Meadville Tribune

January 18, 2014

Bluegrass Festival musicians play on with heavy hearts following co-founder Brown's recent passing

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — “He would be excited — so very, very excited the trio was continuing,” Heather Brown said after stepping off the small musical stage on Friday night at the Days Inn at the 29th annual Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival.

Brown was referring to her late father, John Brown, who died Jan. 6. The elder Brown was a minister, a bluegrass musician and one of the founders of both the Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival and Hospice of Crawford County.

Hospice provides a support system for those in the last stages of terminal illness as well as their families. The bluegrass music festival serves as a fundraiser for Hospice of Crawford County’s benevolent fund.

Music Therapy was a bluegrass trio started in the late 1980s with John and Martha Brown and their daughter, Heather Brown.

The group now is Heather Brown, her husband, Joe Shade, and their son, Mason Brown, 16. Music Therapy kicked off the 29th annual festival.

“It’s what he would have wanted,” Mason Brown said of his grandfather. “He wanted us to go out and play.”

Barb Mulligan, a social worker who is a staff member with Hospice of Crawford County, worked with the elder Brown, who served for many years as its chief executive officer.

“He was our godfather, our spiritual leader,” Mulligan said of Brown. “He really is the father of Hospice of Crawford County and the founder of this festival. That’s how we see him. His music still lives on and his legacy lives on.”

“Without John, there wouldn’t be a festival,” said Mike Berry, a bluegrass musician who has taken over arranging the bands the last three years. “You have all these good musicians in one place. We’ve had some people coming for 20 years.”

The festival started with four bands at the Woodcock Township Building with Brown, Sandy and Denny Emig, and Howard Wells as the founders. Growing attendance meant a larger venue was needed for the festival. The event moved to the Days Inn just outside of Meadville after Brown approached the manager of the motel and promised that if he was willing to take on the festival, it would grow to fill the Days Inn within two years.

This year’s festival continues to be free and open to the public with more than 20 bands performing this weekend.

It raises funds for Hospice through three 50/50 raffles throughout the weekend. There will also be three handmade quilts that will be raffled off. The event has raised about $38,000 since its inception with the money going directly to Hospice patients and their families.

You can go

The 29th annual Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival continues today and Sunday at the Days Inn, 18360 Conneaut Lake Road. The free event features more than 20 bands playing throughout the weekend. Today’s music is from 1 to 11 p.m. Sunday will feature gospel music from 10 a.m. to noon. The festival benefits the Hospice of Crawford County benevolent fund.