ANDERSON -- Pete Dudley was hanging out with his guitar in the basement at Gene and Eva Carpenter’s house. Gene was on the banjo. Eva played bass fiddle. The year was 1989.
“It was deep in a bad winter like this one and we were having our usual Tuesday practice. We were all complaining about the weather and missing the festivals and I said we ought to have one in the winter,” recollected Dudley. “The whole idea was to have some fun in the winter.”
That winter jam session was the spark for the Snowflake Bluegrass Festival. This year marks the 25th time the festival celebrates the sounds of down-home, acoustic bluegrass music in the middle of a central Indiana winter. The festival is set from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Rangeline Community Center, 1405 N. Rangeline Road.
Look for no less than seven bands, an ongoing drop-in jam session, as well as food and beverages at the popular event organized by the White River Folk and Bluegrass Club.
Expect a mix of bluegrass styles, from gospel to progressive. Some of the performers have picked up awards at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s annual competition in Nashville.
Each hour throughout the afternoon of the festival, a different band takes center stage. This year Cumberland Gap, Common Ground, Lifeboat Quartet, Blue Mafia, Abl Gry, Jeremy Morris Harvest Road Band and Mountain Laurel will be strumming, picking and singing to brighten up the deep part of winter.
Dara Wray from Blue Mafia said, “We’ve played all over the country, but find such joy in returning to Anderson for the Snowflake Festival. It’s home for us. There are so many friends and family gathered for this festival, it feels almost like a reunion.”
It’s all in the tradition of that first Snowflake festival, held Feb. 10, 1990. The late Eva Carpenter at one time documented the beginnings of the event.
“Pete Dudley suggested having a special day when bluegrass fans and musicians could be together and would bring some sunshine into their lives,” wrote Eva. “The festival proved to be the highlight of the winter for many.”
Although Eva and Gene are both deceased, Dudley’s hoping to be on hand for this year’s festival.
“I wouldn’t miss that,” said Dudley, who is closing in on age 83. For him, it’s both the music and the people that make bluegrass irresistible. “You can’t beat the people.” He noted that the appeal of the music lies in its simplicity.
“It’s just simple and lively,” said Dudley, describing the nature of bluegrass. “You just pick it up… It’s just an acquired thing. It seems like it’s natural.”
Dudley theorized that bluegrass blossomed in central Indiana when folks from the South, many of them musically inclined, came up to the area for factory work around the time of World War II. After things settled down, Dudley suggests that’s when the instruments came back into use.
“There’s a lot of very, very good musicians in bluegrass,” said Dennis Niccum, president of the White River Folk and Bluegrass Club (WRFBC). “Most don’t read music; they do it by ear and practice.”
Niccum has been part of the world of bluegrass since about 1975 when he and his dad went camping at Brown County State Park.
“The guy next to us played banjo,” remembers Niccum, who plays guitar and mandolin. They wound up jamming, and their campsite neighbor also clued them in on a nearby bluegrass festival. Niccum and his dad headed over to check it out.
“That’s what did it for me,” said Niccum. He’s been involved in bluegrass ever since, running sound for folks at events like the Bean Blossom Festival, and playing for about ten years with BJ Express. He’s headed up the WRFBC for about 10 years.
WRFBC has been around since 1961, formed to promote and preserve bluegrass and old country music. The group meets at the Oddfellows Lodge, 3217 Marine Drive, in Anderson, on the third Sunday of the month from October to May. Pitch-in dinner and fellowship starts at 1 p.m., followed by the meeting.
“Then we jam,” said Niccum.
If you go What: 25th Annual Snowflake Bluegrass Festival When: Saturday, Feb. 15, noon to 7 p.m. Where: Rangeline Community Center, 1405 N. Rangeline Rd., Anderson Admission: $8 in advance, $10 at the door. More info: Food and beverages available for purchase at the event. For tickets or more information, call 765-356-4489, or visit the White River Folk and Bluegrass Club's Facebook page.