Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Mineral Bluegrass Festival 2009
Last week, we camped for 3 days at the Mineral Bluegrass Festival, held in Walton Park in the tiny town of Mineral, VA. We had camped at a few bluegrass festivals in our youth, and decided to give it another whirl, retirement-style, which means we were able to get to the park early on Thursday morning to set up camp. We were one of 6 tents, surrounded by about 100 RVs, but found a quiet little spot in the woods, away from the noisiest of the RV generators. I think I have this car-camping thing down pretty well now, with our easy-to-erect popup tent, our old Coleman stove to heat up food mostly made at home, and most indispensably, our old sofabed mattress to sleep on, the one item missing from the camping outings of our youth. Despite the lack of flush toilets or showers, we had a lot of fun, and managed to keep clean and well-fed for the weekend of music, washing our hair with water poured from gallon jugs (cold!), and armed with a cooler filled with enough food to last a week.
The music began at 11 am each day, and lasted until 10 pm or later. The highlights for me were the legends of bluegrass, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, and Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys (I guess bluegrass musicians are always boys, no matter how old they get). At 83, Ralph has slowed down quite a bit, letting his band do most of the playing and singing, but he still has one of the most recognizable voices in bluegrass, and still plays his claw-hammer style of banjo on a few songs. The other performers ranged from bands playing traditional old-timey bluegrass (my favorite) to the bands that really play country music, except with bluegrass instruments, always disappointing for me, since I’m no fan of country music. Overall, though, a great line-up of acts. We’re planning to make it an annual event.
It did seem to me like the crowd has morphed slightly from when we used to go to festivals in our 20’s. For the most part, bluegrass crowds have always been the oldtimers and country folks who grew up listening to this music. But it seems to me that in the old days, there were a lot more younger people, including the folk and roots music set, the aging hippies drawn to the festivals along with the older, more traditional crowd. More tie dye among the American flags, and a much higher tent-to-RV ratio. And definitely more young families. I saw only a couple of kids in the crowd the whole weekend. Maybe this is just Mineral on this one weekend, rather than a trend at all bluegrass festivals. Still, now that we’re nearly old-timers ourselves, we fit right in. Well, assuming we didn’t discuss politics or religion with anyone. This is still a place where liberals and/or non-Christians (and I’m both) better keep their mouths shut: one song explicitly described those who don’t believe in God as “God-haters,” which conveniently rhymed with “cowards and traitors,” and the “America, love it or leave it” sentiment was well-represented from the stage as well. And that sort of thing gets the biggest ovations. So I did my best to blend in, standing when the crowd stood for “God Bless America” (although I did remain seated for “Dixie”—yes, people in this neck of the woods rise for that), and trying to disguise, just a little bit, my New York accent, so that I wouldn’t be immediately seen as the godless heathen liberal Yankee that I am.
Ralph Stanley delights the crowd with some clawhammer banjo:
Our little homestead in the trees:
I was a little nervous to be under the trees when the thunderstorms hit. We had an inch of rain over the weekend, but besides a few little puddles inside the tent and a slightly damp mattress that needed to be hauled out and dried in the sun on the roof of the car, we fared well.
Cooking up a tasty meal on the camp stove:
If you were not inclined to cook, there were all sorts of dining options, including fried everything:
Vendors lined the top of the hill behind the concert area:
Every kind of jam or relish you could think of for sale, including mayhaw, which I had never heard of before (it's the edible fruit of a species of hawthorn tree that grows in the south). Plus an entire table of moonshine jelly. Yee-haw!
Here's an RV with everything the bluegrass camper needs, including the festively lit flagpole for flying Old Glory, and 2 satellite dishes, so you don't miss a minute of your favorite TV shows: