To get a feel for the all-inclusive nature of the High & Dry Bluegrass Festival, which returns to the Runway Ranch east of Bend this weekend (see “If you go”), simply point your web-surfing machine to www.hadbf.com, hover your mouse over “Gallery,” and click on “2009 Festival Photos.”
Flip through the images of last year's powwow of pickers, and take note of the number of people who have stringed instruments in their hands, versus the number with nothing to pluck.
Be sure to click past the actual bands performing on stage and get to the shots of the crowd. Check out that sea of people. Almost all of them, in all the photos, are holding a guitar, or a mandolin, or a banjo, or a fiddle.
There are pickers in chairs and pickers standing. There are groups next to trees and water and a van. There are old folks ready to play and young'uns finding their way. Some look like they know what they're doing, and some don't.
All are welcome at the High & Dry Bluegrass Festival.
That is the true essence of High & Dry. Certainly, the festival sprung four years ago from a long-running local, weekly jam session to give local bluegrass fans a place to gather and celebrate their sound. It also provided Central Oregon's bluegrass bands an opportunity to showcase and develop their string-bending skills, from the relatively big-name bands that grace the main stage to the less experienced acts that'll play ‘tweener sets on a side stage — which might be the only public gig they play all year.
But at its very core, High & Dry is meant to encourage people of all skill levels to play, and to interact with other players, and to play together.
Organizers have kept the price of admission low — $10 for the whole weekend, free for kids ages 12 and younger — so that families can easily attend and children can be exposed to the wonders of bluegrass music. Because they're not going to hear it on MTV, you know?
This communal experience is why, if you look at High & Dry's schedule, you'll see workshops on Saturday morning for every instrument in the bluegrass family, including the voice. All the different workshops will learn the same song, so when they gather as a mega-band at half past noon, everyone can play together.
All this pickin' populism is a cool thing, of course, but don't forget: There will be real, live, super-skilled bluegrass bands playing throughout the weekend, too. Lee Highway will bring its classic bluegrass sound from Portland, and the Misty Mamas will stop in and fill the fest with their highly likable acoustic sound. Bluestone County will visit from the Willamette Valley and mix a little contemporary bluegrass into their set.
Then there are the locals, including names you've probably heard — Blackstrap, Back from the Dead, Quincy Street — and some you haven't. Sunday will feature four bands doing gospel sets, followed by local favorites The Anvil Blasters to put a cap on the festival.
There are other details: food for sale, bring your own beverages and chairs, pets are allowed (but not in the concert area), camping is available. Visit www.hadbf.com to get all the details you need. And remember: When you're packing, be sure to grab your stringed instrument, whether you play it daily or it's been crammed in a closet for years. Either way, you're going to need it.