Just when the leaves start to fall and the air has a little chill to it, the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival (OIBF) arrives in Guthrie, OK. It begins the first weekend of October with family, feasts, and bluegrass music. For the next three days, hearts warm with the resonance of outstanding music (which can be found on three stages), new friendships are made, and old friends gather to embrace one another with “You haven’t changed a bit.”
Since 1996, OIBF has been bringing great bluegrass, traditional country, western swing, Americana, and other sounds to the Victorian city of Guthrie. Cottonwood Flats becomes the temporary home to campers, all night jam sessions, and the greatest talents our music has to offer.
The weekend gala of 2019 kicked off with the Oklahoma-based band, The Red Dirt Rangers, who hung their shingle in the 1980s and have become a staple at festivals throughout the United States ever since. John M. Cooper, Ben Han, and Brad Piccolo play an integral part in the brotherhood of music, and are the founders of the Red Dirt Relief Fund. After a near death experience in a helicopter crash, as medical bills were rising, Cooper, Han, and Piccolo decided that there was a need to help other musicians. As the old saying goes, “Musicians don’t have insurance, they host benefits.” The Red Dirt Rangers, and other musicians and fans, began the Red Dirt Relief Fund (gaining their 501C3 status in 2012). It is an organization that helps music people that reside in Oklahoma in times of need. Today any person who has a minimum of 5 years experience in the music industry is eligible to apply for assistance. Each year the Rangers have always taken the Children’s Stage in hand as the opening act. They include sing-alongs, and children’s songs, and make the energy soar to new heights.
Events on the main stage were emceed by Cowboy Jim Garling and Ron Mashore. Both emcees also were part of the entertainment as well. Garling represents western swing, country, and traditional cowboy music. But often one can catch Cowboy Jim jamming with Byron Berline. At the 2019 OIBF, Garling took center stage with the Byron Berline Band and sang as the guys kept perfect rhythm. Also, performing with Cowboy Jim was his sidekick, Susanne Wooley. Wooley also hails from Oklahoma where she teaches violin as well as works on her family’s ranch.
Other artists who performed on Day 1 (Landrun Stage) were:
- Bob Wiles & Cowboy Jones
- The Bonham’s
- Good Friends Bluegrass
- Neverly Hillbillies
- Hunt Family Bluegrass
- Byron Berline Band with Barry Patton & Tim McDonald
- Random Band Jam
Throughout the day there was an Open Mic on the Cottonwood Creek Stage,which is in the campground.
Day 2 Performances (Landrun Stage):
- Bret Graham
- Hunt Family Bluegrass
- Dave Adkins Band
- Blueside of Lonesome
- Trey Hensley & Rob Ickes
- Jacob Tovar
- Kenny & Amanda Smith
- Michael Cleveland and The Flamekeepers
While I could write plenty more about the weekend of festivities, I have to stop a moment and share the special excitement on Friday night. Michael Cleveland took the stage, and when his bow hit the fiddle, jaws dropped. Michael hailed Byron to the stage to play Sally Goodin, and the campgrounds grew suddenly quiet, as the two broke it down. Cleveland played with the fierceness he is known for as he and Berline played “chase” throughout the tune.
On the campground stage, there wasn’t a hay bale empty for the songwriting workshop which was led by Carter Sampson and Joe Mack. Sampson, an Okie by birth – with one of the biggest voices one will hear – has a talent of taking true stories she has been told and writing them into memorable songs, such as Rattlesnake Kate or Ten Penny Nail. Sampson hosts Oklahoma Rock and Roll Camp for Girlsand tells us, “I think it’s really important that the girls see female drummers, that they see women playing bass, and playing loud instruments and carrying heavy equipment.”
Joe Mack is well known in the Midwest for his talents as a storyteller. Also, an Oklahoma native, Mack has been performing and writing music for the majority of his life. He blends all of his favorite genres of music in his own style. Critics have compared him to Keller William as a writer, and Leo Kottke for his orchestral approach to the six-string.
Meanwhile under the Youth Tent things were abuzz as the youth competition kicked off for 2019. On Thursday and Friday, there had been activities planned as hundreds of children were bussed in to experience bluegrass music. Those performing on Thursday and Friday were The Red Dirt Rangers, The Hunt Family Band, 1 More Road, and Pearlgrace & Co. However, Saturday brought a new vibe to the big white tent. Children, family bands, music lovers, and spectators alike sat quietly in the metal chairs, as the rain fell against the sides of the tent. Five family bands took to the competition stage, knowing only one could be the winner.
Berline allows youngsters to compete in mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar, this year there was a dobro competition as well. Every year, Byron awards talented young musicians scholarship awards. One must apply by April 1, and provide a video, playing a traditional acoustic instrument. The applicant must be sponsored by an adult artist or teacher, with a letter of recommendation. Named for Mike Clark, a dedicated banjo player and co-founder of the OIBF festival, in 2018 the scholarship awarded nearly $9,000.
Meanwhile on the Landrun Stage, crowds were entertained by The Hunt Family bluegrass, Kenny & Amanda Smith, Jacob Tovar, Dave Adkins Band, Blue Side of Lonesome, The Cherokee Maidens, Byron Berline Band, and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. The final performance of the night was a Fiddle Frolic, as ALL fiddler’s that were involved throughout the festival took the microphone and were recognized.
The logo for 2019’s program and tee shirts was one that reminded each of the attendees of the struggles that Byron has experienced this year. Using the Oklahoma state bird, the scissortail, artist, Jette Summers, took the devastation of the fire that destroyed his Double Stop Fiddle Shop, and made the fiddle rise out of the ashes. The original artwork was sold at the annual auction with all proceeds going back into the scholarship fund.
BRAVO! Byron Berline, you DID IT AGAIN!