BANJOS AT THE BLUEGRASS MUSIC FESTIVAL
One doesn’t have to be a regular music festivalgoer to enjoy the delights that the Bluegrass Music Festival has to offer. Festivals come in many forms and genres such as rock, classical, jazz, pop etc and they don’t necessarily involve mud, although I’ve heard slipping and sliding about in a quagmire can actually be quite fun. If muddy madness isn’t your cup of tea then you should give a Bluegrass Music Festival a try. Closely related to the genre of Country Music; Bluegrass has mixed roots from England, Ireland, Wales and America; with a strong influence of African-American jazz.
OUR FIRST TASTE OF BLUEGRASS
Before Lily-Belle and Matilda came along, Lynne and I had been to a few concerts but never a music festival, we had certainly never been to a Bluegrass Music Festival. Lynne is a huge fan of Country and Western singer Kenny Rogers (we attended one of his concerts in Belfast and Lynne nearly killed a security person, that’s another story in itself) but the very thought of ‘country’ would have me reaching for a Prodigy CD to enforce my loathing for ‘anything country’ in the form of music. You can only imagine my horror when Lynne announces we are heading to the 26th Annual Bluegrass Festival which is being held at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh…I was horrified to say the least. No amount of groveling was going to get me out of this one (I tried bribes as well) so off we go. Thankfully we live just a short 30 minute drive from the venue and to get ourselves (me mainly) in the mood, Lynne puts Downtown Country on the wireless, er, I mean car radio.
NOT ALWAYS PLAIN SAILING
On the approach to the Ulster American Folk Park there are cars parked the length and breadth of the road, this tells me I’m not going to get a parking space. We turn into the usual car park entrance and there’s a sign saying ‘car park full. As luck would have it, a car was pulling out of a space (spotted by eagle-eyed Lynne) and the attendant allows us to enter, perfect! No queue so we pay, obtain a bright orange wristband and enter the park. There’s a distant sound of Bluegrass Music so we follow our ears (and the signs on the fence) to the main stage area. We will cover the Ulster American Folk Park in detail in another post, but briefly, it’s a great place that tells the story of the emigrants who made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in America, sadly, many lives were lost at sea in the search for a new life.
There is a great atmosphere at the Bluegrass Music Festival! We walk past a table with an assortment of Stetsons and musical instruments. The table is sat next to, what can only be described as, an old style pop-up photo booth. Lily-Belle takes hold of a Stetson and banjo and makes her way to the booth, click, click, photos. #bluegrassomagh
A KNEE-CLAPPING-TOE-TAPPING SHINDIG
We make our way to the main stage where there’s a quartet in full swing, The Clew Bay Critters from Westport in County Mayo. Great sound from an assortment of string instruments.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
As we had never attended a Bluegrass Music Festival before, we never thought to take folding chairs, but it seems everyone else did! The main stage was busy so we manipulated a little floor space for ourselves and sat on a picnic blanket that we had taken with us. We could hire chairs for £10 per chair per day but we opted to give it a miss. The picnic mat will do us just fine…for now.
RUMBLING TUMMY IS NOT A BLUEGRASS BAND
Lynne disappears with the girls and I find myself knee-clapping and toe-tapping in time with the upbeat music coming from the stage, not at all as I had imagined, I was actually really enjoying the Bluegrass Music Festival, the atmosphere and the smell of food wafting through the marquee. My tummy is rumbling, I’m hungry!
My wife must have a sixth sense as she returns with a tub of chicken curry and rice for me, hot dogs and chips for the girls, and a rather large burger for her good self. The food at the Bluegrass Music Festival does not disappoint, the curry was amazing, personally I would have preferred it to be spicier, but I suppose the food has to be made so that everyone enjoys it, and spice isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The girls had no problem finishing their food. The Bluegrass Music Festival is in full swing, we are loving it!
