Jammin’ in Little Egypt

By Gus Bode

Factoid:Interested in becoming a member of the Great Rivers Bluegrass Music Association? Contact Zac Caldwell at 618-747-2655 or fill out a membership form at the Stringbenders Bluegrass Festival.

James Goff is your typical die-hard bluegrass nut.

And this weekend he and his family will join hundreds of bluegrass fans and a dozen professional bluegrass groups at the Stringbenders Bluegrass Festival at Fort Defiance Park in Cairo.

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“There’s a lot of bluegrass bands that come from all around,” Goff said. “Lots of good talent and good music.”

The fifth-annual event brings musical talents from Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee out for the three-day camp-out celebration.

Zac Caldwell, president of the Great Rivers Bluegrass Music Association said as many as 500 people pack up their tents and camper trailers and travel to the furthest southern point in Illinois. They come out to enjoy a weekend filled with good music, a good atmosphere and a chance to get back to nature by camping out under the stars.

“The view [at Fort Defiance Park] is great,” Caldwell said. “The rivers are really nice too. People can go down to the water and put one foot in the Ohio and one in the Mississippi [rivers].”

Caldwell said some people come out as early as Monday and camp the whole week in anticipation for the coming celebration.

Even those who manage to come out a day early are rewarded with a potluck dinner Thursday night before the music starts at noon Friday with an open mic for patrons to show their stuff. Everyone is encouraged to bring a dish to pass.

The music of bands such as Shady Mix, String Circle and Jimmy Adams can be heard until 10 p.m. Friday. Similar bands such as Meremac Jets and Half Day Bluegrass Band will be among the six to play Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.

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Goff’s son and daughter, Don and Sandra, are members of String Circle and have played in past years. Norma, Goff’s wife, comes with him each year as well, and they spend the weekend living out of their camper.

After 15 years of bluegrass festivals, Goff said he really looks forward to not only the peaceful drug-free and alcohol-free environment at the Stringbenders Festival, but also the gospel bluegrass music Sunday morning. The non-denominational worship takes place at 10 a.m. with an open stage for guests or bands to celebrate their faith through music.

“This is about as clean a festival as you can get,” Goff said. “There’s no alcohol or drugs like other ones might have.”

Caldwell said this year’s entertainment might be a little different from that in the past because of some cost cuts.

In previous years, performers such as J.D. Crow would be paid up to $4,000 for playing, but now they are being paid a maximum of $300 per day, so the nationally known groups are not as abundant as they used to be.

“We spent a lot of big money in the past, and basically we’re just trying to recoup some of that and raise a little money,” Caldwell said. “But we’re still going to have some champion musicians and a lot of fine pickers there, even though we’re not having the big names.”

Ticket prices at this year’s event are $20 for a weekend pass and $10 daily, while children under 12 get in free.

Caldwell said this weekend should see a fairly large crowd since bluegrass music has been increasing in popularity with the help of main-stream movies such as “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“More and more people are being made aware of bluegrass music,” he said. “The love of the music brings people out here – it’s that simple.”

Reporter Brian Peach can be reached at [email protected]

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