Weekend full of banjos, mandolins and jams at Karāpiro Kiwigrass Festival

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Bluegrass musicians and enthusiast of the genre from all around New Zealand and from as far as America all convened in Karāpiro over the weekend for the second Kiwigrass music festival.

Over 500 people attended or took part in the three-day festival at the Sir Don Rowlands Event Centre. Festivities included concerts, workshops, camp concerts and jamming sessions all weekend long.

Organiser of the festival and bass player for Hot Diggity Bluegrass band, Jenine Abarbanel, said the Kiwigrass festival gave the New Zealand bluegrass music community a place to call their own.

“We’re usually just lumped in with the folk community but we really wanted to have a home of our own and so that’s what this festival is supposed to be – for our bluegrass community,” said Jenine.

Organiser of the festival, Jenine Abarbanel says Kiwigrass is a place for the New Zealand bluegrass music community to call home. Photo / Ian Fisk
Organiser of the festival, Jenine Abarbanel says Kiwigrass is a place for the New Zealand bluegrass music community to call home. Photo / Ian Fisk

The performers included three bands from Australia, one from New Caledonia, two from America and 10 from New Zealand including the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band which set the foundation of bluegrass music in New Zealand after their debut on the late 1960s show, The Country Touch.

It was Hamilton County Bluegrass Band’s banjo player Paul Trenwith who approached Jenine about running the Kiwigrass festival.

“I just thought it was time to show people what bluegrass music was and get it on the rise again,” said Paul.

Hamilton County Bluegrass Band member Paul Trenwirth hopes the Kiwigrass festival will prompt a resurgence of bluegrass music. Photo/ Ian Fisk
Hamilton County Bluegrass Band member Paul Trenwirth hopes the Kiwigrass festival will prompt a resurgence of bluegrass music. Photo/ Ian Fisk

The headline act for the festival, Lonely Heartstring Band, had come from America and it was their third year on tour in New Zealand.

The band formed six years ago in Boston and is made up of Maddie Witler on the mandolin, Gabe Hirshfeld on the banjo, lead singer and guitarist George Clements, singer and bass player Charles Clements and Patrick McGonagall on the fiddle.

Until recently the band played together full-time but now only get together for the occasional event.

“We were even saying it might even be that we just get back together for whenever we come to New Zealand,” said Maddie.

Lonely Heartstring Band headlined the festival and it was their third time touring New Zealand, they hope they'll be back again next year. Photo / Ian Fisk.
Lonely Heartstring Band headlined the festival and it was their third time touring New Zealand, they hope they’ll be back again next year. Photo / Ian Fisk.

Jenine says each year the band visits their audience grows.

“Everyone just adores them, they’re really good musicians, really good people and so generous with their time,” said Jenine.

“All the internationals just keep going on about how much fun they’re having here and that they’d love to move here.”

Maddie said the highlight of the weekend for the band was a camp concert they played at and she hopes the band will be able to come back next January.

“The camp concert was out on the porch and it was just such a beautiful evening. We just love the audiences here. They’re so enthusiastic,” said Maddie.

 


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