TIME TO MOVE ON
Whilst sat, we read the Bluegrass Music Festival programme and realised that there are other stages at the venue. Picnic mat rolled up, children gathered and off we go. The place is packed with Stetson wearing men drinking real ale and denim clad ladies drinking Prosecco with a strawberry dropped in…there are of course lots of non-Stetson and non-denim wearing revellers at the event.
FIDDLING IN THE BARN
After a few minutes walking and taking photos, we come across a large barn, doors open and tables laid out with an assortment of violins, mandolins and fiddles. In front of the barn a small crowd has gathered as the band tune their instruments. The Bluegrass band is led by Geordie McAdam, a gentleman very well-known within the Bluegrass Music Festival circle, it would seem that he is somewhat of a legend locally. The music begins and the crowd clap and tap along in time with the music (most of them anyway). Lynne would have been content staying here for the rest of the day, but there is much more to see and do, so after a few songs we move on.
FORGET ALL YOUR TROUBLES , FORGET ALL YOUR CARES, GO DOWNTOWN
Downtown Country had a great presence at the Bluegrass Music Festival with a live setup in the reception foyer and DJ’s giving live interviews with the bands throughout the day. There was also several young ladies wearing Downtown Country jackets interacting with the public, real bubbly characters and constantly being asked to stop for photos…I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to take a snap or two, click, click, photo. #bluegrassomagh
SINGING ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY
The weather has been great so far, dry and warm, absolutely perfect for the outdoor Bluegrass Music Festival, so what do we do? Head indoors! Within the Folk Park there’s a fantastic full-scale replica ship, the Brigg Union, that was used to sail emigrants to America. You can board the ship and experience the conditions that the emigrants faced in the 1800’s as they set sail for a life in a new world America. A stage had been set up beside the ship and the band, Old Hannah, were about to sing Matterhorn. The performance felt intimate and personal. The acoustics were astonishing.
A TASTE OF THE OLD
Old Hannah finish their set and we continue our Bluegrass Music Festival journey, but not before we drop into W.G. O’Doherty’s to pick up some old-fashioned sweets, still served as 2 oz or a 1/4, what memories. The shelves are stacked with old jars and sweets from yesteryear. Lily-Belle and Matilda peer over the counter as their sweets are weighed and bagged…should keep them quiet for a while. Sweets in hand, we visit a few of the old shops before trundling off in search of more Bluegrass music…we’re hooked!
MUCH MORE THAN THE MUSIC
As we make our way back to the main stage, we can’t help but notice what a wonderful place the Ulster American Folk Park is. There are men, women and children walking around in costume to give you a sense of period authenticity. The buildings were transported to Ulster brick by brick, timber by timber all the way from America, you can read more about the buildings and History of the Ulster American Folk Park online, well worth a read.
We mosey on over to the main stage, there’s not an inch of seating space available under the marquee and there’s a few spits of rain, great! Lynne nips back to the car to lift ponchos for the girls, I stand in the queue to buy sweet Crêpes from Chez Manu. Matilda is tired and within a second or two of lifting her, she is fast asleep. Luckily Mummy returns within a matter of minutes and takes Matilda over to a picnic bench that has become available, poncho on and the rain droplets cease, brilliant.
Just to say; we have known Manu and his wonderful family for a number of years, he is French (we won’t hold it against him) and an absolute character of a man, I can stand chatting to Manu for hours and never tire of listening to his tones. The queue is long but Manu and his children, Michael and Emma, get through the orders very quickly. I opt for my usual crêpe of strawberries with nutella, as does Lynne, Lily-Belle tries the strawberries with butterscotch….and as always, all delicious. Matilda misses out…the phrase ‘you snooze you lose’ springs to mind.
FESTIVALS ARE THIRSTY WORK
Crêpes ate, we are all in need of a drink, except Matilda who is still snoring. Bogans Bar has a tent pitched with real ales, and further up the track, a trailer serving the aforementioned Prosecco. One of each purchased. For those who don’t know us, we are not drinkers, many years ago yes, Lynne and I would have partied for days on end, but you grow up, become responsible (as best as can be) parents, and life slows down. If we do take a drink, it’s normally at weddings or a glass or two of wine if we have friends over (rarely).
