By Tom Peschges
I just got back from 5 days at the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association Festival at El Rancho Manana Near Richmond. I arrived Tuesday night for a 2 day, pre-festival camp I had signed up for, learning audio and sound with Doug Lohman of Armadillo Sound. Doug has been running sound for every MBOTMA festival I’ve ever been too and for many years before that. Tech stuff aside, it was an in depth look inside his world that was fascinating to say the very least. Having been on both sides of his microphones, I have tons of respect for this guy.
The fun continued on Friday with a Volunteer shift. This is a pretty huge festival and it takes hundreds of volunteer man hours to make it all work. I volunteer for a shift at every festival I go to and, for the camping ones, I’m getting to know the grounds pretty well (1200 acres) So I ride around on a golf cart, take stuff or people where it/they need to go. It’s fun, I get a tee shirt and a warm fuzzy for feeling like I contributed something.
There are supposedly two main reasons to go to a Festival like this. The national touring acts ( and some really good locals) on the main stage, and the jamming around the campfires late into the night. Between jamming, volunteering, our Daredevils set at the Ranch House stage and more jamming, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the main stage. I did get to see a couple shows though. The Po’ Ramblin Boys. These guys were fantastic! They were showmen! I could not look away from the stage and I could not stop grinning the entire time. They entertained and inspired me. The other show I did catch was the other headline act “Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen” These guys were amazing musicians. Their show was a little less traditional/acoustic and geared more to the younger/progressive audience. I did do a lot of jamming. Every night I was there. It’s always interesting to me, the diversity of people you meet. From 16 to 86 and beginner to so far past expert it makes you want to cry. And yes, it IS a bluegrass festival but you always hear some jazz, some blues and this year, quite a bit of Glen Campbell
Speaking of a younger audience. Bluegrass music in general and MBOTMA in particular has had a problem with the audience getting a little older every year. As attendance declined, the joke was that the nursing homes were getting stingy with the passes. But this year, it seemed to me that there were a LOT of younger kids around. Teens and 20’s – 30’. Young families. Anectdotal as it was, it was good to see.
My personal best moment of the festival though was playing with my band on the Ranch House stage, Saturday night. Even though the headliner was on the main stage, the house was full. With David Smith under the weather, we borrowed Ian Gamble to play banjo and we played one of the best sets we’ve done all summer. We had people clapping and tapping their feet and singing along with us. It was a blast, and it was over so quickly. Just 30 minutes but those memories will last a lot longer than that. It rained hard on Sunday pretty much all morning. It didn’t matter, it was a great festival… one for the books for sure.