This year, I went to the Huck Finn Jubilee with an open mind. Last year was the first year under the complete purview of the Greater Ontario Convention & Visitors Bureau, and there were some complaints that it had moved too far away from the days of the Tucker family. Because I have been attending the festival for so many years, though, I wasn’t willing to abandon it.
And I am glad that I didn’t.
The Huck Finn Jubilee 2015 lineup was incredible, especially with the inclusion of the immensely talented Steve Martin and, one of my favorites, Ricky Skaggs. Beyond the lineup, the Huck Finn Jubilee is showing clear signs of returning to its roots. It shows that the fans have been heard.
Because I already live very close to Ontario, I decided against camping at Huck Finn Jubilee this year (which then allowed my wife, Lisa, to join as she is no fan of camping and we do not own an RV). My two teenaged sons also joined us, although it is becoming more difficult to persuade my eldest, Jake, to participate in anything that involves his parents.
On Saturday evening, I checked out the Jammers Campground, where the organizers had set up a small stage, to listen to the bands playing there that night (Driven, The Lonely Heartstring Band, Detour, Leroy Troy, and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, followed by a midnight jam session). I couldn’t stay until the end of the jam session, but it was a great experience—though Lisa did say the Passion of the Music got “a little loud” at times! Pretty understandable given the excitement – Bluegrass music is inspiring.
The camping area was rife with bluegrass fans, and it looked like a sense of camaraderie had developed among the campers. I’m not sure how the late-night crowd was—as one of the complaints in the past two years was the noise—but during the day, it was clean but crowded and full of chatter.
This was the highlight of Huck Finn Jubilee 2015. From the aforementioned Skaggs to Del McCoury and Dr. Ralph Stanley, the traditional bluegrass greats reigned supreme this year at Huck Finn. There were, of course, some of the jamgrass bands that the traditionalists don’t like, and that’s OK; some of them I don’t like, either. But that’s the beauty of the new Huck Finn Jubilee! Fans who would have otherwise never listened to the traditional bluegrass were able to join in and find out what a banjo really sound like. It seemed that everyone enjoyed it, though—there were lots of bare feet kicking up the dirt and grass to dance along to the music!
It was truly special to have had the opportunity to see Hot Rize play together again at Huck Finn Jubilee. (Of course, any musical performance involving Tim O’Brien will certainly satisfy my bluegrass taste buds!) Since the early ’80s, Hot Rize has been a well-known traditional bluegrass band, and it’s really exciting to see them back in action this year with a brand new album. I didn’t think I was going to have the opportunity to see them play again as their touring has been somewhat limited, but this was definitely a weekend highlight for me.
On the same note, it’s always a pleasure to see the traditional legends such as Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Béla Fleck, especially in the same weekend!
I suppose one of the bands that the traditionalists wouldn’t have liked is Leftover Salmon, who played on Sunday evening. We had to leave halfway through (people have got to work on Monday morning, after all), but I heard from friends who had never listened to “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” that it was an “interesting and cool” experience. Perhaps not something they’d listen to every day, but entertaining and different—their kids, on the other hand, were fans!
Although neither of my children signed up for the Kids Academy, I had a peek at one of the lessons over the weekend. It was great to see kids with bluegrass instruments, jamming away like pros. Hopefully the Kids Academy becomes an annual activity at the Huck Finn Jubilee.
Many of the kids’ activities were provided by the Riley’s Stone Soup Family Farm, a great farm in SoCal where you can pick apples and learn about old-time activities. The kids, as I saw, were really into learning about these “new” games and using their hands to actually make things. Lisa was more interested in the rag doll making, while the kids, of course, insisted on entering and watching the pie eating contest.
A really awesome aspect of these activities was that they were led by many of the bands that were actually playing—that is something you don’t get at your run-of-the-mill music festival. On Saturday, I attended the Street Musician’s workshop with Scythian—although I really have no plans on giving up my day job for a life of guitar. It was a fun, educational experience, though I may have been distracted by all of the artists actually helping us along! The other workshops I saw with the artists were “Intuitive Improvisation” and “Becoming More Musical, Naturally,” both with Joe Craven; learning about the mandolin with Sierra Hull; and “Sammy’s Banjo Jam” with Sammy Shelor of Lonesome River Band. Those who were lucky enough to learn from these great artists will remember this Huck Finn Jubilee for years to come.
The Overall Impression
The Huck Finn Jubilee is not the Huck Finn Jubilee of years past, and that’s fine. Perhaps that is even a good thing, as all things must eventually change. It’s obvious that the budget was bigger and that the organizers were trying their darndest to appeal to the traditional fans once again, while keeping the young ones coming in droves. And was there ever a crowd of young people!
One thing that hasn’t changed about Huck Finn Jubilee is the sense of family. Like Bill Monroe has said, “You meet people at festivals and renew acquaintances year after year.” So, what did you think of Huck Finn Jubilee 2015? Let me know!