ANSON — After a hiatus of more than 20 years, the founder of a bluegrass music competition held on land off Four Mile Square Road is bringing the tradition back with an invitation to musicians to join in and compete, with $11,000 of his own money up for grabs.

“My dream has always been to have a place where people could come network with other musicians,” said Bill Owens, 56, of Pynesville, Maryland, the founder of the Billy’s Belly Bluegrass and Folk Music Competition. “At most festivals you know who’s there before you get there. You hear all the big names, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I wanted something for the average musician.”

On Sunday, the Billy’s Belly competition, named for the passion that burns in the bellies of many musicians, including the festival founder, he said, will take place in a wooded lot off Four Mile Square Road.

Music festivals and mass gatherings have a mixed reception in the area, as the proposal comes shortly after another festival, the Great North Music and Arts Festival, held for the last three years on Labor Day weekend in Norridgewock, moved this year to Minot, west of Lewiston. Organizers said it became too challenging to work with the town on a plan to serve alcohol at the event.

But Owens said he isn’t worried about logistics. He has a permit and has spent the last several months working with the town on revising its mass gathering ordinance and making sure he will be in compliance.

Music, and music festivals, run in his blood. His father, also Bill Owens, worked for years on the Deer Creek Fiddlers’ Convention in Westminster, Maryland; and his mother was a semi-professional opera singer.

The site of Sunday’s event is also the site of Owens’ original festival, the New Vineyard Mountain Bluegrass Festival, which he ran with his wife from 1988 to 1993.

After they divorced, the couple discontinued the festival, a move that Owens, who is a registered nurse for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, said was heartbreaking. It wasn’t until recently that he decided to start a new one.

Owens plays the guitar. His 10-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who has been helping him prepare for Billy’s Belly, plays the oboe.

They are hoping to draw 800 to 1,000 people to their 150-acre property Sunday and plan to make the event an annual one.

Anson Board of Selectmen Chairman Arnold Luce said the town started working with Owens a year ago and also revised its mass gathering ordinance in preparation for the event. He said the town is excited about the prospect of a new event that could offer a temporary boost for local businesses.

“We hope he does good,” Luce said. “I don’t think he’ll be any burden to the town.”

Luce said he hasn’t heard any complaints or concerns so far from residents. At a public hearing on the proposed changes to the ordinance in November, no comments were made.

In Norridgewock last year, organizers behind the Great North festival ran into problems trying to serve alcohol for the first time in the festival’s three-year history.

During the festival’s planning phases, the town Planning Board approved a beer garden as part of the festival’s permit, but approval was revoked later after town officials realized that the town’s blue laws prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol in the same spot.

Unlike Norridgewock, Anson allows on-site consumption of alcohol, though Owens said he doesn’t plan to serve any at Sunday’s event. Visitors can bring their own and drinking is allowed on site as long as it is in a responsible manner, he said.

He also is offering free admission to residents on Four Mile Square Road.

“There’s always going to be somebody out there that isn’t happy,” Owens said. “But I’ve talked to people and most of them seem excited about it. They’re inviting friends up for the weekend and can just come listen to the music.”

Paul Frederic, first selectman in the town of Starks, said mass gatherings have been a challenge for that town on occasion since the formation of Hempstock, a pro-marijuana music festival that has since relocated to the town of Harmony.

Starks is still home to three other pro-marijuana festivals that each draw several hundred people and the ire of some residents, according to Frederic.

“I think it’s the theme that has had a negative impact,” Frederic said. “I would imagine that a bluegrass music festival, or a fiddlers’ festival, something of that nature would have a positive implication if properly managed.”

Owens said he hopes to challenge people’s perceptions of what a festival can be and has called his event an “un-festival,” because it will be organized as a competition and he is open to spontaneity.

Performers can sign up to play the day of the festival or form bands with people they meet there. A total of $11,000 in prize money — all donated by Owens himself — will be awarded in four different categories.

“I want people to make it their own,” he said. “Competition is an amazing thing — sometimes you can really hear something phenomenal (from someone unknown) and you’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness, where have you been?'”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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