Tribute or themed bluegrass festivals have become quite popular of late. Many touring bands serve as hosts at weekend events, and some are held in honor of icons of the music, like A Lester Flatt Celebration held annually in Sparta, TN to mark the birthplace of one of the co-founders of bluegrass. Another is the new Five String Fest launching this year in North Carolina to celebrate all things banjo. We could use more of these.
Bonnie Jaeckle, a relative newcomer to Lewistown, IL, is embarking on her second year promoting Lloyd Loar’s Hometown Bluegrass Festival, held at Marigold Meadows, her property in the Spoon River Valley just north of town. The farm is designed as a “step back in time” experience, with work accomplished with draft horses and traditional tools where visitors can escape from city life for a few days – or more.
She tells us that organizing ministry events gave her the courage to tackle starting a new festival, and her fascination with the mandolin proved to be the key when she made a discovery about her new home.
“When we moved to Lewistown, IL about a year and a half ago ago, I learned that it was the boyhood home of Lloyd Loar. Not only was I disappointed that his memory wasn’t being honored in his hometown, but surprised that his name wasn’t at least being ‘used’ for tourism purposes. It wasn’t long before my thoughts turned to, ‘Why don’t you, as the new kid on the block do something with this? You love bluegrass and own property where a historical fall event is already held, why wouldn’t Marigold Meadows be a perfect setting for a Lloyd Loar Festival?’
There are two other driving forces behind doing this:
1) We hope that the festival will be an avenue to help encourage and support young ‘wanna be’ bluegrass musicians in their interest, who may otherwise not have the opportunity.
2) We want Marigold Meadows to be a place where families, of any financial status can come and bask in the beauty of what God has created on our farm and enjoy the universal language of His love; music.”
Lloyd Loar, of course, is credited with the design of Gibson’s notorious F5 mandolin, as well as the other double-course instruments that made up the mandolin orchestras that were so popular in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s. His mandolin design has become the absolute standard for instruments used in bluegrass, so much so that only rarely will you see a modern mandolin that is not a near replica of his.
Roger Siminoff, a recognized expert in the history of the mandolin, and Mr. Loar in particular, has been very helpful to Bonnie in planning the festival. If his schedule will allow, he hopes to be at this year’s event (June 27-29) and exhibit a slide presentation on Lloyd Loar with some Loar memorabilia.
In addition to a number of Illinois bluegrass bands, Bonnie has scheduled a performance by the Orpheus Mandolin Orchestra from Bloomington, who will demonstrate the sort of classical music played by these groups in the early 20th Century.
She started small last year with about 300 attendees, and is hoping for a larger event in 2014. There is no fee to attend, but donations will be graciously accepted.
Jaeckle’s long term plans include raising funds for youth bluegrass musical scholarships, and keeping the Loar legacy and heritage alive in his hometown.
There is no web site for Lloyd Loar’s Hometown Bluegrass Festival, but there is a Facebook page, and Bonnie invites anyone interested in this event to contact her there.