Meadville Tribune

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January 15, 2012

Bluegrass festival to heat up winter next weekend

MEADVILLE — Its organizers have never built it a website, and they haven’t set up on any social networking sites.

In fact, it’s been about 15 years since they’ve even made some fliers to get word out.

But as always, there’s bound to be a couple of thousand or so people getting together for a weekend-long case of the Winter Blues. That’s the Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival, now in its 27th year of bringing together an array of bluegrass musicians, many of them mainstays on the regional scene. This year, more than 20 acts are set to perform, starting Friday night and continuing all weekend at Days Inn, Meadville.

Ask those in the know, though, and they’ll tell you the scheduled music is just the tip of the Winter Blues’ iceberg. Warmed up after (and often before) those acts, many musicians — in a band or not, scheduled or not — spend all night joining in jam sessions that can be heard and seen anywhere and everywhere throughout the hotel.

“It’s just true-blue music,” said festival organizer Sandy Mahoney. “The atmosphere is like an old-time family reunion — a pickin’ reunion, you might call it. ... I have a lot of people tell me this is their favorite vacation of the year.”

In that spirit, according to Mahoney, the open jam sessions are truly open: If someone’s got their door open and they’re playing, everyone’s welcome to sit in. “Everyone’s friendly,” she said. “It’s just a good time.”

And that is something Mahoney and her husband, longtime Winter Blues emcee Terry Mahoney, said they’re going to miss this year. They’re currently spending the winter months vacationing out of state, and it’s the first time ever they’ll not actually be at the festival. “We decided to do (the winter vacation) this year,” she said, and “it’s really nice. ... (But) we’ve been friends with so many of these people for so many years. That’s the hard part.”

“I know we’re going to miss it,” said Terry Mahoney. Give everyone there a “hello from the sunny south,” he added.

Sandy Mahoney still served as this year’s chief organizer, and with the help of a lot of longtime festival participants, “I think we’ve got everything covered,” she said.

In keeping with its traditions, admission to the festival remains free, but donations are welcome. And as always, all proceeds benefit Hospice of Crawford County, the local nonprofit agency that provides care and quality of life for patients at the final stage of a terminal illness.

Over the last 26 years, a total of $37,587 has been raised through the Winter Blues, according to Barb Mulligan, Hospice program director. “That’s a huge amount of money,” she said, and it “has really gone a long way” in assisting local patients and their families.

The money raised goes into a Hospice benevolent fund that helps with costs not routinely covered by insurance plans — everything from emergency plane tickets to basic daily necessities, said Mulligan.

Last year, the Mahoneys were presented a public service award by Pomona Grange for organizing Winter Blues’ and its contributions to Hospice.

That award was one way to recognize “all the work they’ve been doing over the past 26 years,” said Mulligan. “They’ve been tireless.” And for that, she added, their time away is “well-deserved.”

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