It's with a good deal of sadness, and maybe a little bit of relief, that for the last time we walked away from the Merlefest closing late Sunday afternoon. This was our tenth year at Merlefest, a short time compared to the hundreds of others who've come since the beginning. (I sometimes think there were five or six thousand people at the first event, considering how many people tell us they've been there since the beginning.) We watched the festival grow while changing its focus from big and acoustic to increasingly huge, loud, and electric. Volume increases as the evenings wear on, and we find the night performances less and less to our taste. I've often said and written that if there are 20,000 people on campus, there are 20,000 different Merlefests, and this is as it should be. However, when the balance shifts to the point where we head back to our trailer before dark, it suggests that maybe we should be looking in other directions.
When I began writing this blog, I had little idea what it would grow into. We were attending lots of bluegrass events as well as some other musical genres. I wanted to combine my long term love of writing and lifetime habit of doing photography with the new world of the blog, an approach to private journalism that gives everyone an opportunity to express themselves. Beyond my wildest dreams, people came to read what I had to say and see the photographs I posted. They also have stayed to read my essays, book reviews, and occasional rants. This has all been very gratifying, while being enjoyable, too. As the blog has developed, several foci have emerged which seem to characterize its current state. It's also changed from being "my" blog into a joint project we both contribute to. So what and in what direction have the purposes of the blog evolved?
It's our goal to inform other people about the world of bluegrass music where we spend so much of our lives. We hope that this work (for work it surely is) serves to open the world of bluegrass to others the way it has opened for us and welcomed us in. We both enjoy featuring profiles and pictures of working musicians, always presenting sidemen along with the "stars." Finally, I'm eager to continue building and increasing the outreach of what's become a popularly recognized vehicle for entertainment and information. We've decided these efforts are better focused on featuring events which can benefit from our efforts and which recognize our contribution to their success. Merlefest has consistently reduced our access to the places that make both photography and personal contact (the stuff of this blog) possible, apparently not recognizing any benefit to them from our efforts. And who can tell? What we know is that smaller festivals see benefits growing from what we do for them. Over the past few days, I've been surprised at the number of people who approach me, and increasingly Irene, even when we're not together, to thank us for what we do. Yesterday, an elderly former teacher came up to us to tell us how much my preview had contributed to their enjoyment of their first Merlefest. Others, fans, professional musicians and family members, have stopped one or both of us to say how much they enjoy the coverage. So, we're sad to be leaving Merlefest, but filled with the friends we've made, the music we've heard, and the experiences we've had.
Now...on with some coverage of the highlights of our Merlefest, beginning with Friday.
Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones concluded their current tour at this year's Merlefest. I often have difficulty sitting through some of Fleck's sets, but found this one lively and enjoyable. Lots of fun and interesting music.