Murdoch from Scotland (left)
Jim Peva, master and host of the biggest and best campsite at Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Bluegrass park, reminds me that I've yet to write about the eight glorious days I recently spent at the 40th annual Bean Blossom Bluegrass festival. But let me backtrack a bit.
It was the mid-1980s when I first made my way to Bean Blossom (BB). Bill Monroe was still very much alive and it seemed like wherever you went on the grounds he was there in front of you. Now he's been dead for nearly 10 years and BB still feels a bit that way - like he's still there - especially on some of those VERY early morning walks out among the trees and around the lake. Monroe liked to take those walks with Bentley and it's easy to imagine Monroe's spirit lingering there still.
One of the things that stands out most in my memories of Bean Blossom is the Peva campsite with its huge, always-burning campfire, Liars Bench and rustic seating, the big cast iron tripod with its grill and some good food always a-cookin.' I've eaten many a bacon sandwich there at the Pevas. Seems like their door is always open, especially to the many guests from other lands who find their way over to Peva Hospitality Central. Every year we're graced by visits from some of our Japanese friends - the Bluegrass 45 guys and so many whose names I've forgotten. This year we had Murdoch (hope I spelled that right) from Scotland with his cut-it-with-a-knife burr along with the Bluegrass 45.
I remember last year introducing this sweet little older Japanese man to the Gillis Brothers whom I'd been photographing backstage. He was down at the bottom of the long flight of steps and I motioned him to come on up as it was clear he was seeking an autograph. It was kind of funny. He was all a-quiver and I thought that was quite odd for an older Japanese man (perhaps the Japanese are losing some of their reserve?) and he was just like turned inside out to meet the Gillis Brothers and ran up all those stairs with a grin that spanned the miles and sort of embraced one of the Gillis' and said he loved them. Pretty funny, but I knew how he felt. See, I've felt the impact of the Gillis BROTHERS a time or two myself. Larry and John together will jolt you slam off your seat and kick you in the gut on your way to the ground. So it really wasn't that surprising that this little man was all in a tizz after sitting through a set of in-your-face Gillis music experienced in the serene natural sanctuary of Bean Blossom. Does it get any better than that? Call it what you will; special things happen at the Bean.
As usual I digress, but perhaps that's my role. What would be cool is if I can find the photo of this man I made with John and Larry. His grin says it ALL!
To jump ahead, I'm thinking the Uncle Pen Days being held September 20-23 (http://www.beanblossom.com/) this year near Bean Blossom, Indiana, may be especially wonderful because they immediately precede the IBMA festivities (http://www.ibma.org/ only four hours' drive away in Nashville, Tennessee. IBMA runs from September 25 through October 1). Make it a nice little bluegrass trip - first to Bean Blossom, Indiana, the "bluegrass mecca", and then on to Music City USA and the IBMA wing-ding. Not bad, eh? And you really could use just a little more bluegrass after that, so why not plan to head on up to Kentucky right after IBMA and visit the IBMM in Owensboro ( http://www.bluegrass-museum.org/ ) then swing over to the great festival near Rosine Kentucky( http://www.jerusalemridgefestival.org/jridgefestival20.html ) at Bill Monroe's restored homeplace October 5-8. Besides the thrill of seeing the old house so beautifully appointed, you'll get to meet a whole bunch of true blue bluegrass fans and hear a whole lot of bluegrass music played Monroe-style. It's a great little festival and well worth a visit.
But now...back to Bean Blossom. Dwight Dillman has taken Monroe's park and, while taking pains to preserve the "Monroe flavor" has actually succeeded - at tremendous expense - in making it a much more comfortable place to camp. Some of the amenities include flush toilets, hot showers, and plenty of gravel as well as lovely shaded campsites in groves of trees with electric and water hookups. While he could have cut down all the trees in the concert area to make room for more lawn chairs, he kept a goodly number to provide shade and, again, to preserve the "feel" of the old Bean Blossom during the days of Monroe. I like that. While the old stage has been replaced with a new, larger one, I can only see that as a good thing.
I suppose arguing about which festival is best is kind of pointless because we probably all have strong opinions about such things. I'll say I've had some really fine times at Bean Blossom and several good, life-long friendships have formed there, but I suppose above and beyond all the things I like about BB is the feeling I have when I go there, especially late at night walking around to the jam sessions. There's just this feeling that Bill Monroe isn't too far off. He's there in the faces of children as Molly Cherryholmes takes the time to coach them on a fiddle tune at the kids' camp. He's there onstage with Tom T and Marty Stuart as they do a Jimmy Martin tribute; he's there on Sunday morning as Miss Margie Sullivan stands up with her mountain-moving conviction and preaches an old timey message; he's there in the licking flames of Peva's campfire on a chilly fall night as old friends gather there and talk softly, maybe pick up a guitar or a fiddle and play one....
That's just a peek into why I like Bean Blossom....and go there again and again.