Founded by three-time national fiddle champion Byron Berline the 22nd annual iteration of the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival picked and grinned its way through Guthrie in October. Outside the bluegrass genre, Berline is known for his extraordinary fiddle solo on The Rolling Stones’ Country Honk from 1969’s Let It Bleed album. He continues to own and operate Byron’s Music Hall in downtown Guthrie.
The festival was held in a field with one main stage. Many attend the three-day event in recreational vehicles parked at an immediately adjacent campground. Most of the stage performers are from the U.S., but Australian Tommy Emmanuel headlined. There were also outfits from Japan, Switzerland and Canada making it a legitimate international event.
In particular, Tokyo’s Blueside of Lonesome was among the stage highlights, and they have played the festival for many years. They sing in English and have a song about Oklahoma in their repertoire.
One unexpected highlight was hearing ministry-based band 1 More Road address an audience of home-schooled children in the Youth Tent. At risk of offending the moms there, fiddler and vocalist Faith gave a quick lesson in the earth’s gravitational pull between songs by telling the assembled that, “The world sucks.” She remarked that her language should be OK because she’d been home-schooled, too.
Part of the charm of attending the festival was visiting that central part of the small city with its many examples of late 19th- and early 20th-century architecture. In downtown Guthrie, it was interesting to learn from historical markers about the prevalence of open saloons, including one called Same Old Moses operated by one Moses Weinberger: After infamous prohibitionist Carrie Nation took a hatchet to his joint, the barkeeper put up a sign, “All nations welcome except Carrie.”
Guthrie today could be considered Oklahoma’s version of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, albeit sober, normal and on flat terrain.