Remember “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”? The soundtrack from that movie is a primer of bluegrass music. Its roots are in the Irish and British settlers in the Appalachian Mountains. Their ballads, distinctive High Lonesome harmonies, and fast-moving instrumental improvisation with the fiddle and guitars are the foundations of the genre. African-American musicians added the banjo, blues and jazz to the mix.

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Bluegrass festivals are scattered along the East Coast all summer. Most people camp or stay in RVs, since the music lasts from dawn until midnight. Bring lawn chairs, plus hats and sun screen since most venues are not covered. Stage performances by professionals are the main draw, but perhaps the best music is after hours, when everyone with an instrument gathers for informal jams.

Here are three bluegrass festivals worth checking out:

Ossippee Valley Music Festival

Hiram, Maine, July 23–26,

This one calls itself a “roots music festival in the White Mountains.” With 20 artists, there’s plenty of music and a lot of other activities, including a dance barn, farm-to-table local food vendors, swimming in the Ossippee River, and a dedicated activity area for kids. 

Podunk Bluegrass Festival

Hebron, Connecticut, Aug. 6–9,

This festival features local, regional and national artists on two stages. There’s also a songwriters’ competition, a singing talent show, and demonstrations of traditional crafts, plus a very large kids’ area with storytelling, board games and outdoor games. 

Old Fiddlers’ Convention

Galax, Virginia, Aug. 3–8,

The oldest and largest bluegrass gathering in the world, This is a weekend of competitions for amateur and semi-professional musicians showing off their talents for cash awards. On Aug. 4th, they’re trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records with the largest mandolin ensemble ever.

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