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No More Father’s Day for the Huck Finn Jubilee Starting in 2015

I appreciate traditions. I value legacies. I understand how difficult change can be. After all, the only person who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper, right? Nonetheless, change happens.

In the grand scheme of things, while having a destination for Father’s Day weekend is a nice idea, the Huck Finn Jubilee is a music festival, not a father’s festival (although the two, obviously, are NOT mutually exclusive). No evil machinations were at work, bent on depriving people of music on Father’s Day. Many do not trust the Visitor Bureau’s statements, but maybe there is some truth in what they say. From what I gather, the official line is that the change in date avoids future date conflicts with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. That’s a double bonus, because it means more quality acts that can play at both festivals. Despite the almost 800 miles separating the two locations, plenty of people would go to both given the chance. When two festivals compete not only for musicians but also for audience members on the same weekend, someone will lose out.

In a perfect world, music would be only about artistry. Look around. We live in a pretty great state (and country) but it costs money to run festivals. Keeping the Huck Finn Jubilee going means operating in the real world. From what I’ve read, a few years after the founder of Huck Finn passed away, his family ceded control of the festival to the Ontario Convention Bureau. I doubt I have all the facts, but it sounds to me as if the Convention Bureau had not stepped in, Huck Finn would be no more.

Here’s a challenge: give me an all-encompassing definition for “traditional bluegrass.” I bet if you ask ten people to define you’d get eleven different answers. Plus, the term “bluegrass” did not even show up until the mid-1940s, and evolved out of other musical genres. You just cannot expect a large venue event to adhere to a strict definition put forth by one group of people. Music is a living thing. Music is an art form. Performed by artists. The truly great artists create music in their own special ways. Just think about the many great bluegrass performances that include covers of songs that began in other genres.

Think of it this way: many more people came to the festival to hear those more progressive acts. I am pretty sure that over the weekend, they were exposed to much more traditional sounds, something they may never have listened to before. A little tolerance and understanding would go a long way towards fostering new bluegrass lovers.

On the other hand, perhaps 2014 should just go down in the annals of history as the year of the great lawn chair incident(s). From my viewpoint, a lot of the “trouble” was not even about the music. Some follow a hallowed tradition of staking out their little kingdom on the grass in front of the stage, plopping their stuff down, daring anyone to infiltrate their space at any time of the festival, whether their butts are planted in their chairs or not.

Those people who felt moved to dance with the music inevitable stumbled upon the rows of empty chairs. The chair owners were upset to find their chairs out of place the next morning. Call it entropy. Call it gravity. Forget physics and call it youthfulness.

As for drug use, I did not see any, and no drug arrests were made, so anything about illegal substances is hearsay as far as I am concerned. Yes, there was drinking, but there were no major incidents (well, except for lawn chair vs. dancer accidents). As for the opinions of some “longtime attendees” about the influx of new music and music lovers, here’s mine: music evolves. ‘Nuf said.

Has Huck Finn gone through some changes? Definitely, but haven’t we all. You may love a certain bluegrass sound, and someone else may prefer a more progressive one. We all love music, and shouldn’t that be the focus? If you cannot or will not accept any type of change, chances are nothing I say will change your feelings. I am sure your musical taste is impeccable (as is mine) but you cannot expect an entire festival to satisfy the desires of just one niche of music. “The times, they are a-changin.”

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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.

Barnet Malin

Let’s be honest. There’s surely no need for defensive truth stretching in claiming that fully electric, amplified bands are part of the bluegrass music genre.

In all honesty, Ontario made a very, very smart move by buying the festival and refashioning it. It was incredibly successful last year, a real tribute to the promoters, organizers and the city… and that’s fantastic! The big crowds were unbelievable. The venue was just beautiful and great for car camping.

And the lineup of bluegrass acts was just as good as it gets. For me, The Boxcars set was the highlight, although Flamekeeper was up there too, and of course Del McCoury and sons are legends and… well, the bands were top shelf. And the band lineup this year is just as great.

But really.

Bluegrass festivals attract two like-minded sorts of folks of all ages and background. There are those that love to listen to the classic sound and feel of mandolin / banjo / fiddle / guitar / bass / lonesome vocals, in which the entire band is itself a driving percussion instrument. And there are those who come for that during the day, and then to play the music together themselves, hopefully late into the night.

And let’s be honest… those folks were not very happy campers as evening fell at the new Huck Finn in June 2014.

While my old friends and I gathered with our instruments to play together back in the campgrounds, we pretty much had to stop trying to play. We were simply unable to hear ourselves. All we could hear and feel was….

BOOOM BOOOM BOOOM BOOOM (repeat ad infinitum for hours and hours).

I’m sorry my friend. For me and many friends, bluegrass festivals are for making music together and enjoying the featured bluegrass bands.

So round about maybe 10 PM we looked at each other, and tried to play one more tune together as a way of saying goodbye to the Huck Finn Jubilee Bluegrass Festival… but again we were steamrollered by palpable waves of sound in the air….

BOOOM BOOOM BOOOM BOOOM

The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon and whomever else will play in the future are perfectly fine bands for those who love them. The kids with dreads and tie dye were perfectly fine. The marijuana smelled sweet, and the beer was flowing (which, to be sure, it often does at real bluegrass festivals). I wouldn’t bring my family to the new Huck Finn as I used to do for the old Huck Finn, but that’s OK. And it’s too far (for me, anyway) to drive each way for day tickets.

It’s the honest truth that last year and this year the festival has booked the best professional bluegrass acts in the country during the days. No question. I wish I could go just for that.

But when the sun goes down, bluegrass goes down with it.

And that’s a deal breaker for me.

And that’s the honest truth.

So as the great bluegrass guitarist and singer George Harrison once titled his groundbreaking bluegrass album — “All Things Must Pass”.

Goodbye Huck Finn.

Goodbye, but with no hate.

Just sadness.

    Barnet,

    I understand your point of view. The longtime fans of Huck Finn Jubilee (especially the older ones, like me) certainly aren’t used to the kind of festivals that the younger generation are fans of. There was louder music and a different set of people—but though there are changes that weren’t to my liking, I’m not willing to write off the festival.

    The Huck Finn Jubilee has been a great part of my life, and maybe I’m being sentimental, but I am happier that it is continuing rather than ceasing to exist. And who knows?I’m sure the organizers have seen the bluegrass community’s comments. I’m encouraged by the quality acts that have been booked, and the addition of the Kids Academy. My kids are too old to participate, but it’s the kind of family-oriented, traditional activity that Huck Finn Jubilee was all about.

    I get why I won’t see you there, but I hope you change your mind! Otherwise, you can read my review of Huck Finn Jubilee 2015 after the weekend to see how it went.

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