\The drive from the West side of Cincinnati down Route 50 west to Friendship, Indiana (located between Versailles and Dillsboro, Indiana) was much needed this year. As I began to get closer to this sleepy little town nestled in a valley the sun’s rays peeked through overcast clouds and seemed to light up this place that would be home for the next five days. A smile came across my face as I knew that this year would again be better than the last.
This gathering of bearded and non-bearded people for three days has the feeling of the coming of a New Year. It brings people together from different walks of the earth. Some known and some that are coming for the first time. They come for the music and the relaxation and from their own words: “this is a festival unlike any other.” It is kid friendly as well as you take a walk over to Vendor’s Row where all sorts of trinkets, clothing, and walking food are sold you come to an area named “Val’s Pals” or the “Lil’ Beardo Village.” Where you can have your kids face painted with a beard and where they keep busy with craft making. And for the first time this year the kids were graced with a little music adventure called “The Macaroni & Joe Show,” which the kids loved. Stop by and say hi to Val who puts a lot of effort into helping with the lil’ beardos get their “good vibes.”
The “good vibes only” is sent through the grounds of the festival. The attendees keep smiles on their faces that don’t leave until it is time for them to go, and hopefully stay with them until the coming of next year’s festival. The music is the source of these “good vibes.” The music is what brings them together in relative peace and harmony. While the headliner may leave the stage the music does not stop. It will go until the early hours of the next morning. Whether it is at Zippy’s Edge or at just some person’s campsite the music truly does not stop.
From day one as the venue area and campground are empty the feeling of this coming together begins to take shape. Whether in physical form with stages and signs or just the emotional feeling of being in the presence with good people with good hearts. The directors of the festival “Big” Dan Williams, Matt “Buffalo” Wabnitz, Matt “Katfish” Williams, Patrick Gronholm, and Adam “Mulekick Murray” O’Neil bring this to us each year with hard work and their due diligence to make sure that this festival goes as smoothly as can be. The help of friends coming to the festival a couple days prior to the opening up of the festival has been present since the festival first started back in 2008 in Buffalo’s backyard. A few friends came down helped build a stage in a barn, or in Kentucky putting up perimeter and making signs and then doing the same thing in Friendship, but with each year making these little nuances better and more appealing to the eye.
The director’s make it a point to not take too much credit. As they believe this is for the people that come every year, or new people that have never been. To make sure that you can get within what seems like an arm’s reach of the artists performing on the stage. This is for the people that come, not us is a sentiment echoed by the director’s. A community has arose from this that are aptly named “Beardos.” Their presence at the festival is apparent the moment you get to your campsite and are welcomed with a smile either at Zippy’s Edge, The Tye Dye Crew, The Dill Pickle Gang, or The Crow’s Nest West. This is for them, and everyone who attends, it is a chance to let your hair down for a few days and enjoy the music of our generation and generations past.
The festival is more than just music for a few days. This isn’t other festivals where the bands simply play and then go on to the next show. No, this festival is about bringing the artists to the fans on stage and off. As Friday opens up, the first day of the festival, artists come rolling in along with the campers, vendors, and people that were planning to stay just for the day but soon decide “nah we have to stay the weekend.” The musicians as they file in, load in their gear, and then go to soak in the festival and see what is going on with the people and then soon find themselves among a community of Beardo’s that truly love music. I think, in my humblest of opinions, this is what “they” love about the festival. The chance to not only be a fan but also meet their fans or gain new ones and hang out with them and among them all weekend long. They will play by the bonfire till the wee hours of the morning for anyone who is listening and for anyone that wants to join in.
The festival has been graced with the likes of Peter Rowan, Guy Clark, Todd Snider, Langhorne Slim, Pokey LaFarge, Jason Isbell, and last year Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Who hung around on Sunday well after his set was over and said he had never played a festival where he was able to hang out with the people that put it on. For a couple of hours I think everyone sitting around that picnic table couldn’t keep their mouths closed in disbelief that this man a folk legend was hanging out with us. Then there is this year where a lesser known fella Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton took that “hanging out” term to a whole new level. He showed up on Thursday evening and didn’t leave till Tuesday morning. When he got to the festival on Thursday he simply said I want to go wherever the music is, and aside from sleeping he searched out the music all weekend long.
Something comes over people when they attend for the first time this sense of community takes charge I believe. That everyone in this place is all here for the music and to be good to each other. Music is the driving force of that. Music is a powerful thing when it is done right. It brings people together, and for a few days in Friendship, Indiana it can truly be a universal language. Some people that came this year might not have known anything about a lot of the artists that played, but then you take a look over at the “Murch Booth” and their albums are being bought. Or you take a look at the crowd and see how much they are truly feeling what is happening on stage, music is electric and it is universal.
“Our” festival is about bringing people together for a few hours or a couple days to just sit down under and oak tree and smile away the hours as different bands play their style of folk music. The lineup that is created by Matt “Buffalo” Wabnitz is quite interesting. As he seems to find bands and acts that go well with each other. From Friday to Sunday it is almost like a mix tape, burned cd, or a playlist. And, don’t get up because in between bands it is only a five minute break a quick sound check and then we are off and running again. Through the music that sometimes feels from years ago but present. I like that dichotomy.
“Our” festival through the five years that it has been happening has grown and keeps growing. The word of mouth seems to get louder. The people keep coming and keep supporting it. That is a testament to the directors whom once the festival is over and the vendors, campers, and artist have all left next year’s festival planning and brainstorming begins. While there may be no corporate sponsorship that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome a partnership that still remains true to the heart of the festival. Word of mouth, radio ads, pre-shows, and write ups in the local area newspapers are what drive this festival and the people that come.
The Whispering Beard Folk Festival is an experience one has to have. The good vibes, the community, and especially just being in a town called Friendship where you are welcomed as a friend at the general store and at the tavern is a place one needs to experience if only for a few days. Go say hi to the Stutler’s Judy and Scott who own and operate the General Store and see for yourself why this is the perfect setting to have a festival.
The festival happens at the same time every year the last weekend in August or the weekend before Labor Day, but the planning and brainstorming begin the day after. Check out whisperingbeard.com for more info about the festival, pick up a t-shirt, and register to become a beardo which is free. They are also on the facebook and you can follow them on the twitter-verse. Do yourself a favor and check out one of the best festival’s around.