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Bluegrass Festival back for its 19th encore
The 19th Olalla Bluegrass (& beyond) Festival is an event that came dangerously close to not even happening.
“My impression is that it was dead in the water,” said festival chairman Larry Davis. “The people who were staging the festival before had pretty much reached the point where they either couldn’t or didn’t want to keep it up, and there was a time there where we were really unsure whether or not there would be another Olalla Bluegrass Festival.”
Created in 1991 as a fundraiser for the Olalla Community Hall, the historic building that has served as the social heart of this tiny rural community for over a century, Davis describes the event as the brainchild of Marty Kellogg, Olalla Community Club president.
“A group of us were brainstorming about how to raise money to bring it back to life,” Kellogg recalled. “Someone said ‘Let’s have a bluegrass festival...’ and it just grew from there.”
Funds from the festival have provided a new well, a new kitchen and even a new roof for the hall.
“We also support the PTA, scouts, local food banks and food drives and high school music programs in South Kitsap and Gig Harbor,” Kellogg said.
By last November, however, Kellogg conceded, “I’ve been the chairman for a long, long time, but I’ve got to take a backseat and let someone else lead now.”
Enter Davis, who describes his former involvement as “supporter and usher.
“I just said, ‘I can do this,’” he said. “I knew I could coordinate an event like this and see the big picture.
“Most importantly,” Davis said, “I really care about this festival.”
Together with a team of around 15 mostly new volunteers, Davis said the event is in the process of being reinvented.
“This year, we’re all about just keeping things going,” he said. “But next year, we’re hoping you start seeing some really incredible changes.”
The biggest would be growing from a one-day festival to a weekend-long total immersion in the bluegrass experience.
“We draw between 1,400 and 2,000 guests every year,” Davis said. “But there’s no reason we can’t do a lot better than that. The Olalla Bluegrass Festival is a real gem and it has the potential to be so much more. For viability and sustainability, the event needs to take the foundation it already has and build on it.”
Davis said he’d like to see at least 5,000 attendees — and a lot more entertainment.
“In addition to multiple days, I think we need multiple stages,” he said. “At a minimum, we need one stage featuring traditional bluegrass music, with another featuring more contemporary groups. We could also have another stage for the kids.”
Even with all the changes, Davis insists the event would stay in its traditional home at the South Kitsap Little League Field.
“First of all, I really believe this facility could handle the increase,” he said. “Second of all, no matter what you did, it’s crucial that you don’t lose the community feel of this event and go corporate. That would kill it faster than anything.”
As always, this year’s festival will feature a full day of good family fun, berry pies and music from seven of the region’s most popular acoustic bands.
This year’s lineup includes a couple of familiar faces, plus some new names.
In addition to the music, the festival will feature food and crafts booths, old-time crafts demonstrations, a display of antique tractors and lots of activities for youngsters.
Also, the event will feature the always-popular berry pie competition, which celebrates Olalla’s heritage as a “place of many berries” and awards the lucky bidder with “the finest homemade berry pie in all the land” in the pie auction. (For pie contest details, visit olallabluegrass.com)
Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids and seniors.
A family pass is $35. There’s a $2 charge for parking, collected by the Little League.
Limited camping space is available at the festival site for $10 a night.
The festival is sponsored by the nonprofit Olalla Community Club and Olalla Grange No. 1125, with support from the South Kitsap Southern Little League, Copy It Mail it, Water to Wine / Morso Wine Bar.
11 a.m. — The Blackberry Bushes String Band, from Olympia: www.theblackberrybushes.com
noon — Eclectic Cloggers, kicking the city off their shoes for their 19th consecutive Olalla appearance: http://eclecticcloggers.org
12:45 p.m. — Berry pie auction
1 p.m. — Northern Departure, from Brier, a dazzlingly talented young band with a fearless, modern take on bluegrass traditionals: http://northerndeparture.com/
2 — p.m. Opal Creek, from Eugene, Ore.: http://opalcreekgirls.com/
3 p.m. — Runaway Train, from Seattle/Tacoma; back by popular demand — barreling down the tracks at full steam: http://runawaytrainbluegrass.com/index.html
4 p.m. — Ramsey, Collins & Nicholson, from Olympia/Silverdale; long-time festival favorites that can change genres quicker than other bands change socks: http://www.ramseyandcollins.net/html/home-a.html
5 p.m. — Prairie Flyer, from Spokane; One of the finest bands in the entire northwest. http://www.prairieflyer.com/index.php
7 p.m. — The Paperboys!, from Vancouver, B.C.: http://paperboys.com/
If you go
• What: The 19th-ever Olalla Bluegrass (& beyond) Festival
• When: August 21, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Where: South Kitsap Little League Field on Olalla Valley Road
• How much: $12-$8; $35 family pass. Parking $2. Camping $10 (no hookups).
• Contact: (253) 857-5604 or http://olallabluegrass.com/