The 42nd Annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival stretched from June 14-21, showcasing the best in bluegrass music on a Southern Indiana campground.
It’s a tradition that draws annual visitors from across the world. This year, pilgrims were rewarded Saturday night, when the lone living member of Bill Monroe's 1946 Blue Grass Boys, Earl Scruggs, made an unscheduled appearance. With band in tow, Scruggs electrified the crowd with a double set, showing why, even at age 84, he’s still the benchmark for banjo players.
Scruggs' kick-off to the festival underscored a theme that threaded its way through the week: the need to preserve tradition. The Bean Blossom Jamboree Preservation Foundation, a group that assembled to buy the park where the festival is held, talked to anyone willing to hear them out about the importance of the festival, not just to the immediate, physical community, but also to the larger bluegrass nation. Signing up supporters throughout the week, the foundation focused on the importance of preserving the sounds associated with the festival.
It was a message that all in attendance could stand behind. Many of the artists and bands on stage took a moment to acknowledge the work the foundation was doing. But the week wasn't only a history lesson. A group new to the festival, Dailey & Vincent, brought the crowd to their feet with their impossibly tight harmonies. Cherryholmes, a family band from the West Coast, delivered three sets filled with high-energy music, step dancing and comedy.
Independent groups like Spanky Moore Bluegrass (Kentucky), The Muellers (Maine) and Monroe's Crossing (Minnesota) came from across the country, giving the audience a chance to sample regional varietals of bluegrass. G2 brought bluegrass from Sweden and the crowd let them know they were family. Gid-R-Done, showing you can't keep a good catchphrase at home, came from Canada for their first showing at Bean Blossom.
Veteran groups like Danny Paisley & Southern Grass, Dave Evans & Riverbend, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper and Larry Sparks ran through sets of originals and standards as the crowd cheered in approval.
Scruggs wasn't the only legend in attendance as the festival closed out early Sunday morning after an incredible lineup of performances. That night, Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top X-Press, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, JD Crowe & New South and Seldom Scene all proved why their places in the history of bluegrass are secure. As crowds dissipated, still energized after 1 a.m., many were already talking about next year's festival, when they will return to see old friends and hear familiar and new groups. After all, it's tradition.