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Grey Fox Bluegrass Music Festival Encourages New Generation - 2004-08-01

Summer in the U.S. is a big time for music fans. There is, at least, one multi-day, multi-artist music festival every weekend between the summer-starting Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, and the summer-ending Labor Day holiday in early-September. VOA's Katherine Cole recently attended Grey Fox, the Northeast's premier bluegrass festival.

The lineup at this year's Grey Fox Bluegrass festival reads like a "who's who" of modern bluegrass: Banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Tim O'Brien all traveled to take part in the music weekend. Also traveling to the tiny Berkshire Mountains town of Ancramdale, New York, was the reigning International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainer of the Year, The Del McCoury Band.

Other high profile acts at the fifth Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival included Canada's Natalie MacMaster, and Leftover Salmon, as well as an acoustic version of the '60s band, Hot Tuna.

Marika Delgado flew almost across the country, from Tucson, Arizona, to attend Grey Fox. Who was she yearning to hear? "Primarily I wanted to see Linda and Robin Williams," she said. Is it a different bluegrass scene on the West Coast?" "Absolutely, absolutely," asserted Ms. Delgado. "You get a lot of California acts that are new, and trying real hard. But it's not the same. They don't have the enthusiasm yet. But I think it's going to come."

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."

"This is the Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy for kids," said Ira Gitlin, an award winning multi-instrumentalist, and 1992 winner of National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. "They started it in earnest in 2000. They had a very casual form of it in 1999. It's a program for kids who are at the festival not just because they're here with their parents, but because they're also into playing music."

This is an intensive course. Students meet with their instructors for four hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the festival week. Sunday morning begins with a two-hour practice session. By Sunday afternoon, a very excited, and amazingly accomplished group of young players performed on the main stage for a cheering crowd. This year, there were 60 guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo students enrolled in the free program.

While "The Academy" is a new venture, holding a bluegrass festival on the Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, New York, is not. The Berkshire Bluegrass Festival of the '70s, became Winterhawk through the 1980s and '90s. 2004 marked the fifth Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and plans for a sixth are already underway. 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.