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Sunday, June 17, 2012

First Festival of the Year

Festivals: Mayfest (WMBA)May 18-20, 2012

The Indoor Stage
I must admit to a love/hate relationship with this festival.  The bands are OK, the venue is acceptable and the parking lot picking is so-so, yet I always seem to have a great time.  The West Michigan Bluegrass Association hosts a twice-yearly (May and September) festival on the Kent County Fairgrounds just east of Grand Rapids.

Saw Workshop
The festival features many local acts, a national headliner (Volume Five this spring) and the ever-popular "band scramble".  Various workshops are offered (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, etc.) as well as kids activities and a few specialty workshops (who knew musical saws were so much fun!).  There are even various craft and service vendors set up by the stage (but oddly, no vendor stocked musical gear and equipment--a bummer since I lost my capo and would have bought another).

The fairgrounds are very neat and clean, but do suffer from a distinct lack of shade.  There are both PortaPotty and indoor bathroom/shower facilities available.  The food vendors are excellent.  Camping is very reasonable, although electric and water hookups are questionable at best.  With a "park where you want" system in place, there are many small "encampments" of festival goers.

Three Generations of Pickers
In the past, weather has apparently been an issue, so the concert portion of the festival was held inside one of the "barns" onsite.  While offering protection from the weather, the cavernous sound and oppressive indoor heat did detract significantly from the experience.

However, like all good festivals, the best music is not on stage, it's around the campfires, and this festival was no different.  As the sun began to set and the outside temperature became tolerable, out came the instruments and the picking began.  From all-ages/all abilities slow jams, to red-hot, high-octane picking there was something for everyone.  If you have your instrument with you as you walked around--be prepared to join in and contribute a song when it's your turn.  I found these festival goers to be exceptionally open and inviting.

Overall, I found this festival well organized, affordable and fun for the whole family.  While not as large as most of the summer festivals, it is definitely worth the trip.

John P. Bayerl

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