25 August 2015

What made it so special

On 11 March the BIB drew attention to two anniversaries this year of significant events in the history of bluegrass music. One of them has now taken place: 14 August was the 55th anniversary of the first all-day show composed entirely of bluegrass acts. Still to come is the 50th anniversary - coinciding almost exactly with the Omagh festival weekend - of the first bluegrass event to be called a 'festival': the three-day 'First Annual Roanoke Blue Grass Festival' presented at Fincastle, VA, on the Labor Day weekend (Friday 3-Sunday 5 September) of 1965 by Carlton Haney, with Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers, Don Reno, Red Smiley, Clyde Moody, Howdy Forrester, Earl Taylor, Bill Emerson, Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, and more.

Some people, well qualified to judge, had thought beforehand that such an event could not be achieved; others, afterwards, thought it could never be repeated. But from that point the term 'bluegrass festival' became increasingly popular, and the number of such events rapidly grew to where the festival circuit became an important factor in musicians' careers. The festival had also reinforced the perception of Bill Monroe's central place in the music through Carlton Haney's 'Bluegrass story' part of the programme.

We're delighted, therefore, that the Prescription Bluegrass Blog has published news of a commemorative celebration including a compilation of memorabilia assembled by bluegrass historian and general Renaissance man Fred Bartenstein as well as other concerned citizens. A foretaste can be seen on this link to strongly evocative documents from Fred Robbins, who was there in 1965; they include video and audio recordings. We recommend the link to the 1973 Muleskinner News illustrated article by Mary Greenman Green, which shows how and why the Roanoke festival was recognised as a historic event just eight years later.

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