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Review and Photos: Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival

By Leon Hontz | Reviews, Shows

Photos by Miranda Hontz

On Saturday afternoon, we arrived at Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival, where the strumming of guitars and mandolins mingled with the steady swish of oars from kayakers that lazily drifted in the shadow of RFK stadium. Dogs tugged owners along, parents chased after children, and occasionally people sat to enjoy talented musicians in the beautiful setting.

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As I entered the festival grounds, The Blue Plains were performing for a small audience in a nestling of rocks and peat along the water’s edge, and I was taken aback by how idyllic it all felt. The overcast day, with its chill and sporadic rain, seemed to cast the world in somber grays and deep greens permeating a mellowness that was always on the periphery Saturday.

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Competing with this mellowness were the throngs of people doing what they do best at festivals: aggressively pursuing their idea of a good time, whatever it may be (dancing, playing, eating, making music, getting messed up).

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Flowing through the festival was an extremely rich experience. Lurking behind every turn was another stage where you could sit and take in an act or a scenic place to enjoy a meal away from the hustle of the crowds.

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The main stages were circled by a ring of food trucks, where smells of a hundred different cuisines blended in that odd mix of sickening and appetizing that seemed to hang heavy in the haze. People packed densely among the aromas, where couples could be found sharing intimate dances while children play-fought behind them, or you could take hula hoop classes if you were feeling brave.

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For me, the people were the highlight of the festival. Whether it was running into friends, watching children sing and dance as their parents looked on warmly, or being reminded how music seems to bring out unshakeable joy in so many of us as we jumped and hollered by the stage, I found my company extremely rewarding.

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There were also enough dogs to spare; I was lucky enough to spend the first half of the day walking one friend’s pup around and the second half dancing like a fool with another’s strapped to my chest.

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Something I also found rich and endearing about Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival was how much the musicians seemed a part of the experience. Everywhere you looked, there was a band warming up, someone sharing an instrument or a group of people clustered around each other playing. Children wailed on drums and even found their way on stage, and occasionally you’d have to maneuver around back-strapped guitars or the odd upright bass that made their way into the crowd in order to get a better view of the stage.

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After all, this was a music festival, and local bands like Bearcat Wildcat, The Plate Scrapers, Jonny Grave, The Torches, and Spirit Family Reunion were just some of the many many talented acts present.

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Kingman Island wasn’t perfect. You still came across the random idiots that seem to forget that being at a music festival doesn’t mean that you become completely anonymous to the world. The asshole with the stage-obscuring novelty hat could be sighted, usually in close proximity to the guy that is too intoxicated to speak or stand but is somehow bulldozing through the crowd in search for more booze, leaving a sea of angry or concerned people in his wake.

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The event organizers were complicit in some of the worst behavior, making the completely unnecessary decision to allow cigars to be sold at the festival. This entitled douchebags across the park to billow giant plumes of smoke into the crowd as they enjoyed a quarter of their cigar before tossing the rest onto the ground of Living Classrooms. 

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All things considered, Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival was an excellent time, where people cut loose, listened to great music in a great setting, and hopefully raised some money for a good cause.

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As I shook my ass to The Woodshedders’ version of “Fool in the Rain,” dog strapped to my chest, all I kept thinking was how much fun the day had been. Despite the rain and the cigar smoke and stupid hats, me, the kids, the dogs and the Millennials and the Gen-Xers who like to feel cool by hanging around Millennials, were still enjoying ourselves and that, in the end, is a good thing. Here’s to year eight.

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