27th annual Bluegrass Festival a big hit with fans
PRESCOTT - If audience approval is the measure of success, the 27th annual Prescott Bluegrass Festival Saturday and today at the courthouse plaza is a winner.
"The bands are awesome and it sounds good," Chino Valley resident Joe McKown said. "Bluegrass just makes you want to stamp your legs."
Joe and his son, Joe Jr., and grandson Skylor, 8, joined about 40 other bluegrass fans and musicians for an impromptu jam session behind the courthouse away from the main stage.
Five bands play the main stage with the Gibson Brothers closing Saturday and today. Today's show starts with Sawmill Road at 11 a.m. Other bands performing include Heidi Clare and AtA Glance, Sons and Brothers and Fire Ridge.
"This is the second oldest bluegrass festival in Arizona," said Patti Ezell, Prescott Bluegrass Events Association treasurer.
"Our sound man, Dick Pearley, travels the entire nation doing bluegrass festivals and he said this is the best festival in the country and the last one in the country that is still free."
Ezell was part of the first festival in 1981 along with Bob Lockett.
"We held the first festivals out at Watson Lake," Lockett said. Lockett played stand-up bass for the bluegrass bands Scenic Route and Creekside. "We've always kept the number of bands at the festival down to between four and six, even back then."
The festival moved downtown in about 1997. The main stage is on Gurley Street between Cortez and Montezuma streets. The audience filled the plaza in front of the stage and spilled around the sides and to the back.
"The city (Prescott) is just the greatest for helping us make this happen each year," said Scott Curry, committee chairman.
Arleen Karpowicz and Margaret Raad drove up from Peoria for the weekend and had no idea the festival was playing.
"I went to it years and years ago when it was out at Watson Lake but had no idea it was playing this weekend," Karpowicz said. "Bluegrass people are just the best, friendliest folks."
Bluegrass music derived from Scot and Irish immigrants in the Appalachia Mountain region in the 1930s. Bluegrass aficionados credit Bill Monroe as the founding father of the modern bluegrass music style.
In 1939, Monroe, a Kentucky native, named his newly formed band the Blue Grass Boys after the famous Kentucky vegetation. Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt joined Monroe in the 1940s and gave birth to a new music genre.
"Bluegrass is not country music," Lockett says emphatically. "Bluegrass is basically all acoustic with a three-part vocal harmony."
A bluegrass band consists of guitar, fiddle, bass fiddle, banjo, stand-up bass and mandolin. Some groups include a resonating guitar called a dobro.
"If you listen to the music, you can hear the bagpipes that the immigrants used to play," Lockett said.
Bluegrass committee officials estimate that about 8,000 people will attend the two-day event that is always held the first weekend after Father's Day.
Brothers Bob and Bill Curry came from Scottsdale for the show.
"This is a great show," Bob said. "There is just an all-around feeling of tolerance and acceptance among everyone."
Committee member Jan Brown likes bluegrass but does not play it.
"Some people pick and some people grin," he said. "I'm the grinning type."
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