Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the world's first-ever bluegrass festival.
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Martha Hills and Donald DePoy
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Bluegrass festival flyer from 1961
On July 4, 1961 at Oak Leaf Park in Luray, the world saw its very first bluegrass festival—a one-day show featuring the Stanley Brothers, Bill Clifton & The Dixie Mountain Boys, Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys and others. That festival was the spark for the thousands of bluegrass festivals that take place around the world nowadays, and this year the Shenandoah Valley Mountain Music Makers Association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of that seminal event by presenting the Oak Leaf Bluegrass & Mountain Music Festival on July 2, 3 & 4 at Luray Caverns and Luray Valley Museum.
“We want to encourage people to come together and make music,” says the festival’s organizer, Donald DePoy—founder of the Shenandoah Valley Mountain Music Makers Association and the Shenandoah Music Trail. On one main stage and in two smaller performance spaces, the festival will showcase mountain music from the Valley including bluegrass, old-time string band, traditional country, gospel, Piedmont blues and folk music. Luthiers, music vendors and instrument makers from the region will set up shop, and hands-on instrument and vocal workshops will take place as part of the three-day event that will also feature Shenandoah Valley beer and wine tastings and 17th-and-18th-century arts and crafts activities. The event also promises 24-hour jamming. “I think we should value this art as something that’s worthy and something that should be celebrated,” adds DePoy, a fifth generation Appalachian musician and sociology professor originally from Harrisonburg who performs with his wife, Martha Hills, as Me & Martha.
That’s one reason why, when he moved back to Virginia in 2007 after being away for 30 years teaching and making music, he spearheaded the effort to create the Shenandoah Music Trail, which was established in 2008 and links together musical venues and historical trail stops across 14 counties. And it’s why, today, he is organizing the Oak Leaf Bluegrass & Mountain Music Festival. Without the help of big sponsorships or paid staff, an all-volunteer committee of about 20 is producing the event. Why do this? Says DePoy: “The music speaks for itself.”