We're All Here, Even If We're Not All There

Article Contributed by John Hartford … | Published on Friday, January 15, 2021

It was different being home this year when we should've been at Bean. The wise call was made to postpone due to pandemic. Fest family came to the rescue with videos, photos, stories, encouraging well wishes and donations. But man, the last nine festivals- they all just go by so darned fast! Sort of like baking the perfect cake and inviting friends over to help you eat it. It’s gone before you know it. We all plan year round to make this festival happen and to attend. Our rag-tag team, consisting of and assembled by our festy creator/promoter John Hotze and co-promoter Tom Burkhart, and the rest of us, labor and parlay, each bringing something unique to the table and pass it around to be sampled, flavored, spiced, cut up or whatever it takes to become a presentable part of our big little party in memory of John Hartford. Then we happily serve the results, laid back, piping hot and fresh, to you, our fest family.

The John Hartford Memorial Festival, "The Most Laid Back Festival in America", is just right. Each year it has gotten a little bigger, but not too big- just right. The weather overall has been perfect! The mood is what each of us had hoped for and preached about, “Laid Back”. The entertainment is feeling it too, in the groove with each performance. Jams evolve and revolve around the clock. Familiar faces greet; many of whom only see each other once a year at this reunion of happy, kindred, music loving folks. Unfamiliar faces become familiar. It is easy to see that everyone checks their politics, religions, attitudes and worries at the gate, exchanged for wristbands that transform each recipient into a testimony of living, breathing, laid back musical vessels. Whether we dance, sing, pick, bow, clap, nod, toe-tap or rock our little ones, “Laid Back” happens for four endless, way too short days and nights! How does it go by so quickly, or is it just me?

Looking back at previous festivals, I see I missed so many acts and activities that I’d hoped to partake in. You can”t be everywhere at once. One previous Songwriter's Challenge Contest finalist, Tom Poley, from Tucson, AZ summed it up by saying, “That’s just Festival time!”

I think about all the tunes I’d hoped to jam on and the folks I’d hoped to jam with. I realize, now, I didn’t jam much at all, but man do I ever soak up the spirit! The early-bird, Wednesday evening Main Stage shows  amplified and mixed just right, sets the mood for the entire event- happiness and excitement coming from the front porch of the “House That Bill Monroe Built”, all in memory of our beloved namesake, John Hartford.

You know, in a blog, one gets to express how they feel in the first person. There aren’t really any rules outside of punctuation and spelling, so I feel right at home saying this. You see, one year, on a Saturday evening, I sat about ten rows back from the dance area at the Hartford Stage, with my soul mate Patti, and friends, watching Bawn in the Mash work their string band magic, and I achieved that apex of calm I’d been looking for, that adjusted head trippy feeling that tingles from your brain and tells all the rest of your body that things are the way nature intended for them to be, you know, Nirvana maybe? Hillbilly Groove? Escape from the pressures of the working world? Heaven??? You get it. If you were there, I hope you felt this too. If you weren’t there, I hope you like the sound of this and make plans now! Anyway, I looked to my left at our dancing fest family, silhouetted against the trees in the soft evening dusk, with the stage lights flickering on them like firelight, and I saw a little deeper. I saw folks who were actually able to forget about cares and worries. I saw folks who were able to breathe the music and the mood into their lungs and let it take them to a special spot, free from burden, living in the moment, and I felt that mood all around me. That energy that emanates from all of us, past and present. Magic. Spirit. Fleeting and obscure, but waiting to be tapped and made manifest.

Definition of festival: “a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something.” A celebration for sure. A deliberate gathering of folks getting away, joining the laid back. A hopeful celebration of the musical influence of the Father of New Grass, John Hartford, happening on ‘The Old Home Place’ of the Father of Blue Grass, Bill Monroe.  Going on 10 years in the making, this festival is the fruition of the vision of John Hotze, the dream of Tom Burkhart, the culmination of every good soul who ventured forth with these two, whether volunteers or attendees.

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“Will we make it happen again?” We are one big family now, and you are this family, because it couldn’t happen without You. Please keep checking back as we monitor the world for the time we can safely meet again. We’ll be tickled to death to have you help us celebrate life with music, at the 10th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival and please, Bring Someone You Love! Until then, one big virtual hug!