The sounds of the hills could be heard on the wind in Wakarusa Friday evening as bluegrass fans and aficionados alike gathered for the kickoff of the seventh annual Wakarusa Bluegrass Festival.
As the first day of a planned three-day weekend event, the festival got started promptly at 6 p.m. with a free jam session where bluegrass musicians of all ages and skill levels got the chance to hop on stage and show off for the crowd.
Goshen’s Lula Moore, a member of the band The Anchors, was one of the first to take the stage early Friday night.
“We do strictly gospel music, because we’re all Christians, you know,” Moore said. “We’ve got a mandolin player, a guitar player, my husband plays harmonica, guitar and mandolin, and a close friend of ours plays the autoharp.”
Originally from Tennessee, Moore said she grew up hearing the familiar sounds of the banjo and the base — bluegrass staples that she says have always had a special place in her heart.
“I love everything about bluegrass,” Moore said. “Its been with me for a long time, and it’s just really good music. I really enjoy it.”
Arlene Hershberger, Elkhart, knows exactly what Moore’s talking about.
“I’ve been a fan for about three years now, and I just love it,” Hershberger said while relaxing in a lawn chair in front of the main stage. “I don’t know what it is about it. It just kind of brings people together from all walks of life, and it just seems like there’s a oneness there. I can’t explain it. It just makes you feel good.”
Hershberger said that’s especially true in today’s world, where problems with the economy, jobs and cut-throat politics can really start to wear on a person.
“It blocks out all the junk that’s around,” Hershberger said. “It’s just wonderful, and sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away.”
Friday night’s jam session helped serve as a quick introduction to the festival’s main offerings, which kick off today at 10 a.m. and run until 10 p.m. Today’s events will feature professional bluegrass bands both local and from around the country singing both contemporary and traditional bluegrass tunes.
Following today’s events, the festival will draw to a close Sunday morning with a bluegrass gospel service at 10 a.m. delivered by Dwaine Swartzentruber, assistant pastor at Elkhart Community Baptist Church.
“I come here every year, and I’m on the board of directors of the show,” Swartzentruber said while enjoying the music himself Friday night. “Bluegrass music is just so wonderful, and in throwing this festival, we just hope that people will come out, learn about it, and support it, because there really is nothing else like it.”
Cost to attend today’s events is $15 at the door. Children under age 12 and veterans with identification cards will get in for free.