Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On-Line Bluegtrass Festivals: A Watershed Moment for Festivals? - Essay

Our 26 foot travel trailer is parked in a large campground designed and built to host bluegrass festivals in north Florida. The Palatka Bluegrass Festival will begin on Thursday and run for three days with a huge bluegrass lineup. The weather forecast calls for low temperatures of 30 tonight and 24 tomorrow as the faithful assemble for what promises to be a chilly and exciting festival beginning Thursday. Meanwhile, two seminal events coming during the next week signal what suggests, even promises, a change in the way bluegrass reaches its fans and creates new ones. The advent of the online bluegrass festival is upon us.

The first recognized multi-day bluegrass festival was held over Labor Day weekend of 1965 by Carleton Haney at Fincastle, VA, included Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, the Osborne Brothers, Red Smiley, Don Reno and more...a bluegrass fan's dream first generation lineup. It was attended by an interesting mixture of country folk, hippies, early bluegrass adopters, and local people and was successful enough to spawn fifty years of outdoor bluegrass festivals, as well as a tradition of round the clock jammming.

This week, taking advantage of the advent of large screen, smart high definition television accompanied by fine sound systems, two events promise to change the landscape of the bluegrass festival. From February 20 – 28, Concert Window will be carrying the Bluegrass Roundup including a range of bands from a variety of settings that is truly an amazing mix which must be seen to be believed. Shows will be broadcast in Concert Windows' idiosyncratic way from every sort of venue to include home studios, living rooms, and concert halls. Each presentation is a separate event. Fans signing in may decide how much each individual show is worth to them and pay accordingly, although Concert Window doesn't go to any effort to explain this system to its customers.

Meanwhile, the upcoming Wintergrass Festival, held each February in Bellevue, Washington, has announced that it will be streaming live from a dedicated stage on both Friday and Saturday nights with a selection of special bands, a three camera shoot, and special attention to both sound and lighting, a rarity for this sort of online presentation. As of this writing, participating bands have not been named.

Missing from any televised festival experience would be the sense of community generated at a festival, wall-to-wall jamming, and your neighbor jabbering while you're trying to listen. Added value would include great seats, (hopefully) superb sound depending on your home system, as well as a broad range of bands featuring a variety of styles. It's easy to imagine much more focused presentations catering to narrower or broader tastes. Outreach to a wide audience that would never consider attending a conventional festival or even a concert in their home town emerges as a real possibility. I don't see a downside to this approach, while its potential at nearly the dawn of a new video age is limitless. 

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