We spent last weekend at our favorite musical event: Wintergrass, a bluegrass festival held at five venues in Tacoma, Washington, though most of the action happens in and around the Hotel Murano, formerly the Sheraton.
No matter where you go, inside or out, musicians of every age, shape and persuasion are playing together. Lest you think bluegrass is all about flat-picking banjo from the backwoods of Appalachia, this festival presents a wide variety of music ranging from free-style jam bands to the Ebony Hillbillies, from a zydeco/Acadian/French Canadian string band to a rockin’ quartet with a cello.
We arrived at 4pm on Friday and stayed until 3pm on Sunday, basking in the music everywhere. There is a Wintergrass academy for the smallest musicians and plenty of open space for organic groups to form and dissolve, playing whatever pieces inspire them in the moment.
This was the first year for my son, now five, as we were concerned in previous years that the demands of the festival would be too much for him. A budding musician, composer and performer, I suspected that this would be the right year to introduce him to the experience. We brought snacks and his basketball; we took breaks between sets to wander outside, play ball, hover near a group of jamming musicians, and most popular: make buttons in the kids’ play area organized by Wintergrass volunteers in the hotel fitness room.
During one of the sets, I was inspired to sketch the bass in a little notebook I carry around for just such an occasion. It occurred to me that this would be an interesting shape to create in felt. Sitting next to me, my boy asked if he could sketch the bass too.
No bluegrass band is complete without a banjo or a mandolin (the mando illustration was a combined effort).
Two days after returning from the festival, he woke up with a low fever and a little blister on his chin that looks like it could be a pox. To be on the safe side, I held him back from school, surmising he could probably use a little extra rest after our long weekend. As I began to organize the house, he pulled out some modeling clay.
Along with the taco, burrito and pizza, he made a pair of banjos and the handle of the bass (I hope someone will illuminate me with a little nomenclature). The bass is for Corey DiMario of Crooked Still (his blog gets high points for best title); one banjo is for Jamie Blair of the Cascade Mountain Boys because he has the coolest hair and best eyebrow expression, the other is for Jim Hancock of the Great Northern Planes because his band mates played a mean trick on him and wouldn’t tell him which song they were playing next (my boy is a softie).
I hope that each exposure to musicians great and small will offset the other idols he sees on big and small screens. Heroes walk among us, and the greatest carry an instrument case.