Bluegrass festivals celebrate a uniquely American form of music that has its roots in the immigrants who came to the New World, particularly those who came from Scotland and settled in the Appalachian Mountains area of the United States. Some of the best bluegrass music events are held throughout this region that stretches from southern New York through western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western Virginia, the border region between Tennessee and North Carolina, and northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and they're among the best festivals in the country for local color. The genre developed during the 1930s and 1940s, when it was often referred to as hillbilly mountain music. The instruments in a typical bluegrass band will be stringed and include the acoustic and resonator guitar, upright bass, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, autoharp, accordion, and the lap steel guitar.
Like jazz festivals and blues festivals, many of the best bluegrass music events will include related forms of music—especially jazz, blues, and some form of folk music. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is an example. Held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco during the first weekend in October since 2001, the word "hardly" was added in 2004 to reflect the addition of artists from other genres, including performers as diverse as Dolly Parton and Elvis Costello. Prior to 2004, it was called the Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Some bluegrass festivals are held far from large cities in beautiful natural surroundings. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado is one of these. Located about 100 miles south of Grand Junction in the heart of the San Juan National Forest, Telluride is one of the state's premier ski resorts, as well as the site of the first Butch Cassidy bank robbery. This popular festival has been held in a large field near town surrounded by towering picturesque mountain peaks since 1974.
Many of the best bluegrass music events will be found in the heart of the heart of Appalachia, like the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival in Rosine, Kentucky. This town and the region surrounding it are the birthplace of the music genre. Bill Monroe, considered the father of bluegrass, was born here in 1911. He was a legendary mandolin player who was instrumental in developing the form of music we know today as bluegrass. His seminal band, The Bluegrass Boys, included banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist/singer Lester Flatt. The festival is held on Monroe's birthday in September on the land where he was born and grew up. During the festival, tours are available of his family cabin.
All bluegrass festivals have their own guidelines, so it pays to do your research in advance. For instance, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival does not allow camping at the festival venue in Golden Gate Park. There are other camping areas that are some distance away. On the other hand, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is very camper-friendly, with campsites available virtually at the venue and within a few miles away. These even come with festival passes, either for the entire four-day event or for a single day. Other events, especially in the southeast of the United States, are even more camper-friendly, offering free sites even for recreational vehicles with the purchase of festival tickets. And, don't forget other countries, especially in Europe. Even though this is a uniquely American genre, it has avid fans elsewhere. The European World of Bluegrass is held over three days at the beginning of June in the Netherlands. Artists from around Europe perform, including those from Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
Image: Hardly Strictly / Anthony Pidgeon