What on earth have I purchased? I like coffee, I like real ale (once upon a time I was an active member of CAMRA), but..in my own opinion, the two should never be mixed as a drink, ever! The ale is really dark (my preferred drink for many years was Guinness), almost treacle coloured, and it’s quite bitter on the tongue, definitely an acquired taste. Why I chose this particular drink is beyond me, there was plenty of other choices available, I’ll know better at the 2017 Annual Bluegrass Music Festival! Anyhow, I persevere until the glass is only half full (or half empty depending on your take on life) and give up, it’s not for me. Lynne is enjoying her bubbly, and Lily-Belle enjoys the strawberry once the bubbly is done, Matilda is still snoozing, again…you snooze you lose!
HOME TIME FOR US
As we sit, we are approached by a photographer, Alan, from a local newspaper. Alan also happens to take many of the school class photos in and around the Omagh area. Lily-Belle recognises him and chats to him for a while. Alan asks to take our photo! Now, I’m not really one for having my photo taken, I much prefer being behind the lens where I’m more comfortable, but we accept. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t make it in to the local newspaper, I am hoping for the latter!
Matilda has been asleep for just over 30 minutes when she wakes and demands to go home. It’s a little after 17:30, the Bluegrass Music Festival is on until late, so we offer little miss a visit to McDonald’s on the way home, which she duly accepts. On our way towards the exit we take a few photos and stop off at Downtown Country Radio in the foyer. Geordie McAdam is being interviewed by Big T (Trevor Campbell) live on the radio, see, I told you he was a local legend. What a great way to end our festival day, listening to two legends having the craic.
OUR ECLECTIC TASTE JUST ADDED A GENRE
As a family we have quite an eclectic taste in music. My musical taste is probably more eclectic than Lynne’s. I am a big fan of Oasis, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Eminem, Prodigy, One Direction (Lily-Belle and I have been to two of their concerts), Olly Murs (again, been to see him live 3 times), Nat King Cole, Elvis (The King) and a whole lot more. Lynne’s musical taste lies in Country and Western, R n B, Little Mix (and most pop), Enrique Inglesias and many more artists. Lily-Belle and Matilda love pop music, both being fans of Little Mix; they also love the Mini Disco Music from our most recent holiday in Spiaggia e Mare, Italy. It’s pretty much on shuffle and repeat in the car for every journey. Can we now add the genre Bluegrass to our musical taste? I think we can!
We have all had a great day. A touch of toe-tapping from me, Matilda danced in the aisle and both Lynne and Lily-Belle clapped along to most of the tunes today, we’ve loved every minute of the 26th Annual Bluegrass Music Festival. Looking forward to the 27th Annual Bluegrass Music Festival next year…already written in the diary. Although, I do think Mummy and Daddy will be attending on our own.
LILY-BELLE (age 8) SAYS
I did enjoy some of it but it’s quite boring for children. I don’t think I would want to go back until I am much older.
MATILDA (age 3) SAYS
The music is very louder. I like the houses, they very pretty.
Bluegrass Music Festival
BMF is annual, please visit Ulster American Folk Park to view future events
Tel: (0044) (0) 28 8224 3292
BMF entry fee: Adult £15.00, children £6.00 and under 5’s are free (family of 4 cost us £35.00, saved £1.00 on buying individual tickets)
tip: campsite available at Omagh Rugby Club, plus a shuttle bus to and from the folk park
tip tip: take a folding camping chair, seating is limited
tip tip tip: wear appropriate footwear, wellies if it’s wet
Ulster American Folk Park
Opening hours: Tues – Sat from 10:00 until 17:00 with last admission at 16:00
Pricing: Adult £7.50, children £4.50 and under 5’s are free (full price list)
information, currency and prices are correct at time of post
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All views, opinions and experiences are that of The Callaghan Possy and are correct at time of publication. Photos taken by Andrew Callaghan for use and distribution by Around The world In 18 Years.