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Folk music festival brings U.S. back to its Bluegrassroots

June 29, 2018 GMT

There’s nothing more American than the music attendees will hear this weekend at the Bluegrassroots Timpanogos Folk Festival, according to local musician Marvin Payne.

“It’s just steeped in Americana and American values, and it’s a perfect fit,” Payne said.

The event, part of this year’s Freedom Festival, will include a concert featuring John Reischman and the Jaybirds from the Great Pacific Northwest and Salt Lake City-based duo Otter Creek on Friday night, as well as a “grassroots” open mic performance and workshops with Friday’s featured artists and others on Saturday.

Otter Creek fiddler Mary Danzig said the bluegrass event fits in perfectly with the Freedom Festival, as folk music is “very much the music of our country.” She said even founding father Thomas Jefferson was a fiddler and used folk music in his political campaigns.

“Bluegrass itself just goes back to Bill Monroe, who started a band called Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys back in the ’20s, but really, he was just building on a genre of music, folk music, that had been very popular in the United States for a long time,” Danzig told the Daily Herald.

Payne, who will host the concert Friday night, said he first got involved in folk music at age 12 with the “folk wave” that swept the nation in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He said he especially likes folk music for its authenticity.

“It didn’t come from people who wanted to sell anybody anything; it just came from people who wanted to share stories and feelings,” Payne said. “Of course people get paid for performing and recording bluegrass and folk music, but that’s really not where its roots are. Its roots are in people just making their own music, singing about what they want to express and with not much thought of trying to sell it, and I think that’s cool.”

Danzig said she loves the community aspect of bluegrass music, which comes from old songs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

“These tunes have versions that are really basic and simple, so somebody who’s just learning the music can play a really basic version or just play some back-up notes, and somebody who’s really advanced and has been playing for a long time can play a much more complex version of it, but the people can all play together and have a good time,” Danzig said.

A festival like Bluegrassroots is the reason Danzig, who was raised playing classical music, became interested in bluegrass in the first place.

“About 10 years ago, my husband got us tickets to go to a bluegrass festival, and it was like the funnest thing I’ve ever been to,” Danzig said. “I was just really excited about the music and how there was this community around it and how you didn’t have to wear black clothes and look so somber.”

From there, Danzig and her husband became a bluegrass duo and began performing at local events. The duo’s name was inspired by Danzig’s maiden name, Otterstrom, which is Swedish for “otter stream” or “otter creek.” Danzig said she thought it was only right for her husband to take her maiden name in the duo, since she took his last name when they were married.

“I’m like, ‘So if we ever get famous, everyone will know you by my name, so I think that’s fair,’ ” Danzig said. “He couldn’t really argue with it.”

Danzig said she and her husband are examples of two different approaches to bluegrass music, as she mostly sticks to playing the fiddle, while her husband switches between a variety of instruments, including the mandolin, guitar, mountain dulcimer, banjo and fiddle.

The Danzigs’ three daughters also have formed their own musical group, the Three Muses, which specializes in three-part harmony and performs often alongside Otter Creek.

“We took a year, it was probably about four years ago, where we did homeschool with the kids and we traveled all over the country performing, and we had so much fun,” Danzig said. “We had amazing adventures, and it was just really incredible to get to meet people from all walks of life, from all parts of our country.”

Though the Three Muses will be unable to perform at the Bluegrassroots Timpanogos Folk Festival due to a scheduling conflict, Otter Creek plans to perform a mixture of traditional American and Celtic tunes as well as some Utah folk songs and original pieces on their own Friday night.

Payne said what he is most looking forward to about the Bluegrassroots Timpanogos Folk Festival is the prospect of encouraging the musicians who attend to collaborate and play music together on their own.

“After all the formal events come on the Saturday afternoon, I just have this vision of people sitting down under the trees in twos and threes and fours and just swapping songs with each other because that’s where folk music really lives,” Payne said. “Maybe it’ll be a great concert and the workshops will be terrific because the musicians are terrific, but the spontaneous stuff the next day is what excites me the most.”

Danzig said she hopes attendees come away from the event with their toes tapping, feeling a little lighter and more inspired to play music.

“We hope that people will leave with sore fingers and new friends and a rekindled love for the music that shaped America,” Payne said.