July is a special month in the bluegrass world. It’s that time when you get to say that you live on Monroe Street, and everyone knows that it’s named for Bill, and not the fifth president of the US, James. It’s that weekend when you’ll tolerate 90-degree shadeless afternoons and 50-degree damp nights, porta-potties and rocks under your sleeping bag, all with remarkably good humor. Why? The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, of course, running this year from Thursday, July 19 to Sunday, July 22 at the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill in Greene County.
The music at Grey Fox, though firmly rooted in bluegrass, has become more diverse. “Over the years we’ve developed a program filled with progressive types of music; we’re looking to push the envelope, and we attract people that like that sort of music,” says Festival promoter Mary Burdette. Speaking of Festival founder Mary Doub, Burdette says, “She has vision when it comes to programming and bands, exposing our clientele to our new bands.”
According to Burdette, this summer’s most outrageous band is Tornado Rider: a trio consisting of cello, bass and drums, whose cellist and lead singer Rushad Eggleston is known for doing things like strapping the cello to his body and climbing tent poles while playing. Tornado Rider can be seen on the Catskill Stage on Saturday, July 21. Also on the Catskill Stage will be Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, the Western Swing alter egos of the bluegrass band Hot Rize.
That’s not to say, however, that Grey Fox doesn’t embrace the more traditional side of bluegrass, with acts like the Gibson Brothers and the Del McCoury Band. Straight-ahead picking and high lonesome harmonies will abound on the High Meadow Stage, as well as on the Creekside Stage, where you’ll find workshops with some of the genre’s legendary players, including Woodstock’s own banjo master, Bill Keith. Also on the bill this year are David Bromberg, banjoist Tony Trischka, Blue Highway, the Punch Brothers, the Dutchess County band True Blue and Claire Lynch, who grew up in Kingston.
If you’re a veteran Grey Fox attendee, you may be wondering about the new names for this year’s stages. Burdette explains that in the past bands, often felt limited by the names. If you were playing in the Dance Tent, for example, every song had to be danceable. That explains this year’s shift, where the Dance Tent has become the Catskill Stage, the Workshop Tent is now the Creekside Stage and the Main Stage is the High Meadow Stage. In this way, bands are not limited to one style of music or performance.
Another notable feature of this year’s Festival will be, unfortunately, a rather sad one. 2012 has seen great losses in the music world, too many of which have touched the bluegrass community. On Friday, July 20 at 5 p.m. at the High Meadow Stage, Tim O’Brien (of Hot Rize and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers) will host a tribute to Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Doug Dillard and Everett Lilly: all Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductees who passed away this year. The show promises to honor the legacies and legends of those gentlemen through the music of some of the greatest players still with us.
And as always, Grey Fox is a family affair; kid-friendly activities are more exciting than ever this year. The Festival has teamed up with sponsor Random House Children’s Books to bring all kinds of special events to the Family Stage. In addition to, of course, bluegrass music (look for Woodstocker Jonah Bruno on the banjo with Astrograss for Kids), kids can relax with movies and enjoy readings and book-signings with author Kate Klimo of the popular Dragon Keepers series. As an extra treat, be on the lookout for some costumed characters – Junie B. Jones, Pat the Bunny and the Poky Little Puppy – roaming the grounds to entertain your little ones.
But wait – don’t forget about the Bluegrass Academy! If you have a school-aged child who is just dying to pick some tunes, now’s his or her chance. Already signed up are 120 kids for this free program, where they will learn about playing together and singing in harmony. The weekend culminates with a performance by them on Sunday afternoon.
Grey Fox is a Festival for camping enthusiasts and day-trippers alike; full Festival passes, which include camping, cost $185; day tickets for Thursday, Friday and Saturday are $65 each, Sunday $30. Campers wishing to secure their favorite spots can arrive as early as 7 a.m. on Wednesday, July 18. The music is slated to start at 2 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, but those with day passes can arrive any time from 8 a.m. The weekend wraps up by 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22.
The Walsh Farm in Oak Hill is near Route 145, up past Cairo and Durham. To find out more information about Grey Fox, or to get tickets to this year’s Festival, call (888) 946-8495 or visit www.greyfoxbluegrass.com.