rightfully hopes can receive acknowledgment from the bluegrass community he worked so hard to serve in Michigan.

“Although I am not certain, I would bet that 40 years is a record for one family to produce a bluegrass festival anywhere in the United States. It is my humble opinion he deserves recognition and to be applauded for his devotion and dedication to the genre. Bluegrass has made his heart beat a little lighter and faster. He wakes up to bluegrass, is lulled to sleep to bluegrass and listens intently to bluegrass as he travels in his truck. We spent many years waiting for the weekend to arrive so he could play bluegrass music with his friends at our cabin, or occasionally slip away for the weekend to a bluegrass festival with the kids in tow.

His love for bluegrass began as a child, a young boy sitting around a radio that was filled with tubes and listening to a static reception of the Grand Ole Opry on WSM. He has told me several stories of his youthful endeavors to receive a clearer transmission. I can only imagine his mom and dad discovering wires running through their home so their young son, George, could receive the clearest transmission of the radio station he loved. The time was also limited, not available 24/7 as stations are now. So at a designated time on a specific evening WSM presented the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. I can see him huddled in front of the radio or lying on his bed intently listening to every note, and each word that the artist sang. He was passionately in love with the music that floated gently from the radio to his ears, a deep fascination and desire that only intensified throughout the years.

The Salt River Bluegrass Festival has cost a great deal financially to produce over the last forty years. I suspect many people would be upset about the expenditures, but I have watched my beloved husband find so much pleasure in producing the event that I could NEVER deprive him of that joy. His greatest pleasure is enjoying bluegrass.

His dying wish is to produce his 40th Annual Festival. I hope all of you can attend to pass along your respect, admiration and love for bluegrass. He is in very serious condition and is holding on to thrill in this last good-bye. Please consider attending and enjoying it with George.”

The final Salt River Bluegrass Festival is scheduled to run July 26-28, and advanced ticket pricing is available through July 20 online.

A tip of the hat and a hearty “well done!” to you, George Carr.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.