11 March 2015

Historic anniversaries in 2015

The BIB editor reports:

Two dates later this year are anniversaries of notable events in the history of bringing live bluegrass music to audiences.

On Sunday 14 August 1960, musician, songwriter, publisher, promoter, and DJ Don Owens (1930-63) presented at Watermelon Park, Berryville, VA, a 'Blue Grass Day' which brought on stage Mac Wiseman, the Osborne Brothers, Scotty Stoneman, Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys, Don Reno & Red Smiley, Buck Ryan and Smitty Irvin, and Bill Harrell. This was the first all-day show composed entirely of bluegrass acts. The word 'festival' was not common at that time, and there is still some reluctance to apply it to one-day events; nonetheless, Don Owens's 'Blue Grass Day' has since been recognised as the earliest known one-day bluegrass festival.

The following year, on Tuesday 4 July 1961 Bill Clifton presented at Luray, VA, another one-day event: 'the All Blue Grass Show', comprising Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman, the Stanley Brothers, Bill Clifton & the Dixie Mountain Boys, the Country Gentlemen, and Jim & Jesse McReynolds. This has also since been celebrated as the first bluegrass festival. The word 'festival', however, was not used in announcing this or several subsequent one-day events.

The first bluegrass event to be held under that name was 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. 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.

So we can go ahead and celebrate this year (in whatever manner seems appropriate) the 55th anniversary of Don Owens's 'Blue Grass Day' in August and the 50th anniversary of Carlton Haney's 'Blue Grass Festival' in September - and then recoup our energies for the 55th anniversary of Bill Clifton's 'All Blue Grass Show' in July next year.

Thanks to Walter V. Saunders's invaluable 'Notes & Queries' column, which appears every month in Bluegrass Unlimited (BU) magazine, for much of the above information, including a lead to a major article on Don Owens by the legendary Eddie Stubbs in BU for June 1998 - where, by the way, Walter V. Saunders is quoted as saying: 'Don Owens was the first person I ever heard to use the term "bluegrass music" as early as 1949 to differentiate the recordings of Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers from the mainstream country sounds...'

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