Hartford Festival 2019 – It’s a Wrap

As the ninth annual John Hartford Memorial Festival (JHMF) was wrapping up, I took in some final shows, saw the band competition, and chased down some members of the festival team who reflected on their histories of running the festival. The final days of the festival saw perfect weather which allowed for lots of late night jamming, especially in the artists’ camping area.  

I took some time to tour backstage and take some photos, gazing at the pictures on the wall, and imagining the history of people who have passed though this historic site. Their names are etched seemingly forever in what is a living, breathing, working museum dedicated to bluegrass music and beyond. It is a testament to the team that attendees never witness the complexities, time, and dedication they put in to make this festival such a success. The JHMF organizers are obviously thinking about something special for next year’s tenth annual festival, but they aren’t ready to spill the beans just yet.

There were many other highlights, such as the young Nolan singing Tall Buildings during the opening ceremonies, and Dan Andree killing it on John’s Austin Minor Sympathy. I didn’t get a chance to see and talk to all of the bands, but the love comes through in the stories below from those that I did.

Upon arrival, Tim O’Brien shared a few words from his van — plus a little advice John gave Hot Rize.

Members of Irish Bluegrass band JigJam talk about their U.S. tour and favorite bluegrass bands.

Minnesota-based Good Morning Bedlam was still reeling after winning the band completion.

Festival Director Tom Burhart talks about talent selection, the band competition and what it means to be a “laid back festival.” 

Festival Operations Manager Bob Riley talks about the early days and challenges of running the artist hospitality tent.

Festival artist relations manager and jack-of-all trades Randy Kilper talks about fighting fires.

Media writer and songwriter workshop coordinator Ernie Hill talks about the songwriting competition and more, with the Laurie Lewis sing-along workshop in the background.

This final video of young Nolan Strupeck captures the future of the festival and Johns legacy.

As John was known to say, Well All Right! See you next year.


Photographs and audio interviews by Dave Berry, copy editing by Debbie Benrubi, with additional photos by Ruth Corn.

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at daveberrymusic.net