LITCHFIELD — Ahead of the 52nd Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Festival’s start Thursday, attendees’ accommodations highlighted the music event’s diverse appeal.

From the hearty enthusiastically opting to sleep in wood chip-floored livestock stalls to comparatively posh campers, fans flocked to the Litchfield Fairgrounds earlier this week to get ready for the festivities.

Tim French, 52, of Newfield, felt most at home in a stall, sleeping on a bedroll on top of a tarp. He said he gets some funny looks from friends and family when he mentions sleeping outdoors where an animal might have slept shortly before.

“I tell people that sleep in a stall (and) it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “When it rains, you don’t get wet.”

French will be in that stall through the weekend.

The festival, which attracts acts and attendees from all over the country and Canada, began Thursday and will run through Sunday. The festival began in 1991 and takes place in June and August.

The mix of people from all over the country naturally brings a range of living arrangements. French might be the most modest of the bunch, sleeping on a bedroll on top of a tarp. A second stall houses his shoes and other belonging necessary for a short stay with little more than a stool for furniture.

French said he was skeptical about attending a bluegrass festival at first, but was soon addicted to the family atmosphere and the music — even though he didn’t think he would be a fan of bluegrass.

“Whether you could care less about the bands, you can appreciate the talent,” he said. “I like 98% of the bands. I’ve dabbled (in music), and it’s not as easy as they make it look.”

Max Silverstein, of Bangor, left, stretches Thursday as his bandmate, Aaron Foster, returns to his tent in the cow stalls at the Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Music Festival in Litchfield. The men are performing with their group, Dreamcatcher, at the festival. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

A few feet away from French’s living quarters, half of the Tennesee-based band Dreamcatcher — Aaron Foster, of Wells Bridge, N.Y., Max Silverstein, of Bangor, and Jordan Roberson, of Stoneville, N.C. — were milling around outside of tents packed into another set of stalls.

Foster, 26, said his earliest memories are of staying with his grandparents in similar tents and stalls at bluegrass festivals.

“We have, legitimately, turned down hotels and other things to just hang out at festivals,” he said. “My first memory very well could be the Peaceful Valley Bluegrass Festival, maybe 2, two-and-a-half, 3 years old.”

His band, Foster said, could be a signal of the genre seeing an injection of youth. Silverstein and Foster attended Eastern Tennessee State University, which offers a program in bluegrass, old time and country music studies, where they mingle with up-and-coming musicians from as far away as Japan.

“There are a handful of (younger acts) that we run into at these festivals,” Foster said. “We run into the best young musicians at ETSU.”

Around 10 a.m. Thursday, Bernard Thomas, of St. Francis, was sitting in front of a fire pit mounted on a repurposed washing machine drum, eating a hearty breakfast of eggs and toast with family and friends. While his party had two campers, Thomas showed some creativity with his living arrangement: a remodeled motorcycle trailer with a spruce bed frame strapped to the wall and outfitted with electricity. He said he plans to stay in the trailer three times this year.

“I bought the trailer two years ago for my motorcycle,” he said. “I had a camper and the walls kind of rotted in it, and I sold it and bought this. This is good enough for one guy.”

A short distance away from the livestock stalls were comparatively luxurious camping arrangements with groups of friends mingling outside. Jim and Betty Dunstan, of Thornton, New Hampshire, piloted their 40-foot 2001 Beaver camper, which Betty Dunstan boasted could hold 18 people inside. She said she and her husband have made a number of friends through attending the festival in Litchfield and others around the state.

“We go to all the festivals,” Betty Dunstan said. “We’ve made a lot of friends at the festival, and it’s so nice to sit out; anybody can come by and stop and some play music.”

Music continues late into the night off the stage, as the bands mingle with amateur musicians in their living quarters. Betty Dunstan said she and her sisters, who were visiting from New Brunswick, usually participate in the after-hours jam sessions.

“I’m not a good guitar player; I’ll play for myself,” she laughed. “Both of my sisters sing, and I sing sometimes.”

Ten acts will take the stage at the festival, weather permitting, through Sunday. The second installment will take place August 22-25. For more information about the festival or the schedule of events, visit blisteredfingers.com.

 


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