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  • Every September at the Davis County Fairgrounds in Bloomfield, Iowa, people gather from literally all over the Midwest for the Bluegrass Festival. As you can see, a lot of folks bring motor homes and camper trailers. Most arrive the first day, a Tuesday, and stay through Sunday when the festival ends.

    We've had folks from as far away as Montana and Wyoming, and folks from just around the corner show up. Some of the come to listen to the professional Bluegrass bands that play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Some come to meet up with old friends. Most of us come to play.

    The atmosphere is almost like you might think of a small town in the 1960's. Toddlers are with their parents, but just about all the kids over the age of 8 are either running around with their friends or playing music with the adults. If a group of kids are misbehaving, the grown ups set them straight and move on. It's pretty common to hear "yes sir" or "yes ma'am" when the kids are talking to an adult. The wives are chatting, embroidering, knitting, and visiting with their friends. New visitors are welcomed into the groups. Because of the size of the festival, there are usually a couple of shuttles that drive around the fairgrounds helping folks get around from about six a.m. to about midnight. It's not unusual to see five or six kids riding around and talking on the shuttle.

    Campers are rarely locked. Almost every camper has a canopy or a shade drawn out to provide a little shade. The weather is usually temperate, slightly cool in the evening, but nice. And the one thing you can count on is music. Lots and lots of music.

    Bluegrass isn't like Rock or Jazz or even Blues. Bluegrass is the true music of America, music that started in the hill country long before radio stations and has its roots in the traditional folk music of European nations brought over by immigrants. Bluegrass uses a combination of stringed instruments to create a unique sound found nowhere else in the world.

    Almost everyone who comes is an amateur player. Mostly guitars, followed closely by banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobro, and stand up bass. Once in a while someone will slip in a harmonica. I'm the guy on the left with the straw hat, and as you can see, I play guitar. I also play at mandolin, which means one of these days I might figure it out.

    While there are many brands of guitars, you might notice the three guitars in this picture are Martins. And when you walk around the Davis Co. fairgrounds, the folks at Martin & Co. are well represented. Why? Because the Martin guitar makes the perfect sound for Bluegrass music.

    So who are these guys and how did I end up playing music with them? Near as I recall, I came wandering up, pulled up a chair, and started playing along. Isaac was playing the mandolin, picking out some of the prettiest notes you have ever heard, while James and Robert strummed along, one of them occasionally stepping off to pick away with Issac. I think we played for about two hours before I decided to mosey down the path to the next group.

    If I am able to arrive on Tuesday, the only complaint I have ever received from my family is they probably see me about two hours a day, when I come by to take a nap, change clothes, and eat. Then I pick up my guitar and head back down the path to find the next group of pickers. There have been times I have had to stop because my fingertips were so sore I could not go on. A little ice and a little rest, and I'm ready to go.

    The highlight of the trip is church on Sunday. There's a local minister who gives a good sermon and leads the prayers and the hymns, but there's no organ or piano. Instead, you sing your hymns to a combination of players from the congregation who volunteer to play. Probably the prettiest church music you will ever hear.

    If it all sounds a little mundane to you, well, I guess it is. For those six days, you rarely see a Nintendo, a computer or a television set. Except for the weather, most folks don't even turn on a radio. Once my cell phone rang (my oldest daughter wanted to know if she could have dinner with a friend), and I got more than one eyebrow raised in my direction. I quickly set it for vibrate and went back to playing music.

    I'm pretty sure we were in the middle of "Fox on the Run" and it was my turn to sing.

    ~Fred~
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