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Columns

July 16, 2012

Bluegrass played first fiddle during 1982 festival near Cooperstown

It was a summer when the Berkshires met the Catskills, at least by name and only for a few days near Cooperstown. Fans of bluegrass music couldn't have been happier about that meeting.

That's when the Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival took place at the Beaver Valley Campgrounds beginning Thursday, July 22, 1982. It was the seventh annual event, originally held in Hillsdale, Columbia County. The festival, called one of the largest bluegrass events on the East Coast, had outgrown its site bordering New York and Massachusetts.

The Beaver Valley site, found in the Town of Hartwick, was chosen supposedly because of its easy access from Canada, New York and other areas of the Northeast.

The Daily Star reported how an estimated 500 people had lined up before dawn at the campground entrance to get the best camping spots when the gates opened at noon. At the opening, a line of cars and campers stretched from there to state Route 28 in Hartwick Seminary. Others had arrived the day before to stay on the 400-acre campground.

While there had been predictions of 12,000, the crowds reached about 9,000 by the end of the weekend, and were reported as well-behaved. Families made up the largest portion of the campers. Some 6,500-gallon tank trucks had to be brought in with fresh water to fill the reservoir on the grounds, as the need for water was much higher than usual. Performers and bands played into the late hours each night, and promoter Nancy Talbott, president of Hazard Productions, said the parking lot jam sessions were among the festival's major attractions.

"Those … jam sessions are a sight," Talbott said. "Those people go all night." Some of the major performers at the four-day festival included Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Osborne Brothers, The Seldom Scene and Tony Trischka.

Reflecting on the new site of the festival, Talbott said she was concerned about the move from Hillsdale, but all was going well, and the staff coordinating the event liked Beaver Valley. More than 200 were on staff -- some paid, some volunteer.

"People said why not change the name to something else for the new site. But it wouldn't be the same. It's the people that really make this work, and these people have been doing a tremendous job."

While campers and bluegrass music fans lauded the success of the festival on its final day, there were some doubts whether the event would return to Otsego County in 1983. There had been some minor flaws, such as a temporary power outage because of overloaded circuits, but campers seemed to shrug it off.

Talbott said a few days later she was looking for another permanent site in Otsego County, but not Beaver Valley, because the campground was not large enough.

Apparently no site was found, as it was reported in The Daily Star of Saturday, Oct. 9, that the festival would locate somewhere in the Hudson Valley.

"We were very successful in the Cooperstown area," Talbott said, "and both the staff and the performers loved it, but we just couldn't draw the day crowds there from New York City and Boston."

She referred to day crowds as those who travel to the festival for a day only and return home. "We need those day people. Unfortunately, Cooperstown is just a bit too far from the two major cities to draw enough of them." The festival returned to Columbia County, near Ancramdale. After some name changes, it is now called the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. It recently relocated to Oak Hill, Greene County. This year's festival is Thursday through Sunday, and the aforementioned Tony Trischka will be among the many performers.

This weekend: James Fenimore Cooper had his unpopular side in Cooperstown.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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