On the first clear day in weeks, Dickinson College was the site of the 20th Anniversary of Davis Tracy’s Bluegrass on the Grass festival. I had heard the school hosts this little secret from some friends of mine, so when the opportunity arose for me to work the festival, I jumped at the chance. As someone who has never particularly cared for bluegrass, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into…but after sitting through eight hours of non-stop bluegrass I will say this: Why have I never been there before?
First of all, the atmosphere throughout the day can be summed up in one word: happy. Everywhere I went, smiles were on everyone faces. Whether they had been there every year since the first festival in 1995, or were attending the festival for their first time, everyone in the over 3,000 strong crowd was excited and genuinely happy to be there. People had come from all over the country to this small town in PA; I met folks from Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and so on. One woman from Florida told me, “I made my sister come with me this year. She tried telling me that she didn’t like bluegrass music, but I told her that this was better than Christmas!”
Five bands took the stage this year, each of them playing two sets by the end of the day. The Dismembered Tennesseans were up first, and as they have played every Bluegrass on the Grass festival except for the first one, the audience was fully prepared for their unflinching yet refined take on bluegrass music. After them came a newcomer to the festival, Tellico, from Ashevillle, NC. What struck me about this band was their commitment to the art of the song; they did not riff or improvise a lot, but instead stuck to their songs of passion and heartache. After Tellico was Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper. Fronted by award winning fiddler Michael Cleveland, these guys delivered the most virtuosic performance of the day. They ran through their songs while weaving back and forth through melodies and improvisations with impressive ease. While they were a tough act to follow, Jake Krack & the Bing Brothers did not show up to disappoint anybody. I am a fan of punk rock myself, so fiddler Jack Krack and his band were my favorite act of the day because they never let up on the intensity of their driving, in-your-face brand of bluegrass. Closing out the festival this year was another newcomer to Bluegrass on the Grass, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Led by award winning vocalist Russell Moore, this band brought the audience to a standing ovation with their gospel-influenced bluegrass. I have no doubt that they will be asked to come back in the near future.
If you want to check out next year’s festival, stop by Dickinson College’s campus on July 9th, 2016. And if you want to hear some more bluegrass before that, check out WDCV on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday from 8-10 AM, either on 88.3 FM or at http://blogs.dickinson.edu/wdcvfm/
* Thank you to everyone who helped make the festival possible. Through your hard work and generous donations, Bluegrass on the Grass has been able remain free to the public, and will be back again next year.*