There are times when you want a vacation that fills you with something soulful, but you want to bring the kids because they too, fill your soul. My family’s answer is Grey Fox Bluegrass festival. Every summer we make this pilgrimage to fill our souls with music – namely some of the best names in Bluegrass.
This year marked over 30 years of Bluegrass on the Rothvoss Farm, in Ancramdale, New York. Paul and I have been going to this festival since 1997 b.a. (“Before Althea”) and we have found that our daughter can have as much fun as we do at Grey Fox. The fun consists of not only four days and nights of live music, but also a veritable playground of a dance pavilion, family stage, grass roots tent and master’s stage. Not to mention the impromptu singing, jamming, kite flying, hoola hooping, crafting, face painting, festive foods and spectacular views of the Berkshire Mountains and Hudson Valley region. This year the all star line-up included seasoned musicians like Marty Stuart, Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck and host band Dry Branch Fire Squad, as well as young bands like Crooked Still, Uncle Earl, The Duhks, The String Dusters and Nickel Creek. Previous years have brought Tim O’Brien, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, The Del McCoury Band and Doc Watson to the main stage.
Children are a priority at Grey Fox; after all, they may become the master music makers of the world. The key to truly enjoying the festival is to keep the kids happy and comfortable. The family stage is the answer to any sunny main stage overload. This is the place to take a break and listen to music just for kids, experiment with crafts, watch a magician, and even movies in the evening. For older kids interested in playing music there is The Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy for Kids (BGA). The BGA is an intensive four-day learning program held Thursday through Sunday during the festival. In BGA, students learn how to play, sing and perform bluegrass music. BGA offers all levels of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass/cello and dobro. This program is outstanding and is nationally and internationally recognized. About 80 students, ages 8 and up, are accepted each year. The program culminates with a performance Sunday afternoon on the Main Stage. It is a wonderful site to see these prodigies blossom with talent and confidence.
Another perk of this festival is the intimate exposure to the musicians themselves. Feel free to meander over to the merchandise tent after a performance to meet the musicians and get a signed copy of their latest album or just chat. In fact, this is how we met Uncle Earl, an all girl string band who play a mixture of bluegrass and old-time music, with a contemporary twist. Our daughter has become a bit obsessed with the g’Earls. She can sing every word to every song they have written and has actually become a – dare I say it – “groupie.” Over the years these ladies have become our friends and hence a surrogate mother to my child. The Americana Music Association has just nominated them for “Emerging Artist of the Year.” Talk about a good influence!
Every year seems enlighten us with more music to share with our friends when we get home. This year I was particularly impressed with a great young band called The Biscuit Burners – not only for their fiery mountain music but also for lead singer/bass player Mary Lucey’s proud pregnant belly. She is truly a beautiful site as the next generation graces the stage even before their first breath. Mary, with husband and fellow band member, Billy Cardine, expect the bundle of joy in September. I asked Mary what the future holds and without hesitation she knew that she would continue touring after a short hiatus.
This festival is accessible to everyone. If you are not a camper consider a day pass or saving graces like nearby hotels. Columbia County is a beautiful place and has many resources to take advantage of. Pack your sunscreen, camera and your child’s favorite toy or snack and you will be in good shape. If you play an instrument bring it, as there are informal jams at every turn and I guarantee you will learn a thing or two at one of the workshops, or jam tents. The food vendors are fabulous: pizza, coffee, Greek salads, crepes and jambalaya to name a few. There are clothes, crafts, jewelry and music related stuff like Cds and top quality instruments like Martin, Gibson and Nechville. There are safety and comfort features like a first aid tent and water mist tents to beat the heat. My personal favorite perk of the weekend was yoga. Yes, I said yoga. Lucy Weberling, a musician and a Kripalu yoga teacher, runs “festival yoga” in the dance pavilion every morning. This was truly a special treat to practice every morning at Grey Fox. Lucy really knows how to get the kinks out of a body that has been playing or watching music half the day and sleeping in a tent the other half. Bless her.
At Grey Fox you will discover new music and make new friends. Many of the parents I spoke to were much like us, seasoned festival goers who come every year to Grey Fox. The fun factor rating amongst parents and children alike was a high 5. If you are interested in seeing the real scene up close (and can’t wait until next July) I recommend buying a copy of the full-length documentary entitled Bluegrass Journey, A documentary film portrait of the contemporary bluegrass music scene.
Jennifer Llewellyn is an artist, designer, yogi and word-player based in New York who uses text, images and movement to inspire spirituality and songs among the people. According to Jennifer, writing is like standing on your head — she can do this, too. Visit www.reflectjen.com.