Originally Published: June 25, 2011 11:03 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The Courthouse Plaza was packed Saturday afternoon with hundreds of fans of banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and guitar music enjoying a near-perfect day for the Prescott Bluegrass Festival.
Even before the festivities kicked off at 10:30 a.m., the lawn was full of people in chairs and on blankets, waiting for the music to begin.
Introducing the festival was Clyde Score, a singer who works the Grand Canyon Railway train, who pointed out that the groups playing this weekend were more "real" than most of today's technology-driven pop music stars.
"If I sing poorly or sing good, it doesn't matter-I can change it (in a computer)," he said. "But if you make everything perfect, you take all the character out of the music."
"This is completely real," he continued. "Every time you play music, it's never the same. And the way it happens here today, especially with the response from the audience, is going to make it completely unique to this time and place."
There were really two concerts happening at the Courthouse. One was the official show, on the stage set up on Gurley Street.
The other, over on the Goodwin Street side, and with many fewer fans, no stage, and no microphones, was an impromptu acoustic show being put on by bluegrass musicians not technically playing the festival.
As the morning went on, more musicians began showing up, and more bluegrass fans started accumulating. They stood in a circle, stomping their feet and clapping. They also demonstrated that, when it comes to bluegrass, everyone knows most every song; give them a title and the key it's in, and they're ready to go.
"They're very good," said Mona Rapsilver, from Prescott Valley, who chose to watch the unofficial show because she knew some of the musicians.
Back on the Gurley Street side, Dan Decker from Phoenix said, "This is as crowded as we've ever seen it." He and his wife, Pam, have been coming up here for ten years. "This is a good crowd."
"The music has gotten better," said Pam.
The Titan Valley Warriors, who haven't been at the festival in several years, led off the concert, with Score calling them "venerable," and joking that it was a nice way of saying "old."
Former Hoosiers Bill and Carol Ann Linson have been coming to this festival since they moved to Prescott in 2002. "It's relaxing," said Bill.
"They're quality bands," said Sue. "And the businesses support them, so they're able to play."
A Little History
This is the festival's 30th year. It began as a traditional fiddle contest at Watson Lake Park, organized by the Prescott Chamber of Commerce, and eventually grew into a typical bluegrass festival in the mid-1980s, and it charged admission.
In 1996, the festival was moved to the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza and changed to the weekend after Father's Day, in hopes of avoiding the monsoon weather that frequently came with the July date.
With support from the city and local businesses, the Bluegrass Festival was turned into a free event. By 2000, the festival was run completely by volunteers; that group is known today as the Prescott Bluegrass Association.
The festival is built around five bands that take the stage in a round-robin format and the Grammy-award nominated headline act, Blue Highway, which played Saturday night. The five featured bands are Tucson-based powerhouse Titan Valley Warheads, the Triple L Band (named for members Lance, Landon and Levi Miller) out of New Mexico, Southern California's Lonesome Otis, the Thomas Porter Copper River Band from Phoenix, and Prescott's own family band, Just 4 Mama.
The Bluegrass Festival runs Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it is, of course, free.