Desert Bluegrass Association’s Marana Festival held last weekend

This contribution comes from David VanGelder in Tucson, AZ, a photographer and songwriter who fronts a bluegrass band called The Dust Devils.

There may have been only one open air live music festival in the country this weekend, and it was in Marana, Arizona, just a few miles north of Tucson. The annual Desert Bluegrass Association’s music festival was held as scheduled.

Without March Madness, with Disney closed, shows cancelled on Broadway, even the PGA Tour suspended play for a month, it seems now more than ever for bluegrassers in Tucson, the show must go on!

In light of current events with the COVID-19 virus it was not certain the DBA event would happen.

Says President of the DBA Dave Polston; “I was on pins and needles this week waiting for the phone call from the city of Marana to say we were cancelled. But when we had the conference call with the city on Wednesday, they said we could go ahead with it. We raise money all year to host this festival for our membership and the community, and we decided to go ahead with it and let people decide for themselves if they wanted to stay home or not.”

Making it even more difficult, the DBA had to scramble Thursday evening as three bands, one of them a headliner band, cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately, the bluegrass grapevine was up to the task, and within a few hours a nationally known touring band was able to come to the rescue.

As phone calls were made Thursday night it was discovered that Daniel and Carolyn Routh were actually in town with their band, Nu-Blu. They had just wrapped up a gig at The Gaslight Music Hall in Oro Valley and were about to leave town when Daniel got a text message alerting him to the sudden musical vacancies at the festival just across town.

“I was elated’ said Daniel. “We had just gotten notice that our bluegrass cruise was canceled, so to have a gig just drop out of thin air like this was a real gift. I was so happy to get that call from Dave Polston.”

Dave Polston too was grateful for the confluence in schedules. “Even if it means taking a financial hit, we have made a commitment to have quality music live at this festival for our members and the public. Attendance was down, and we had some vendors who cancelled too. I am completely comfortable with folks who felt like they needed not to be part of our festival, but I am really glad Nu-Blu was in town and willing to help us out.”

Even though COVID-19 is a concern, Nu-Blu had a band meeting to decide what they would do, and together they decided to take precautions and keep on making music wherever they can. The traditional end of show ‘shake and howdy’ reception is a now a lot of ‘howdy’ and not so much ‘shake’, at least for awhile. Even fist bumps have given way to elbow touches and sneaker taps.

Also playing over the weekend, Flat Picking Champion Peter McLaughlin of The Sonoran Dogs said “I’ve been getting calls all week about gigs cancelling for the next couple of months. I really feel for my full-timing musician friends. At least I have a day job.”

As a way to try and mitigate the loss of income, Saturday morning Nu-Blu introduced a new outlet for music on the band’s Facebook page. Daniel hopes his ‘bluegrass family’ of bands all across the country will join in the effort. Rather than stay home and not make music, Nu-Blu will be hosting live music via the Majiik platform from locations along the way in their travels in the coming weeks.

“At a time like this there is no option to rely on promoters selling tickets to our shows’, says Daniel. “We have to be creative about how we promote our music and bring it to our fan base. This Majiik platform makes it possible for us to sell an inexpensive ticket, and for our fans to watch a live show remotely.”

The Majiik platform really does seem easy to use. For Nu-Blu fans it’s a simple matter to send a text message to a 6 digit number. (The details are available on their Facebook page.) The Majiik app will load to your smart phone and will have the Nu-Blu fan club content already installed. From there it’s a simple click to view videos, purchase music, and sign up for a live show. And while the platform lets you watch a show in real time, it will stay available for 24 hours in case you can’t participate at the actual show time. If you want to see it in action, Nu-Blu will broadcast their first remote show from California on March 18th. ‘Tickets’ can be purchased in the app at a very reasonable price of $4.99.

Could a remote platform like Majiik be the future of not just bluegrass, but other forms of live entertainment? Time will tell, but for now it’s a very real way for us to beam the bluegrass bands we love into the privacy, and safety, of our homes. Bluegrass festivals will be back, but who knows how long before we will have the opportunity to attend a live one again?