The 13th Annual Naperville Bluegrass Festival was held this weekend bringing in a crowd of nearly 2,500 bluegrass music lovers to our city to celebrate a cornerstone of American roots music. Six national touring bands, the International Bluegrass Association’s entertainers of the year, the fiddle player of the year, several family groups and contemporary examples of modern Bluegrass joined together here in Naperville, yes Naperville, for the 13th year to engage in their passion for one of America’s greatest family-oriented art forms.
Though I spent this beautiful day with my family in downtown Naperville, I did not hear one lick of a mandolin, no picking guitars, no lively fiddles playing, no rythmic upright bass keeping everyone in line. As has been the case for each year since I’ve lived in Naperville, the 13 year tradition of the Naperville Bluegrass Festival could not be found in dowtown Naperville, not at Naper Settlement, nowhere near Pfeifer Hall, Central Park, Rotary Hill or even the free speech area. That’s because this festival is held inside a hotel out by I-88.
To the leaders of this community, I must say it is a travesty that this festival, with its proven track record of success in drawing a solid attendance which generates a quantifiable economic impact within our community, is allowed to be relegated to a hotel.
Regardless of the fact I’m a native of the Bluegrass State and have a bit of bluegrass music in my musician’s blood, this festival as well as the activity of area bluegrass musicians, artists and performers is invaluable for Naperville’s cultural arts offerings yet it breezes into town each year practically unnoticed with the exception of coverage in the Naperville Sun.
Now I am keenly aware what you might be thinking… the festival is run by Midwest Bluegrass Festivals and they determine where they will stage each of their festivals. Even more, I imagine the festival planners might even be thrilled with the space they use for this festival given the fact it takes place at a time of the year in which the weather is unpredictable enabling them to hopefully at least break even or even make a few bucks for their efforts. But does the festival have to take place in late March?
Why couldn’t community leaders work with the planners in a partnership to bring the festival into downtown Naperville once the weather turns warmer and bigger crowds could turn out? I could envision a festival spread throughout downtown with key venues such as the band shell at Central Park, Rotary Hill, Friedenhagen Park, Pfiefer Hall, eventually the new arts center and local music-friendly establishments. At the same time, knowing bluegrass, impromptu jam sessions could take place along the Riverwalk, the free speech area and other key locations.
In a nutshell, this festival could easily go from good to great for Naperville, the entire region and the festival planners if a deal could be reached to work together. Perhaps Jan and Terry Lease, the festival producers, have taken it as far as they can go and simply need some help. Most importantly, bluegrass music embodies everything that Naperville stands for as a world class pro-family community and this proven festival deserves a more appropriate Naperville stage.
The festival producers have a website, www.bluegrassmidwest.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jan or Terry Lease, but given their passion for bluegrass, I can assure they are well-intentioned people… such is the heart of the bluegrass music community.
(the above picture was borrowed from www.bluegrassmidwest.com)
To Jan and Terry… keep up the good work!