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January 18, 2014

Informal attitude pervades annual Bluegrass Festival

VERNON TOWNSHIP — It’s only 6:30 p.m., the stage acts have just begun, and it’s already barely possible to find a parking spot at the Days Inn on Friday during the first night of the Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival. Walk inside, and a man at the door greets you wearing a T-shirt that says “We’ve found the doomsday weapons. They’re here!” This informal attitude pervades the entire festival.

Beyond the lobby, there’s a large room, with a small stage and seating for about 180 people. The room was almost packed, and there’s people sitting in the hallway outside, singing along to the band playing “Country Roads” inside.

“(Today), it’ll really be packed, no place to sit down inside,” said Max Bolden, 72, of Frenchtown. He comes to the Days Inn every year and stays for the weekend. But it’s not just about the main stage.

“I’ve got friends who are musicians who come down from Ohio and West Virginia,” Bolden said. “They just stay in their rooms and jam. There’ll be people playing in all the rooms. ... You’re welcome to walk inside and listen to them.”

In the hallways, most of the rooms are closed, but there is a constant stream of people coming in, most of them carrying instruments. Of the rooms that are open, about half are small groups of people quietly conversing, and the other half are full of people playing guitars, bass, fiddles and other string instruments filling the hallway with music.

“These people are really open,” said Peggy Serotko of Newton Falls, Ohio. “Just walk in, picking at a guitar or something, it doesn’t matter how good you are, they’ll let you join in.”

Serotko has been coming to the Bluegrass Festival since it began. Serotko just turned 59 on Thursday, and “A lot of the people who come here have birthdays this weekend, so this is sort of our celebration.”

People call out greetings to each other as they make their way to the main room. In a hallway corner on the second floor, what seems like a family band in formal dress is doing last-minute rehearsals for their performance on the main stage.

“Is anyone keeping track of the time?” a tall man wearing a black jacket, tie and black brimmed hat calls out.

While the festival includes mostly middle-aged musicians, there are a few young people playing mandolins and fiddles. “Us old folks are dying off,” Serotko said. “We need the new generation to step up and keep it going. We need some young blood.”

Jules Roberts of Titusville is carrying in a bass to his room. He’s tired after a full day of work, and he’s keeping the door closed for a while. Once the rest of his band gets here, though, “We’ll be playing in the room until two or three in the morning. (Today), too, but most of them aren’t gonna get up until 10 or 11 (a.m.)”

The place feels as if a party is just getting started — and things are only going to get bigger and brighter over the next two days.

Anton Kotelyanskii is an Allegheny College student majoring in political science and computer science with an interest in journalism.

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