Bluegrass festival returns to George for 13th year
In 2006, event organizers Debby and Elliot Kooy were approached with the idea of the city of George hosting a bluegrass music festival. The festival began in 2007 as a “camp ’n’ jam,” attendees were invited out to the George park for a week in September to camp, play and listen to bluegrass and have fun for a week. The original festival had no headliners and was a week-long jam session.
The festival has evolved. Hosting just about the limit of campers and multiple headlining acts, the George, Washington, Bluegrass Festival has grown into a full-blown festival.
Thirteen years later, the festival began on Monday, Sept. 16, with their Early Bird Camping; all camping was hosted by Terri Jones this year. Tuesday began and ended with a day-long jam session, reminiscent of how the festival began.
Wednesday the 18th brought another day of jamming and welcomed campers to Trinity Gardens Lavender Farm for a tour that afternoon. The tour included an optional wine-tasting. The day was closed with the “Hi & Howdy Pie & Ice Cream Social” hosted by the Kooys, with pies provided by the Georgettes.
Bright and early Thursday morning at 8 a.m., Darryl and Betty Lampinen hosted a Gospel Pancake Breakfast; the only catch is you had to “sing a gospel song or listen to one.” That afternoon George Elementary School came to the festival as a field trip where they got to be a part of or listen to an open mic on the outdoor stage. Thursday was closed with a potluck for all campers and community members attending the festival.
Friday the 20th held even more fun and music with an open mic in the afternoon and another in the evening. Headlining bands on the 20th included Beyond the Rain, Bertha & The Combinations, and Starrland Stringband.
Saturday the 21st included multiple Learn ’n’ Share workshops. The event organizers, Debby and Elliot Kooy, decided instead of having workshops led by professionals, it was more valuable for the attendees to share their knowledge with one another. The Kooys set up sanctioned areas and times in the George Community Hall for different instruments; there was a Learn ’n’ Share for bass, banjo, guitar, dobro, and fiddle, as well as a mandolin workshop led by Chris Davidson of The Weavils.
While a few of the Learn ’n’ Share sessions were going on in the Community Hall, the band Rusty Hinges gathered a group of campers while they were rehearsing. On the stage Saturday, were Kevin Pace and the Early Edition, The Weavils and Rusty Hinges.
The week wrapped up on Sunday morning with a gospel set played by the Starrland Stringband, which was promptly followed by an “Open Mic Blue Grass Gospel Jam.”
Let’s meet a couple of the bands that played on Saturday. At 3 p.m. on the outdoor stage, attendees could gather on the bleachers and in their lawn chairs to watch Kevin Pace and the Early Editions play. The band is made up of six musicians, all of which are extremely talented. Kevin Pace moved to the Spokane area to get married, and in 2010 founded this band; it has gone through a few members. Pace grew up in Georgia with a very musical family. As well as serving as the band leader, Pace plays mandolin and delivers powerful vocals. Guitar player and vocalist Josh Robertson began playing guitar at age 15, inspired by his mother, grandfather, and famous bluegrass guitarists Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson. Robertson and Pace jammed a few times, the band eventually evolved, they found their original banjo and fiddle players, and that is when bassist Jim Adams comes in. Adams knew the original fiddle and banjo players and had been wanting to get back into playing bass more often, so he talked to them and the next thing he knew he was a member of Kevin Pace and the Early Editions. Banjo player Kaleb Dion is only 16 and already composing his own music after playing banjo for only three years. The band played a composition written by Dion on Saturday, for which he received much applause. Dion began playing with Kevin Pace and his band after Pace saw him playing at a showcase in Spokane. Mandolin player and vocalist Maggie Ruffcorn was found by Pace the same way Dion was, playing at a showcase in Spokane. Ruffcorn has been singing since she was a little girl. She took voice lessons for eight years and is currently studying music and communications at Whitworth University in Spokane. Ashley Dreyer, a fiddle player, is the most recent addition to the band. She was friends with Kevin Pace on Facebook and was eventually invited to come jam with Pace and then invited to join the band. In 2012, Dreyer competed in her first fiddle competition and placed second to last. This failure pushed her to commit a great amount of time to perfecting her craft and is now a very successful player, even having won multiple contests.
Kevin Pace and the Early Editions played a set of classic bluegrass tunes as well as a couple of original compositions. The band gathered a small yet highly enthusiastic crowd.
Attendees of the George, Washington, Bluegrass Festival had the treat of watching The Weavils on the outdoor stage at 4 p.m. After a sound check full of jokes, they were introduced by emcee Betty Lampinen. The Weavils consists of seven musicians: banjo and ukelele player Greg Lawless; mandolin player and vocalist Chris Davidson; dobro, harmonica and guitar player Mark Myers; bassist Mike Karbowski; guitarist or bassist (he plays whatever the band needs) Gray Pederson; guitarist Pete Thorn, and finally Dave Grout on vocals and washboard. The members of The Weavils come from all different backgrounds, from a lawyer named Lawless, to a marine biologist.
The band played a set of iconic bluegrass songs, from artists including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, as well as a song written by their very own Chris Davidson. Much like Kevin Pace and the Early Editions, The Weavils gathered a small, enthusiastic crowd with their wonderful music and jokes in between songs.
The Weavils upon forming decided they needed a good solid name that would carry them to stardom … so like The Beatles they misspelt the name of an insect and hoped for the best. The only thing they are missing is some bowl cuts and British accents.
The Weavils sold CDs, from which they generously donated the funds to the George Community Hall so George can support another festival next year. Every year the festival is funded by donations from the previous year’s festival. If you attend, it’s important to drop anything you can in the box so the bluegrass community can continue to spread its music in our area.
After years of claiming to be allergic to country music, Debby Kooy and her husband Elliot absorbed the music and picked up instruments of their own; Debby picked up the rhythm guitar, and Elliot picked up the banjo. The Kooys urge everyone to attend next September for the 14th annual George, Washington, Bluegrass Festival; even if you don’t think you like Bluegrass, come on out and give it a shot. The festival is a good time for everyone who attends, Debby says.
Even if you are absolutely sure bluegrass is not your thing, George hosts “The First Friday Jam” on the first Friday of every month. Musicians of all skill levels are invited to come out to the George Community Hall with their instruments and play along with all the other musicians. George also hosts the Coffeehouse Concert Series that takes place from October to April. This concert series welcomes families to come and listen to bands from all over the Pacific Northwest for a $5 admission. You can check out the George Community Hall website under “music” for dates.
By Reese Olivia, For the Post-Register