huck finn jubilee festival

An Interview With Fans of Huck Finn Jubilee

Since Huck Finn Jubilee left the hands of the Tucker family and moved to Ontario, I—as a longtime fan of the festival—had some reservations. After all, Huck Finn Jubilee has brought together thousands of bluegrass fans and families over Father’s Day weekend to celebrate and enjoy the genre for many, many years.

There have been quite a few changes this past year.

Some festivalgoers have expressed outrage over the elimination of some activities, the move to Ontario, and, most recently, the change of date. I did miss some of the activities this year, but I did enjoy that the festival moved closer to me and I’m even OK with the change of date. Not having it over Father’s Day weekend means that my non-bluegrass-loving wife doesn’t have to come along (which she hasn’t in recent years!) if she doesn’t want to. It also means that I can spend the day with my father, who can no longer make the trip to the festival.

Despite the changes, the Huck Finn Jubilee was the same festival I have enjoyed for years. It’s the people and the music that make the festival, not the activities. To get a better perspective of the changes, I asked a few friends (and friends of friends) who attended the 2014 Huck Finn Jubilee to see what they thought.

What did you think of Huck Finn Jubilee this year?

Jeff 36 years old: “I loved it! I took my 2 daughters (ages 4 and 6 at the time) and my dad and stepmother during the day and then went back at night with friends for the night performances. We stayed at nearby hotels and took shuttles back and forth, which made it easy.”

Rebecca 47 years old: “I went for the first time when it moved to Ontario, heavily influenced by String Cheese Incident playing, but also for the range of amazing bluegrass music all weekend. It was a great getaway for my boyfriend and I, and we also had a group of friends too. I thought it was a very unique event, not like a typical festival but instead a more family-friendly relaxing, welcoming atmosphere. I had many great conversations with new friends, paddle boated, played on the water slides, and swayed and danced to so much great music—including dancing right next to the stage during Cheese under a beautiful full moon surrounded by love and friends! How can you beat that?!”

Mark, 30 years old: I hadn’t gone to Huck Finn Jubilee since I was much younger. I was surprised at how different it felt, but that’s probably because the last time I went I was 12! I had a great time over the weekend, camping out and jamming.”

Another complaint I’ve heard from fellow bluegrass fans is the performers at the festival—namely, The String Cheese Incident. While I’m not particularly a fan of SCI, I don’t think that being strict with who can play at Huck Finn Jubilee is the way bluegrass should be. Bluegrass itself evolved from folk music, and newgrass and jamgrass have evolved from bluegrass. Including different offshoots of our beloved bluegrass isn’t damaging it; it’s celebrating it!

I asked my fellow fans this question and while some preferred bluegrass—and some newgrass—they all shared the same sentiment, but Rebecca put it best.

Rebecca: “Music is an ever-evolving form of art. To be stuck on one particular type of music and say that is only what you listen to is a detriment to yourself, your soul and passion, as well as prevents you from getting out there and exploring. Stop paying attention so much to the labels of what traditional bluegrass is vs. newgrass or whatever will be newly labeled next week. Instead, listen to the music and see how it moves you and inspires you. That is what music is all about. It evolves with us as individuals and humans, even inspiring emotional responses! I’ve cried, laughed, been in awe, danced, hugged, been inspired, and had the time of my life at so many shows, I look forward to seeing how bluegrass and music continues to speak to people and evolve over time.”

How do you feel about Huck Finn Jubilee no longer being held on Father’s Day?

Jeff: “I was actually thinking about doing the same trip this year with my dad and kids and stuff but with it not being on Father’s Day weekend I probably would not take my kids now (if I am able to attend). It’s more important to me that they get a good lineup so if the decision was made because more musicians are available over these new dates then I am all for it!”

Rebecca: “It makes no difference to me. It will depend more on the lineup and bands they bring in this year along with what is happening in Denver/Colorado that same weekend as to if I go this year again.”

Mark: “The date doesn’t really affect my decision on whether or not to go. It’s all about the music!”

