It has been quite a year for the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival (OIBF). From the last performance of the 2018 festival to the start of this year’s full lineup of Bluegrass notables, things have been alternately horrific and glorious. They say that a thing must die in order to be reborn, and that is pretty much what has transpired over the past year for everything connected with OIBF.
On the evening of October 6, 2018 the incredible Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel took to the stage. His performance was highly anticipated by the entire gathered crowd. The weather had been “interesting” as Oklahoma weather is, but everyone was game to stick it out if it meant that we would be blessed with the magical skills presented by Emmanuel. The lightening could be seen in the distance, the winds kicked up, rain was imminent, and perhaps there was some conversation of tornadoes…not saying there wasn’t… From my vantage point just in front of the stage I could discern the conversations that were taking place with Byron Berline, Emanuel, and safety officials at regular intervals. The prudent thing would be to shut down right away, but Emmanuel wouldn’t hear of it. He convinced festival founder Byron Berline to play with him. He played another number. Finally, the word came that it was getting too dangerous for the audience to stay out unprotected. There was just enough time for everyone to get to safety before the big time weather rolls over us. And that is how 2018 OIBF ended; grudgingly yielding to the elements.
We might expect that disappointment and a bit of frustration over having the headliner’s set cut short would quash some enthusiasm, but that just wasn’t what was happening. Going to “Bluegrass” is a pilgrimage. The folks who come from year to year are family, and just like in a family everyone has their own role to play. Some come to the campgrounds and set up a full week early and never even make it to the main stage, some come to hone their skills at the feet of some of the most talented musicians in the world, some come to join in with the various other musicians who set up “camps” throughout the grounds and will jam all night long, and some will come to bask in the sounds that come from lifetimes of instruments and musicians.
Lifelong friendships are formed over the sacrament of music. And that is just what music is, a true sacrament; bringing renewal and cleansing to everyone who shares in it. This year healing will be especially sought, as most of the people who are close to the event are still reeling from the ruinous fire that desecrated the buildings that housed the OIBF office and was an iconic representation of the role that music, particularly Bluegrass music, plays in their lives.
Despite the setback, the OIBF board of directors has persevered and this week Bluegrass will be back - on time - and with all of the spectacular entertainment that you have come to expect!
OIBF Coordinator, Tom Webb, said, “Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear the music of our American Heritage performed by wonderfully talented musicians in the perfect setting of the Cottonwood Flats Park of Historic Guthrie, Oklahoma!” And if Tom says it’s all good, then it is!
Berline shared that, “All of the records were destroyed, but none that couldn’t be replaced, although there was some memorabilia and stuff that was lost. You can’t replace that.”
With twenty-one performers in the lineup this year, it should be easy to find just the sounds that you are longing for. The variety and quality of each of these groups or individuals is stellar as always, having been contacted by the master himself, Byron Berline.
The lineup this year is pretty much a list of musician’s musicians. Included are perennial favorites from Japan, The Blueside of Lonesome, as well as a wealth of local and national talent. Find the updated list of performers on the website at www.OIBF.com/artists.
Headlining is Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper; maybe not a household name like Vince, Willie, or Nickel Creek, but in Bluegrass circles they are the cream of the crop! Having picked up a violin at 4, Cleveland has never been diverted from his desire to play Bluegrass. By the time he was 9 he was asked to sit in with the legendary Bill Monroe and was playing at The Grand Ole Opry shortly thereafter. The International Bluegrass Music Association had him picked for the Bluegrass Youth Allstars before turning 14 and has since awarded him more Fiddle Player of the Year awards than anyone else at 11. In 2018 he was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. With his band; Josh Richards (guitar), Nathan Livers (mandolin), Jasiah Shrode (banjo) and Tyler Griffith (bass) he performs at events and venues all over the country.
“He plays fearless and it’s intoxicating to play with him because he makes you play fearless,” says Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill. “He takes no prisoners but he plays with a restraint and a soul. He plays without abandon.” When you make your way to the stage area for this concert you won’t be wondering who he is, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t heard of him before!
And so we walk confidently into another October weekend of Bluegrass this year, missing what has passed, grateful for what remains strong, and with the anticipation of what is to come. Come and join in, Guthrie! Take advantage of yet another slice of the awesomness pie that is Your Town!
“A lot of people would say (after the fire), ‘Well are you still going to do the festival?’ and I say, ‘Of Course!’ I think maybe they think that it might be such a distraction…I mean, hey! That thing is going to go on whether I’m here or not! Hopefully it will continue to go on many years after we are all gone,” said Berline.
We are right there with you, Byron. The Music Never Dies.