Today, Bluegrass and Folk Music Festivals are extremely popular scenes, and draw both large audiences and important exposure for musicians. However, the idea of having a festival for bluegrass music was not always popular, and was in some places actively resisted. When Bluegrass was emerging onto the national stage, most bluegrass performances occurred at recording studios, performance houses, and local small gatherings. Bluegrass music was played mostly over the radio, at church or social gatherings, and occasionally in jams or practice when traveling musicians passed through. Bluegrass concerts in the 30’s and 40’s were the main source if interaction with the musicians for the audience, in family friendly environments.
It wouldn’t be until the 60’s and 70’s, and the help of the hippie/rural revival that bluegrass would enter the festival scene. With the revival of interest in folk and bluegrass music, younger audiences and musicians wanted to have their own opportunity to get their music to the audience. However, without a recording studio or an appointment for radio, this was extremely difficult. The first bluegrass festival at Fincastle, VA was little more than a stage and a field to camp, with musicians, bands and listeners appearing out of the woodwork. camp circles formed and impromptu jam sessions were carrying on at all hours.
As stated in Robert Gardner’s “The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Life”, many listeners found their way to these festivals through friends, word of mouth, and exposure generated by other bands and genres, such as the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. On the west coast, festivals were far more focused on the younger generation, with hippies and progressive musicians being the norm. “Traditional” bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe often were skeptic of these festivals, and usually only played organized, family friendly shows. At the end of the day, these festivals gave emerging artists and the genre as a whole important exposure on a national scale, that has allowed bluegrass to expand even over seas as an important cultural product of the U.S.