Who would you like to see perform at Huck Finn Jubilee next year?

Jeff: “I really loved seeing String Cheese Incident so I would love to see another new bluegrass/jamband like that so like Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon and of course Keller Williams!”

Rebecca: “I would love to see a variety of more up and coming bluegrass bands such as Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, Paper Bird, and Elephant Revival (of course all my favorites!). I also have been really digging these beautiful ladies coming onto the scene recently that are continuing to evolve the style of music – Rising Appalachia. Of course, you must bring Keller back, he was so entertaining and fun!! Other amazing options would include Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon – they always guarantee a great crowd, time, and performance. I’m also always discovering new bands and music (at least to me!), such as Dirtfoot last year at Wakarusa.”

Mark “I think it would be cool to see Head for the Hills at Huck Finn. Bringing in a small, but respectable Denver band is always sweet! Not sure if Grisman has been there, but it would definitely be awesome to see him there.”

There has been much debate over the state of Huck Finn Jubilee, but I think that it is a little exaggerated. Yes, there were a lot of changes. No, I didn’t agree with all of them. But the festival has just changed hands, and it’s going to take a bit before it settles and before the organizers get the hang of the festival and our community.

How many Huck Finn Jubilee fans remember the first festival, or even the first five? I bet that if you went back and attended those, you would probably complain and say, “This isn’t the Huck Finn Jubilee I know!” The festival grew into itself over the years, evolving just the way bluegrass evolved—we have to let it evolve again.

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I am a blue grass fan and loving husband and father. Proudly born and raised in California. I am an IT professional, but have always had a passion for writing.

2 comments, add your’s.


Interesting how you completely ignore or are oblivious to the real cause of the outrage, much like Connie Chung’s dishonest reporting of how cuts to National Endowment for the Arts funding would dry up funds for a bluegrass event. It wasn’t bluegrass concerts that people were upset with when it came to what the NEA was supporting with taxpayers’ money. Instead it was “art” that portrayed the crucifix being dipped in a jar of urine, and another of one man urinating in another’s mouth, etc. And here you are ignoring the culture clash within the bluegrass community, one of the last vestiges of traditional wholesome family fun. Many of the leaders in this genre are God fearing folks, but what Ontario is ushering in is in stark hostile opposition to their values. As Obama is to America, the new Huck Finn owners are to bluegrass. “Fundamental change” is in progress. One day it will become painfully apparent that the movement to moralize against moralizers kills both, and we are pulling the carpet out from under ourselves with society’s secularization which has lead to a loss of shame. When Ralph Stanley sings I’ll Fly Away, he aint talkin about the stuff that has the new woodstock crowd at Huck Finn flying. Never before last year had I had stoned individuals rudely standing up in front of those of us seated in chairs, nor had I ever needed to regather my chairs from a pile that this crowd threw them in the night before. There’s a first time for everything, and this is the first time I have ever stopped being a fan of Huck Finn Jubilee. Not a Fan.

    I’m not ignoring or oblivious to the complaints. I even wrote to the organizers to voice some of my concerns. But it was the first try for them, and I am not one to expect perfection on the first go. I have been going to the festival with my family for so many years and I am not willing to write off Huck Finn Jubilee because it’s not exactly the same as it used to be. Things change.

    As I’ve said on this blog, there will always be change. You can’t expect a 40 year old event to stay exactly the same, especially when the ownership itself changes. While I agree with some of the protesters on a few missteps, the Huck Finn Jubilee simply wouldn’t exist anymore if it hadn’t been sold. Or, if the Ontario Visitors Bureau hadn’t picked it up, some other organization would have—and we don’t know what that would have been like, either.

    If others want to abandon a festival that they have loved for years just because ownership has changed and they don’t approve of some of their decisions, so be it. The loss of the long-time fans will affect Huck Finn Jubilee, and that is a shame. I believe that the owners have seen our comments and our complaints about last year’s festival. Personally, my family and I are looking forward to this weekend.

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