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Olalla’s homegrown festival going strong

It all started, Charlee Glock-Jackson said, when a group of Olalla residents did the impossible — they fought off a developer who wanted to tear down their forest and put up condos.

“We were told, verbatim, ‘This is a done deal,’” Glock-Jackson said. “And we all said, ‘Hogwash.’”

And, in fact, enough Olalla residents — which Glock-Jackson described as “very much environmentalists” — created a strong enough voice of opposition that the developer eventually decided to can the project.

“We won. It was a really heady thing,” she said, explaining that a small group decided that before they let the groundswell of community support disappear, they would harness it to accomplish something many had wanted to do for years — revive the Olalla Community Center.

“It really had been the hub of the community,” Glock-Jackson said, though the site of dances and Boy Scout meetings had been boarded up and abandoned for so long no one was quite sure anymore who had the key.

And once they tracked it down and got inside, they were in for a shock.

“We had no idea what we were in for,” she said, explaining that by the time the group cleaned out the “knee-high bat (droppings),” they realized it would take a lot more work — and a lot more money — to bring the building back to life.

And thus the Olalla Bluegrass Festival was born. While brainstorming ideas to raise a dependable, annual source of funds for the center, Glock-Jackson said, “Why don’t we have a bluegrass festival — how hard could it be?”

Besides, she said, the group was never supposed to be able to save Banner Forest, so, then, suddenly, nothing seemed impossible.

And now, 14 years later, an idea that Glock-Jackson said just popped out of her mouth has grown into an amazingly successful marriage of community spirit and a very spirited type of music.

Attracting dedicated bluegrass fans and South Kitsap locals alike, Glock-Jackson said bluegrass is the perfect music for the family-friendly festival because it “transcends generations.”

Passed on from grandmas to granddaughters and uncles to nephews, she said bluegrass attracts all ages with its welcoming, improvisational style. And besides, it’s just fun.

“Your toes can’t keep from tapping,” she said. “Who doesn’t like it?”

Although Glock-Jackson said a few years ago she handed over the job of running the festival, she said she still hand-picks the bands every year.

And though the group cannot afford to schedule really big names, like Alison Krauss, she said she does bring in groups well-known to most bluegrass fans, and especially tries to book bands who hail from the Northwest.

This year, the headliners will be the Clumsy Lovers, from Vancouver, B.C., who are performing at the festival again after a five-year absence.

Also playing will be: Korby Lenker, Naugahyde Rhyde, Emerald City Jug Band, along with festival standards the Old Time Fiddlers and Eclectic Cloggers.

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