Fresh Impressions of Bean Blossom

Reprinted from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine

August 1971, Volume 6, Number 2

About the Cover:

Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt were reunited on the stage of Bean Blossom, Indiana this year, as a climax to the largest bluegrass festival ever held. It had been twenty-three years since Lester Flatt had left the Blue Grass Boys to become an artist in his own right, however the songs they sang at this reunion sounded as though they had never parted company. A great moment in the history of bluegrass (cover photo by Ron Petronko)

MONDAY 21 JUNE 1971 (BLUE MONDAY MORNING)

Monday morning. Back to work, tired but very happy … Bean Blossom, Indiana; an unlikely name for a lucky Hoosier hamlet … thousands of happy people at Bill Monroe’s Brown County Jamboree for his annual six-day bluegrass orgy …. they come by camper, motorcycle, car, and thumb. All ready and willing to be sated by hours of bluegrass. And they were! . . . just about every big name in bluegrass—middle-names too—there. Couldn’t sleep last night—and a work night at that—because there was too much to think about . . . New Zealand’s magnificent ambassadors: the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band with its fantastic gal fiddler. And those native songs of theirs! Hope somebody records these songs; but only by the Hamiltonians, of course… the hot Indiana sun pouring through the high shade trees surrounding the show area…

Tex Logan and Buck Graves

Ralph Stanley at a bridge table proudly hovering over his King and Rebel records . . . thousands of bluegrass lapel buttons for sale and sold . . . standing ovations for Bill Monroe . . . Birch Monroe behind a food stand . . . Bill Monroe telling two free-lance writers how Bean Blossom got its name (“They say somebody dropped a load of beans in a nearby creek and they blossomed”) . . . nine (count-em) fiddlers pulsating the stage with “Sally Goodin” and Bill Monroe himself leading the hand-clapping … the heart-warming feeling of the Brotherhood of Man as the Japanese lads of the “Bluegrass 45” from Kobe teach some of us a few things about our own music. They beam at the sincere applause, and dozens of autographs are signed, in Japanese, of course . . . tape recorders, cassettes and cameras everywhere . . . some of them, like the “Bluegrass 45”, made in Japan . . . the snare-drum that some think shouldn’t be there, and it isn’t, for long … a tired but happy emcee: Bill Vernon … an excellent sound system with a colorful gent Silver Spur running it . . . shows that run deliciously overtime (for the audience, anyway) … the busses of the bluegrass famous lined up like a municipal line on strike . . . dust, then mud, then dust again, but no one cares . . . the Bluegrass Alliance, a tough act to follow . . . playing reunions of the Bluegrass greats . . . Peggy Logan, standing by a tree, patiently waiting for another appearance of the Master: Bill Monroe . . . parking-lot jam-sessions . . . those Japanese geniuses mopping ’em up with a different version of the “Arkansas Traveler” in Japanese! . . . Ralph Stanley’s touching tribute to his late brother, Carter . . . lost kids, and “is there a doctor in the house?” there are: about a dozen! . . . the warm feeling to know that the music you love can unite hippies, the Establishment, kids, musicians, fans, old folk, collegians, farmers, professionals, fans, Easterners, Southerners, hawks and doves—all mankind, with love instead of conflict . . . trudging to my car all too early that Sunday night, and saying to a homeowner just outside the grounds, “I’ll bet YOU’RE glad it’s over!” “Not at all,” he smiles, “I love it!” . . . He’s lucky to live in Bean Blossom ….

BILL MONROE’S FIFTH ANNUAL BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL

Bill Monroe, Ray and Melvin Goins

(FIRST INTERNATIONAL BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL)

By Frank Overstreet

(In Kountry Korral — Sweden, used by permission)

Bill Monroe was much in evidence all through the festival and the man must possess an inexhaustible supply of energy. Monday I saw him helping to set a fence, then placing a pole in the ground for electric wires, then boarding his bus heading for a TV show in Indianapolis.

Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Norman Blake.

Judging by the number of people, the festival was a huge success. It continues to grow although the sanitary facilities were underestimated to meet the requirements for the excessive crowd. The music was really great this year. Ralph Stanley, in particular was very sharp and his group seemed much closer together with a very tight sound. Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers presented a very good program with gospel songs. Carl is now recording for Pine Tree Records and will have a new album out soon.

I thought the program organization was much better this year than last. Because of the number of stars on the show it is almost physically impossible to set through a complete show, about five hours, and see everyone. With the program, the stars and the fans knew when and what was occurring. Thanks to the Bluegrass Unlimited staff for a job well done.

Colleen Trenwith

In this reporter’s opinion the best show again was the Country Gentlemen. They always have a little silly antic to add to superb bluegrass. Bill Emerson proved to be quite a spokesman as he told the people about the Country Gentlemen’s festival as Charlie Waller hurriedly repaired a guitar string. From “Copper Kettle” to “Teach Your Children”, their show entranced the crowd from start to end. I enjoyed meeting Yvonne Lloyd, president of the Gents fan club.

The international aspect of bluegrass was brought to light at the festival this year by the presence of a New Zealand group, The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band and a Japanese one, The Bluegrass 45. They showed the audience that you don’t have to be a Kentuckian to play and enjoy bluegrass. The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band were exceptionally adept at the bluegrass standards, having learned mostly from Flatt and Scruggs and Dillards’ records. Particularly enjoyable was their adapting of an old Irish tune by their fiddler (female no less), Colleen Trenwith, wife of the leader and banjoist Paul Trenwith. Every member was very good on their instrument but their singing suffered as a result of their tenor singer losing his voice. Paul, Graham Lovejoy, mandolin; and Alan Rhodes did very well. Miles Reay is the tenor singer and bassist with the group.

Bluegrass Alliance

The Japanese group “Bluegrass 45”, (I love that name) were exceptional instrumentalists. They had some problem with the words (Have you ever tried to sing in Japanese?) but what impressed me was their knowledge of bluegrass. They jammed Friday with Bill Monroe playing with the master, note for note. They broke up the audience Saturday afternoon with their version of the Stanley’s “How Far to Little Rock” done in Japanese.

A word of thanks here is due to Mike Seeger for arranging for the New Zealanders to come here and to Dick Freeland for bringing the Japanese group and of course to Bill Monroe for putting them on stage. The international aspect of bluegrass is overwhelming and the music knows no language barriers.

Unfortunately I had to leave early Sunday morning with a sprained ankle. It’s better now and I can’t wait for the next festival. Who knows? I might break a leg next time.

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