John Hartford Memorial Festival 2019

The ninth annual John Hartford Memorial Festival (JHMF) took place last week at the hallowed bluegrass grounds of the Bill Monroe Music Park in Bean Blossom, Indiana. Not to be confused with with the original Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival which stays pretty close to its traditional bluegrass roots,  JHMF stretches the boundaries with more progressive acts just like John would have liked it, while still including plenty of traditional bluegrass and old-time. 

Regrettably, Sam Bush, one of John’s earliest partners in jumpstarting what has become a thriving jam grass scene, could not make the festival due to health issues. Sam did send a lovely recorded message at the beginning of Della Mae’s set assuring all that he is well on the way to recovery and itching to get back on the festival circuit.

In addition to headliners Tim O’Brien, Della Mae, Great American Taxi, Laurie Lewis, Larry Keel, and Rumpke Mountain Boys, the festivals Artists at Large Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon) and Dan Andree (Henhouse Prowlers) moved across the three stages, sitting in and making for interesting lineups and creating opportunities to play some of John’s more obscure songs. Throw in a huge potluck brunch and the popular songwriting and band competitions, which serve as a vehicle for future talent, and you start to understand that JHMF really is one large family reunion.

Not surprisingly, there’s a boatload of great regional talent exploring John’s repertoire and exposing his music to a new generation of festival-goers. There are too many highlights to list here, but the pictures and interviews below, including a special one with Betty and Katy Hartford, will give you a feel for the love and commitment everyone has in continuing his legacy.

Betty Harford and Katie Harford Hogue talk about the early days with John and continuing his legacy.

Perennial JHMF guest Chris Dollar (New Old Cavalry, Henhouse Prowlers), and friends John Boyer and Jayme Hood (Hammer and the Hatchet), talk of their history attending the festival.

The Matchsellers Julie Bates and Andrew Morris discuss John’s breadth of repertoire and their own unique futuristic “Bluegrastronauts” act.

Relative newcomers to the JHMF, the Wayfarers, an old-time bluegrass band out of Zanesville, Ohio, talk about moving from punk rock to old time.

The very popular and busy Cincinnati band, The Tillers, discuss how John’s river lore inspires their work.

Noted mandolin maker, Will Kimble, on performing his JHMF 2018 song writing competition winning entry.

As with all outdoor festivals, there were concerns about the weather, but the rains early in the week fell almost entirely at night, and though they slightly diminished the late night jamming, they did bring out these critters.

Happy Hartford!

Notes

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 an avid mandolin picker, singer and songwriter who writes an interview column for the monthly California Bluegrass Association (CBA) members publication featuring California regional and national artists who tour California. He grew up in bluegrass country on the Ohio River right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto Rivers dump into the Ohio. The columns are also featured on the CBA website at www.cbaweb.org.