July 15, 2003

Bluegrass festival kicks off in Columbia County

By John W. Barry
Poughkeepsie Journal

One camper explained with a smile that her tent took on 8 inches of rain during an overnight storm.

A fellow concert-goer hauled an industrial-sized stove on wheels while discussing the 40 pounds of beef tenderloin he planned to cook for himself and friends.

And a couple were married in a wedding ceremony that plastered medieval costumes against a backdrop of bluegrass.

Meet some of the stars of ''Bluegrass Journey,'' a video documentary that uses for its setting the 2000 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival held annually in Ancramdale, Columbia County. Also featured in the film is the 2000 edition of an annual convention staged by the International Bluegrass Music Association in Louisville, Ky.

The nameless concert-goers featured in ''Bluegrass Journey'' provide as much character and color to this film as the musical legends who perform on the Grey Fox stage and grant interviews to husband-and-wife filmmakers Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer of Livingston, Columbia County.

Featured at fest

The film will be shown nightly at this year's Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, formerly Winterhawk, which kicks off Wednesday night for those who are camping, opens to the public on Thursday and concludes Sunday.

The film explores the psyche of the bluegrass fan and will likely tug on the heartstrings of anyone who has previously attended Grey Fox. It offers priceless performance footage and thoughtful interviews with the patriarch and members of the Del McCoury Band, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile of Nickel Creek and many others. One of the highlights, toward the end of the 86-minute film, is an instrumental performance performed by guitar legend Tony Rice.

Don't worry if you don't recognize any of these names. ''Bluegrass Journey'' introduces the viewer to each personality in particular and the contemporary bluegrass movement in general in a way that will likely endear the novice, but provide enough depth to maintain the interest of bluegrass diehards.

''I think anything that promotes the music and gets the message out has to be good,'' said Lynn Lipton of the City of Poughkeepsie, who has attended Grey Fox countless times, plays the fiddle and is a member of the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association. ''This kind of music is really music of and from and by the people. But I think there are a lot of people who haven't been exposed to it, and this is our heritage.''

While working as a producer at ABC News in 1994, Oxenberg was coordinating her marriage to Schumer and looking to book a bluegrass band when she learned about Grey Fox. She called up the festival organizers in search of a band and received a list of musicians -- including the Del McCoury Band -- who were likely candidates to perform at her nuptials.

In the process of learning about Grey Fox, Oxenberg became hooked on bluegrass from the viewpoint of both a fan and a journalist and interested in Grey Fox as a Hudson Valley resident, attending her first festival in 1995.

''I had no idea that right here in our backyard was the premier bluegrass festival in the Northeast and one of the best in the country,'' said Oxenberg, who was raised in Manhattan and grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead.

Oxenberg's interest in bluegrass led her to suggest and work on three bluegrass-related news pieces for ABC's ''World News Tonight.'' She met many big names working on the first project and eventually she and Schumer envisioned a full-length documentary featuring many of the same performers, which after seven years is finished and, in addition to this week at Grey Fox, will be shown at the Woodstock Film Festival in September and will play in the fall at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck.

If you go
What -- 2003 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, featuring Dry Branch Fire Squad, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sam Bush Band, Peter Rowan's Texas Trio with Tony Rice, Del McCoury Band and many others.
When -- Thursday-Sunday.
Where -- Rothvoss Farm, E. Ancram Road, Ancramdale.
Tickets -- Single day tickets: Thursday, $35; Friday, $40; Saturday, $45; Sunday, $15. Full festival camping, $120.
Information -- Call (888) 946-8495 or visit www.greyfoxbluegrass.com .