Just two weeks ago, the Hood River County Fairgrounds were alive with sheep and horses, and the air was filled with bleats and whinnies.
But last weekend, the Mt. Hood Bluegrass Festival packed the area with guitars, banjos and a truly different kind of harmony.
From Friday to Sunday, local and national acts alike took to the stage in addition to open mic performances, a kids clinic with Chick Rose, and plenty of strumming and picking long into the night.
“The success of the event was because of a community of bands, and the people at the fairgrounds who made things come together,” said festival director Krista Maerz, who organized the event with her husband, Karl. “We will definitely do this again next year, the third weekend in August.”
The first-year event received key funding from Budweiser, Safeway and the Oregon Bluegrass Association, and was staffed entirely by volunteers.
“Krista worked very closely with the Hood River fairgrounds,” said volunteer Leslie Darland of Dallas. “They’re been absolutely wonderful and efficient, and have made our job a lot easier.”
Before the festival, Maerz donated $200 to the fairgrounds to help sponsor the fair’s first talent competition.
“We wanted to involve the community,” she said.
Maerz also credited the Ring Kings car club, which handled campground security, and the Special Olympics volunteers who provided an all-you-can-eat breakfast. Other food vendors included the Hood River Fire Department, Conestoga Concessions, Scott Wilson, FudgeAndNuts.com and Kettle Corn. Robert Gee Violins, Don’s Tiles, and Cups and Rainbow Garden also set up booths at the fairgrounds.
Maerz estimated that around 200-300 people camped out at the fairgrounds during the festival, and another 200-300 locals stopped by to hear the music.
“I was pretty disappointed in the local turnout,” said Maerz. “I’d like to do a better job getting the word out — this is such a fun, family-oriented event.”
Dan and Heidi Tilden of Portland came out Sunday morning for the free performances.
“The price was right!” said Heidi, who has a sister in Hood River. “I thought they had a good lineup for their first year. It was tough to get a schedule, though.”
“Of course, that’s bluegrass for you,” said Dan. “We like the schedule, or lack thereof. And the setting here is great!”
The couple sat on the grass watching kids from Rose’s clinic perform on the main stage to wrap up the weekend’s events. The performance included an energetic rendition of Creedence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” sung by a pair of adolescent girls accompanied by Rose on guitar.
Some students in the clinic had never touched a bluegrass instrument before, but the group was given instruction suited to their varying skill levels, and everyone who participated in the four-hour clinic was able to play something by the time the performance rolled around.
Next year, Maerz hopes to organize more local sponsorship and boost attendance, while preserving the event’s intimate atmosphere.
“We’d also like to be more involved in the fair’s talent contest — maybe the winners could play again on our stage for more exposure,” she said. “We’d also like to be held in conjunction with another community event that feeds off this one.”
What that event might be isn’t known, but Maerz is certain that she has a good thing going with the Mt. Hood Bluegrass Festival.
“It’s a super cross-generational activity!” said Darland. “People have been very impressed.”