Byron Berline Band at the 2017 Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival – photo by Pamm Tucker
As I drive down the brick-paved streets of the quaint, little Victorian city of Guthrie, OK, the town appears to be very quiet. But from October 5-7, the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival celebrated it’s 21st year and a music filled life was the talk of the town. Founded in 1996 by Byron Berline and then US State Representative Joe Hutchinson, the festival really got its feet off of the ground in 1997.
According to Byron, the idea came to him while he was traveling extensively in Switzerland and Germany, that it would be a great idea to have an international festival and bring some of these great bands he was seeing to the states. When he and his wife Bettye moved back to Oklahoma, this inspirational dream continued to thrive. Berline and Hutchinson knew they had their work cut out for them, so the two began to chisel out their dream. First off was the expense of getting those artists in from other countries, so contacts were made with several airlines, and work on the dream began.
Though it may appear to the casual observer to be just a simple three-day event, this festival brings LIFE to Guthrie with more than 15,000 attending in recent years. Set in Cottonwood Flats, with ample room for jammin’, picking and grinning, and camping, OIBF also offers food, workshops, an opportunity to purchase your latest instrument, or to add to your own collection.
The Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival is much more than just bluegrass music. While this festival showcases international talent, it also puts on a great array of local artists as well. Entertainers who have performed at OIBF include Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, and The Byron Berline Band. At any time, you can hear on one of the three stages, bluegrass, folk, Gospel, swing, progressive bluegrass, and maybe even little red dirt.
When asked who the headliners were this year were, Byron said, “I don’t really call anyone a headliner. We have to have an opener and a closing act. It doesn’t matter where you play, you are a headliner, if you are here.”
OIBF annually hosts a live auction where various instruments, memorabilia, and autographed merchandise is sold to the highest bidder. These items are donated by various artists, companies, and individuals. On the auction block in 2017 were items donated from Trigg’s Guitars, Collings Guitars, Saga, and Americana Media Group as well as many others. All proceeds from the auction go directly to the scholarship fund.
OIBF also has an endowment fund. Berline says, “ f you have some money just laying around, we will sure take it for endowment funds.”
This fund keeps the bluegrass music coming back year after year to the center of Oklahoma, in Guthrie. The ticket sales play a huge part in the success of Berline’s dream. $2.00 of every ticket sold is split between the scholarship fund and the endowment, so every music enthusiast who walks through the gate is helping another year of the festival keep going.