Bluegrass music takes on various forms, whether it’s traditional or “newgrass,” and can blend rock, folk or Americana.
From Friday, March 10, to Sunday, March 12, the Desert Bluegrass Festival at Gladden Farms Community Park will highlight these various forms.
The festival is organized by the Desert Bluegrass Association, an all-volunteer nonprofit founded in 1995. The festival debuted in 2000.
Board member Suzette Sommerer said the Desert Bluegrass Festival is an intimate chance to listen to music from bands from around the country. There’s an effort to book Arizona bands, however.
“We are trying to support and promote local bands,” Sommerer said. “We are lucky to have some great bands, so it’s not hard to find them.”
The festivities kick off Friday afternoon with a band scramble. Musicians put their names in buckets and their names are drawn at random to create new groups. They choose monikers and songs and perform.
Desert Bluegrass Association president Karen Dismachek said most bluegrass musicians can quickly adapt and play with their peers.
“That’s a big part of bluegrass is being able to jam with anyone,” Dismachek said.
The band scramble will be followed by the act Monsoon Sky.
The festival’s Saturday and Sunday lineups features the likes of Central Valley Boys, the Sierra Sweethearts, the Sonoran Dogs, the Buckjumpers, the Cross-Eyed Possum and North of Lonesome.
Audiences will also have a chance to hear youth bands such as Jam Pack Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band and the Arizona Wildflowers, a homegrown family band made up of fiddle champions.
Several participating musicians will host workshops focused on specific instruments. Children and teens are also encouraged to take part in them.
“Even if the kid ultimately doesn’t decide bluegrass is what they want to do, the experience is something that’s going to put them in a good position for any music they want to do,” Sommerer said.
“Learning to play together this way and be mutually supportive in a group is a good thing.”
After the performances, the musicians will get together for jam sessions that are open to anyone with an instrument.
“It is a genre that is based on joining in and participating…Once the festival is done, people break into groups and start jamming,” Sommerer said.
The Desert Bluegrass Festival is about more than music. It’s a community. Artisan vendors will sell handmade jewelry. Children can take advantage of the musical instrument petting zoo and kid’s zone with games and rock painting.
Many guests make the festival into a weekend-long event, bringing their RVs or tents for onsite camping.
Food vendors will sell items such as tacos, kettle corn, fish and chips, burgers, barbecue, ice cream and lemonade.
Many bands have formed because of the festival. Sommerer and Dismachek perform with the Notorious No-Gig Girl Band.
Also a member of Hamilton Beech, Sommerer is a longtime musician, who started playing bass in high school but put the instrument down until retirement. They play at noon Sunday.
“I was looking for people to play my fiddle with,” Sommerer said.
“I had been playing about three years. The community is just so welcoming, and I loved the music.”
Dismachek had played the guitar for most of her life but rediscovered her love of bluegrass and the fiddle after moving to Tucson. She was introduced to the genre at a young age.
“I came from a musical family. My grandfather was from Canada, and he was a fiddler,” Dismachek said.
“He knew bluegrass and old-timey music. He would play records, and we would sing along with them. There was a local TV show with local bluegrass music, and we would sit and watch it.”
Dismachek is a member of Ocotillo Rain as well. They play at local retirement homes and give donations to local charities.
Dismachek said the festival is a great way to connect with other musicians.
“It’s a way to network. You meet lots of people, and you have a common interest. A lot of groups got together from jamming together or meeting each other at the workshops,” Dismachek said.
On Sunday morning during the festival, there will be a gospel open mic, which is open to anyone. Dismachek said this is a good space for newcomers to get their start.
“It gives them a chance to get their group together, practice some songs and get some experience playing at the festival on Sunday morning,” Dismachek said.
Desert Bluegrass Festival
WHEN: 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, March 10; 9:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 11; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 12
WHERE: Gladden Farms Community Park, 12205 N. Tangerine Farms Road, Marana
COST: $30 for weekend pass; $20 for Saturday or Sunday day pass; $40 for camping, people younger than age 16 are free. Friday evening free admission