The lineup at this year's Grey Fox Bluegrass festival reads like a "who's who" of modern bluegrass: Grammy-winners Ricky Skaggs, Tim O'Brien, Steve Earle, and Jerry Douglass all traveled to take part in the musical weekend. Also traveling to the tiny Berkshire Mountains town of Ancramdale, New York, was The Del McCoury Band, nine-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's Entertainer of the Year award.
Other high profile acts at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival included the Austin Lounge Lizards, The Gibson Brothers and the all-girl band Uncle Earl.
It was a busy weekend for Uncle Earl's banjo player, . In addition to two main stage performances with that group, she also had her own set on the main stage. Lending Abigail a hand during that performance were friends including: Cellist Ben Sollee, fiddler Casey Driessen, and Bela Fleck on banjo. That band toured China last year under the name The Sparrow Quartet, and has just released their first recording.
While it isn't exactly traditional bluegrass, the Grey Fox audience rewarded the Sparrow Quartet with a standing ovation. Abigail Washburn wasn't surprised by the crowd response. She says, after all, Grey Fox is a very special festival.
"It's this great combination; an amazing roster of performers. And then also the fans that are so enthusiastic and loving and passionate about the music, to the point where they actually are jamming [playing] all night at their own campsites. It's incredible! There's not that much of a veil between the performers and the fans themselves. It's just a really special place like that," she says.
But the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is more than sitting in front of a stage, watching performers. Perhaps more than any other style of music, bluegrass encourages fans to learn to play. Grey Fox offered several different ways to learn the music. There is a workshop stage, where the pros play and share tips, tricks and techniques. There is also "The Academy."
Each summer, Cathy Goode spends a week teaching fiddle at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy for Kids. At home in Newton Massachusetts, Cathy teaches using the "Suzuki Method," which has students attending both private and group lessons.
"They have to learn how to play together, learn together, and hopefully to develop camaraderie and respect for each other. And those are certainly things we are trying to do in the bluegrass Academy," she says.
This was a special year for the Grey Fox festival family. While 2006 marked the seventh year of operation under that name, this is the 30th year a bluegrass festival has been held on the Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, New York. The Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival of the '70s, became Winterhawk through the 1980s and '90s.
But despite the name changes, one thing has stayed the same: For as long as anyone can remember, The Dry Branch Fire Squad, led by singer and mandolinist Ron Thomason, has been hosting the festival.