For Christa and Danny Stewart, a family reunion will take place this weekend in Tunkhannock’s Lazy Brook Park. It’s a family related not by blood, however, but by bluegrass.
Now in its 12th year, the Northeast Pennsylvania Bluegrass Festival has become a staple for many bluegrass fans in the area and beyond, who travel annually to Tunkhannock to listen to bands from NEPA to New Jersey to now as far as Tennessee and even California. This year’s festival runs from Thursday, May 30, to Sunday, June 2, at the park grounds at Routes 92 and 6. Gates open Thursday at 8 a.m., and performances start on stage Friday afternoon. Weekend passes cost $80, and one-day tickets range from $20 to $35. Tickets for children 12 to 16 are half-price, and children under 12 enter for free with a paying adult.
What began as a “small, small vision” for the Stewarts — a way to give back and grow with their community and to celebrate where they raised their children with the music they loved — has expanded into a family-oriented event that has grown exponentially, Christa Stewart said. The Stewarts have created a place that fosters a love of bluegrass and introduces new generations to the genre, with more and more young families attending each year. The Stewarts aim to consistently keep ticket costs low, even offering free camping to those who buy weekend passes, hammering home the message that the event is inclusive and welcoming to all.
To further this idea of inclusivity, the concert has two stages, one for bands that perform traditional bluegrass and one for progressive acts. The Stewarts’ vision for these stages, along with the event as a whole, was to bridge the gap between the older, traditional generation of bluegrass fans, “the diehards” as Christa Stewart described them, and the younger, progressive generation. It’s a way to “give all fans a chance to not only enjoy all types of bluegrass but also meet and experience all types of bluegrass fans,” she said.
This year’s lineup includes the Central Valley Boys, the Kody Norris Show, family band Williamson Branch and headliner and Grammy-winner Ralph Stanley II.
“This area is starved for bigger acts,” Christa Stewart said. “We’re trying to bring national acts to this area by having representation from everywhere. We want to expose people to all types of bluegrass.”
And at jam tents, guests can play bluegrass with other attendees (and, sometimes, musicians performing in the festival) in a structured, three-hour jam. These sessions also offer a great way to meet other bluegrass fans by both expressing their love for the genre and finding others who share that same passion, Christa Stewart explained.
Workshops will run throughout Saturday and include banjo player Keith Arneson, retired from the Navy Band; vocalist Kenny Ray Horton and dobro player Henry John, both of the Navy Band; guitar maintenance with Dave Strunk; beginner guitar with Rob Amadio; and fiddle with Melody Williamson of Williamson Branch.
Then, on Sunday, the festival’s last day kicks off with a non-denominational gospel jam with Mike and Mary Robinson on the traditional stage, where performances will continue until the last act begins at 4 p.m.
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If you go
What: Northeast Pennsylvania Bluegrass Festival
When: Thursday, May 30, through Sunday, June 2
Where: Lazy Brook Park, Routes 92 and 6, Tunkhannock
Details: Weekend passes cost $80, and one-day tickets range from $20 to $35. Tickets for children 12 to 16 are half-price, and children under 12 enter for free with a paying adult. For more information or tickets, visit nepabluegrass.com.