Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival

This weekend's 35th annual Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival takes place at Hotel Conneaut for the third consecutive year.

Historic structures, hospice care and quilts may not be concepts typically associated with music concerts, but all of those factors will combine together this weekend as the Winter Blues Bluegrass Festival marks its return Friday.

In its 35th year, the festival benefits the Hospice of Crawford County. According to Barb Mulligan, a social worker and volunteer coordinator at the hospice, the festival attracts several thousand people every year.

Previously held at the Days Inn on Conneaut Lake Road, the Hotel Conneaut first began hosting the festival in 2018. Mulligan said the new venue provides plenty of ideal qualities, including multiple lounges that allow up to three bands to be playing at once.

"We needed a place that was big, and of course we wanted to keep it in Crawford County," Mulligan said of the choice of location.

Though some heavy snow storms made attendance at the festival last year smaller than normal, Mulligan is hopeful better weather this weekend will allow more people to enjoy the festival.

With more than a dozen bands performing, there will be plenty of tunes going around. This will include some new groups to the festival, such as Mountain Harmony, Homegrown Grass and East of Enon, as well as several returning favorites.

"I'm thinking about two-thirds of these people have been doing this for 20 years," Mulligan said.

Many of the returning performers do so out of gratitude for the hospice. According to Mulligan, several of the people who play at the festival have had relatives or friends go through hospice care.

"Many of them have their own stories of courage and support the hospice has given them," Mulligan said.

While a reoccurring part of the bluegrass festival, Matt Efaw will wear a new hat this year as the event's master of ceremonies. He will take over for Mike Berry, who has been involved with the festival for several years.

Efaw regularly performs at the bluegrass festival with his band Rural Free Delivery and will do so again this year. His decision to take on the job of MC was one born out of a sense of tradition. Efaw said he has been part of the festival for around 15 years and stressed the close-knit nature of the musicians involved.

"The bluegrass community is a family, and we all work together for the same cause," he said.

Efaw spoke positively about the move to the Hotel Conneaut, saying it's a "blast" to play in a historic building.

Admission to the festival is free and open to people of all ages. Raffles for quilts and 50/50 drawings are performed to benefit the Hospice of Crawford County Benevolent Fund. T-shirt sales commemorating the event also benefit the hospice.

The Benevolent Fund, according to Mulligan, is used to buy things not covered by insurance for hospice patients. This includes things like gas cards and food, and every dollar raised at the festival goes toward the fund.

Each quilt offered through the raffle has a different design and was made by a different group. One of the quilts was made by the Sisters in Christ Mission and Community Service of Linesville in memory of one of their deceased members, Shirley Love.

The quilt is built off squares started by Love years ago, with the different group members contributing in different ways.

Another of the quilts was made by Martha DuPont, Joan Seely and Linda McNamara from the Cochranton area. They have contributed a quilt to the festival consistently for around 10 years after DuPont and Seely visited the festival.

According to Seely, the festival had only a single quilt the year they visited, one which, in her opinion, looked fairly plain.

"Martha and I decided, 'We can do better than that,'" Seely said.

The group is also hoping to help out the hospice in anyway it can. Seely said her mother went through hospice care, while DuPont's son was also tended to in a hospice, so the two know the impact such organizations can have on people.

"We feel it's a very good organization," Seely said. "They do a lot of good for people, so we are willing to support it."

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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